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The film was rejected for a DVD certificate in February 2004 in the United Kingdom by the BBFC over sexual violence being eroticized, and indecent images of an under-eighteen (in Britain, indecent images of children are illegal). The BBFC website has this to say regarding the film: This work was rejected. Dubbed,Widescreen,Under the Video Recordings Act 1984,the Board is required to consider any harmful effect that a video work may have upon potential viewers or,through their behaviour,to society by the manner in which it deals with (amongst other things) violent behaviour,horrific behaviour and human sexual activity. Women in Cellblock 9 contains many sequences depicting the abuse,torture and humiliation of naked women. These sequences were found to be in conflict with the Board's published classification guidelines,which prohibit scenes that eroticise or endorse sexual assault. The Board's strict stance on titillatory sexual violence is supported both by public opinion and by a large body of media effects research. In addition,The Protection of Children Act,as amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003,makes the distribution and showing of indecent photographs of a child under the age of 18 a criminal offence. One of the lead actresses in Women in Cellblock 9 was just over 16 at the time the film was made. The Board was in no doubt that many of the sexualised scenes involving her would therefore be illegal. Although the amendment will not take effect until May 2004,the BBFC cannot classify material which would be in circulation in breach of the Act. The Board considered the option of cutting the work. However,the quantity of scenes involving eroticised sexual violence,combined with the indecent photographs of a person under 18,meant that cuts were not a viable option. See more »
Jesus Franco has caught a lot of flack over the years, mostly of the order of talentless sleaze fixated hack and often from people who haven't actually seen many of his films. Women in Cellblock 9 is not one of his nobler efforts and those who admire him for his atmospheres and talent for fevered headstates and lush sexuality should stay far away, it is rather a relentless rush of mean spirits and cruelty. It does strike against the talentless accusation of his critics though, being a conventionally well made and even intermittently stylish work. Plotwise there's very little here. Several women attempt to escape a totalitarian South American state but are apprehended. They are then strung up naked and occasionally tortured until a predictable finale. It isn't a set up likely to appeal to many really, unremitting sexual abuse tends to be kind of a turn off for people and characters are largely neglected so there's little to hold on to if you aren't a big sleaze fan. Fortunately I am just such a person and thus had rather a good time, the key to it being its very one dimensionality I think. Through pained faces and pleading, through mostly absent context it builds an atmosphere of pure cruelty with a fine charge, some from the cast and some from the situation. The actresses are surely pretty uncomfortable in their scenes and their suffering is palpable, even infectious, as the film draws on its hard not to feel a sense of genuine unhappiness for them. As performers they work well too, Karine Gambier, Susan Hemmingway, Aida Gouveia and Esther Studer were all either Franco frequent flyers or adult cinema veterans and have an easy chemistry, and not just their characters but the film itself. Franco has occasionally cast women that just don't gel with his films but here they work beautifully and the camera is equally responsive. Mostly naked with loving gaze upon breasts and bushes they bring a physical energy that almost makes up for their absent characters, radiating convincing pain during even the more daftly lurid of their tortures. Though never graphic these scenes are imaginatively mean spirited and compered with glee by a hammy yet disturbing Howard Vernon, clearly having a hoot of a time as a bad, bad man who really likes his job. Things are always watchable, but like many a film of its ilk, this one is simply too unambitious. I know I said the one dimensionality works, but it still could have taken its one dimension and made it, oh I don't know, bigger? Though nasty it never goes for truly grim where it should, though sleazy it only once takes a time out to actually be sexy. I didn't expect much and happily I got pretty much exactly what I wanted from this one but I still can't help thinking it could have pushed the boat out a bit more. There is also a sad lack of wild zooms or out of focus shots, Franco never tweaks the atmosphere the way his other work has shown he can. When it comes down to it, this isn't that memorable and its a crying shame. Still a good time 6/10 from me though, even if it has slipped my mind in a few weeks time.
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