Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Barbed Wire Dolls aka Caged Women (1972)
Imperial Home Video | Review by Dan Taylor  

As most of you well know, the "women in prison" (or WIP) film is one of the most popular and profitable genres in all of exploitation. In the mid-70s, a few new elements were added to the basic WIP formula — namely degradation, humiliation, torture, etc.

With flicks like ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS, ILSA: TIGRESS OF SIBERIA and LOVE CAMP NUMBER #27 (aka LIVING NIGHTMARE), the genre entered a whole new spectrum. Instead of simply hosing the inmates down with water or subjecting them to mental torture, the wardens included electrocutions, starvation, forced lesbianism, surgery and the like. Definitely fun stuff for the 42nd Street crowd.

Into this low-rent sub-genre stepped one man capable of offending even the staunchest exploitation fan. That man was Jess Franco, and this is considered one of his classic works — one viewing illustrates why he enjoys the sordid reputation he so richly deserves.

The flick (released in 1972, 76 or 79 depending on who you believe) concerns the goings-on at a women's prison located somewhere, I'm guessing South America or Spain. We open with an uncomfortably long sequence in which a guard named "Nesther" tortures an inmate by placing a bowl of food just out of her reach. Do I have to mention that the woman is nude throughout the entire ordeal? I didn't think so. This scene, like all the torture scenes in the flick, is carried out far too long. Unlike the classic BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, which at least has a dark streak of macabre humor running through it, BARBED WIRE DOLLS is basically played straight. The flick leaves a thick film on your body after watching it ... a shower is advised.

The main prisoners (in other words, the only ones we see in anything but the two "crowd" sequences) are: Rosa, a babbling idiot who sings to herself; Bertha, a pretty blonde who killed her brother out of jealousy; Ingrid, a nymphomaniac who drones on and on about Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella while fondling herself; and Maria, the new fish on the block who is in for murdering her father.

Our warden is a domineering, but masochistic, lesbian who walks around wearing a monacle, knee-high leather boots, black panties and a safari shirt. Obviously a woman who got the job because of her professionalism and desire to exact social change.

BARBED WIRE DOLLS is borderline pornographic, with several scenes of lesbianism, masturbation (one involving a cigarette is fairly unnerving), fondling by the male guards and torture. The inmates are almost always unclothed, or at least exposed from the waist down, and Franco has zero shame about exploiting them to the utmost.

While the pic is extremely base in its treatment of women (what do you expect from a title like BARBED WIRE DOLLS?) and is quite uncomfortable at times, there IS one scene that's so immensely entertaining that it ALONE is worth two stars. Due to the miniscule budget or perhaps insanity, Franco didn't have a camera capable of slow motion. In order to achieve the proper mood for the Vaseline-lensed dream sequence, he has the actors portraying Maria and her incestuously-inclined Papa FAKE slow-motion movement! Simply put, it's one of the funniest scenes in motion picture history.

BEST LINE: "These are your roommates ... an idiot, a murderess and a sex slut. You should be very cozy."

Or how about this exchange?
MARIA: "I found a mouse on my plate!"
GUARD: "So what? It adds protein to your diet."

With dialogue like that, the aforementioned slo-mo scene, the nihilistic "ending-out-of-nowhere" and Franco's attention to sheer audacity, I'll give BARBED WIRE DOLLS a grudging recommendation.

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