CONTAINS SPOILERS AND IT'S THAT MAN AGAIN. AGAIN.
It's been a while since I last subjected myself to Jess Franco's legendary incompetence behind the camera, and in truth there are probably only a few left on UK video that I've still not caught. Most of them, of course, have been dull, some actively offensive, a few entertainingly nasty, though they're invariably ruined by Franco being a useless director, too happy to crash zoom in and out of pubes while frantically trying to get something into focus. Occasionally things goes right and you get a She Killed In Ecstasy or a Vampyros Lesbos, but they're the exceptions in a filmography full of idiocy, shoddy technique and unappetising nudity.
99 Women, shockingly, isn't nearly as sleazy and disreputable as the usual Franco filth: it's still tacky, sordid rubbish but noticeably less repugnant than some of his other films. Considering it's a women-in-prison movie that's some kind of achievement. A variety of female criminals are sentenced to an Alcatraz-like island fortress nicknamed the Castle Of Death, ruled over by unhinged disciplinarians Mercedes McCambridge and Herbert Lom and forced to endure the usual humiliations of the genre, until a new wardress (Maria Schell) shows up with a more liberal attitude. Three of the girls decide to try and flee through the jungle to meet up with some inmates from the men's prison next door, steal a fishing boat and escape into the sunset....
Given the (relatively) bigger cast names than usual (it's always nice to see Maria Rohm) I'm wondering whether the demented old perv actually reined the filth in a bit, as there's markedly less rape, sexual violence and other atrocities going on than you'd expect, and there's some delightfully outrageous overacting from McCambridge to enjoy. But he does still manage to toss in another of his dreary X-rated cabaret sequences in which girls get their kit off in front of an audience while being artily lit in the manner of a James Bond title sequence: all coloured filters and awkward posing. Incredibly, it's been left uncut by the BBFC for the human horrors, but a minute has still been lopped out for animal cruelty.
Ex-Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi is prominently billed but doesn't do very much, and the theme song ("The Day I Was Born") gets wearing after a few plays. And the ending stinks, with a defeated Schell shipped quietly back to the mainland and the brutal regime back in command (although there is an alternative ending on the DVD where the Justice Minister shows up to sort the place out). Still, while it's not as horrible as too many other Franco films, that's no recommendation. Merely not being as offensive as, say, The Sexual Story Of O, doesn't mean 99 Women is any good at all, and it absolutely isn't.