Women in Cell Block 7 (1972) Women in Cell Block 7 / Love and Death in a Women’s Prison / Secret Diary from a Women’s Prison / Diario Segreto da un Carcere Femminile (1972/1981) 0

     I wish I knew for sure what this movie’s release history in the United States was like. (All I can say for certain is that it was released on home video in 1981.) In particular, I’d like to know whether it became Women in Cell Block 7 before or after 1977, when Women in Cellblock 9/Frauen für Zellenblock 9 came out. I rather suspect it was after, in which case the title becomes an obvious attempt to ride to financial success on the strength of the latter film’s short-lived notoriety. And that, if true, is really fucking funny. Do you realize what a lowly, miserable little turd you have to be before you’ll stoop to ripping off Jesus Franco?!?! True or not, though, “lowly, miserable little turd” is the perfect phrase to describe the people responsible for Women in Cell Block 7.

     I didn’t really start to worry until the tape counter on my VCR read 51 minutes and 47 seconds. You see, there was a major discrepancy in this movie’s packaging regarding how long the film actually was. The back of the box claimed a running time of 81 minutes, while the label on the tape itself credited the movie with “approximately 100 minutes.” I found this worrisome because, while I was sure I could make it through another half hour, having to sit through 50 more minutes of the tedium to which I had thus far been subjected was another matter. You might think it impossible to make a boring women’s prison movie— I certainly did. But these folks found a way, alright, and lucky me, the longer running time given by the label proved to be the correct one.

     Women in Cell Block 7 begins with an unsuccessful Interpol drug bust. While the cops close in to apprehend a mobster on his way out of the airport with twenty kilos of heroin, another gangster named Tonino shoots the man down with a sniper rifle and runs off with the drugs. Tonino later hooks up with his girlfriend, Daniela Vinci (Eva Czemerys, of The Killer Reserved Nine Seats and Escape from the Bronx), and sets off to smuggle the dope into Switzerland. They never get there, though, because Tonino dies in a car wreck on the way. With the real criminal dead, and no sign of the heroin in the smashed car, Interpol makes the most of a bad situation by getting the totally innocent Daniela imprisoned on trumped-up drug-trafficking charges. Evidently, they think the girl may know something about Tonino’s employer, a mafioso named Carmillo Musumeci (Giulio Maculani, from War of the Zombies and Hercules the Avenger), and they want to keep her someplace where she can be pumped for that information whenever it’s convenient. This is a bit puzzling, given that Musumeci’s own daughter, Hilda (Anita Strindberg, from A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail), is secretly an Interpol agent herself, but whatever the reason, Hilda’s bosses would rather go through the extra trouble of locking Daniela up unjustly, and then sending Hilda to pose as a fellow prisoner to ferret out whatever secrets Daniela is keeping, Shock Corridor-style.

     Meanwhile, the mob which had bought all that heroin from Musumeci’s people has sent some men around to Don Carmillo’s place in the hope of getting either the heroin or their money back. Musumeci doesn’t know that Tonino betrayed him, however, and so he gets himself into a big heap of trouble by acting as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Naturally, it never occurs to the mobsters that Musumeci might be telling the truth when he says he knows nothing, or when no amount of torture can get him to reveal where Tonino went with the drugs, and the captive don is forced to make a break for it. Musumeci dies in his escape attempt, however, when he falls through the dry-rotted floor of a catwalk in the old factory where he was being held. This is bad news for his interrogators, because their own don gave them explicit orders that Musumeci was not to be killed until after he had spilled his guts on the subject of Tonino and the heroin. And wouldn’t you know it, the don comes to check up on his enforcers just in time to see Carmillo’s fresh cadaver plastered on the factory’s cement floor. The head enforcer pays for Musumeci’s clumsiness by getting himself tossed into a furnace.

     Back at the prison, Hilda isn’t having any more luck getting the story out of Daniela than the don’s men had getting it out of Musumeci. And as was the case with the gangsters, it never seems to occur to Hilda that Daniela might be telling the truth when she professes not to have the first clue what her questioner is talking about. The same goes for Daniela’s mafia-appointed lawyer (Umberto Raho, from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), and for Head Matron Gerda (Jenny Tamburi, of The Psychic and The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine), who turns out to be working for the mob too. Come to think of it, this prison is so thoroughly corrupt that even the warden (Massimo Serato, from Naughty Cheerleaders and The Loves of Hercules) is in the don’s pocket. Indeed, just about the only major characters in this movie who aren’t party to the three-way chess game being played out by Interpol and the two gangs are Daniela herself and top prison bad girl Mother S. (Christina Gaioni, from The Mighty Ursus and Flesh for Frankenstein)! Eventually, though, Hilda is able to get enough incidental details out of Daniela that she can figure out what really happened to the drugs even if Daniela herself can’t. It ends up doing nobody any good, though, because not only is Daniela poisoned by Gerda right after she gives up the telltale clues, Hilda and her bosses are rubbed out by the don’s men on the way home from the prison!!!! Women in Cell Block 7 ends with organized crime triumphant to an extent that not even Quentin Tarantino has the balls to portray.

     Now that ought to have saved this movie. So, for that matter, should the nearly endless parade of naked female bodies or the very frequent— and surprisingly explicit— lesbian sex scenes. Hell, even if none of that pulled Women in Cell Block 7 through, you’d expect a bit of fun at the movie’s expense, attendant upon such things as the world’s most courteous prison riot or the utterly ridiculous car chase early in the movie, which has Musumeci’s enemies pursuing him across the Italian countryside in cars that look like their nameplates ought to read “Matchbox.” (Bullitt this ain’t...) But no. In fact, there is no fun at all to be had from Women in Cell Block 7, because director Rino DeSilvestro possesses such a leaden touch that even such things as Mother S. going down on her spectacular red-haired girlfriend come out boring. Had it been 20-30 minutes shorter, this movie might still have squeaked by with as much as a star and a half in one direction or the other, but a full 100 minutes of this crap just left me tired and angry. Watch Chained Heat or Reform School Girls instead, or if those aren’t twisted enough for you, go right to Europe’s grandmaster of the genre, and check out Greta the Mad Butcher/Ilsa the Wicked Warden and Barbed Wire Dolls. But whatever you do, steer well clear of Women in Cell Block 7!



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