Barbed Wire Dolls Review

The Film

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Barbed Wire Dolls is that it isn't inept. If you're familiar with the output of Jess Franco, you'll realize what high praise that is. If you're not familiar, and wish to dip a toe into the sewage stream of films that Franco directed, you could do very much worse than sampling this one for all of the elements for which he is famous are present and it is possible to gleam some sort of amusement from this.

When this reviewer was young, in the heady days of the video revolution and before the establishment of age guidelines, he was given pretty much a free run of the video store. Many was the occasion when, in his haste and lured by graphic covers, he'd pick something that was less than wholesome. On occasions such as this, parental control was re-established by use of something called 'the towel'. If the action on screen dared make it's way towards sex that was too graphic for his delicate eyes, then 'the towel' was employed. The said 'towel' was placed over his young head until the danger was passed and the 'towel' was removed. Many years later, he finally gets a chance to see what was going on when that loopy music was playing, for Barbed Wire Dolls is very much a 'towel' film.

Barbed Wire Dolls is far more graphic than most films of its ilk. Set in a female prison it features some fairly strong sex scenes and close up shots of various bodily parts, so be warned, although it never strays beyond soft porn status, there's far more than mere nudity on display here. The camp is run by the sadistic female director who uses a neat mixture of blackmail and torture to keep the girls and staff in line and the plot focuses centers the device of a letter that has been smuggled out, detailing the atrocities that go on, and threatening to ruin the director's reign of terror. The guilty parties, of course, must be routed out.

This is most certainly one of Jess Franco's better efforts. It's fairly well paced and the direction is well suited to the rather claustrophobic location. Franco's technique is largely one of non-technique. He is, of course, renowned for his use of the zoom lens and for having a rather wobbly hand for the handheld shots. This, however, works very well during some of the more graphic torture scenes. Some of which are fairly harrowing, considering the genre, and Franco's heavy touch ensures that a vague feeling of nausea is never far away. It's also effective elsewhere -Take, for example, a flashback scene that occurs about midway through the film. Despite the clichéd use of Vaseline on the lens, the jerky camera and zoom lens techniques adds to the surrealism of the scene and renders it quite effective. Whether this is accident or design is a matter for debate.

The film also tries its hand at the raising of some philosophical issues concerning the nature of power. Nazi and Christian imagery is employed at certain points and, it has to be said, there is much of interest for the theorist. It's never really effective, and it's very much a subtext, but its certainly there and the film is much richer as a result. Franco is no Passolini, though, and a better director could certainly have done more with the screenplay and concepts. That aside, the film drips atmosphere, is very dark in tone and does stand up to more than one viewing.

Barbed Wire Dolls is no classic. Despite this, it's bearable enough to watch in one sitting and, compares favorably to much of Franco's other output. Performances in the film are adequate, and never far from camp and over the top. It's not as leaden as Love Camp, but not quite as much fun as Ilsa The Wicked Warden, so viewer beware...

The Disc

Picture

Very good picture quality throughout. Some very slight print damage at one or two points, and good levels of contrast. Colours are bright, but the film is often quite dark given its prison location and there is much use of soft focus tricks that often looks suspiciously like Vaseline smeared on the camera lens. The level of detail is good, though, and there's no trace of bleed or noise apart from a fairly grainy opening sequence. Anamorphic. It's occasionally quite grainy, especially near the beginning, but nothing to complain about really. Given the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere of the location, the transfer does a wonderful job. Of course, the films age must be taken into consideration.

Sound

Sound quality is very good. You get the choice of English Dubbing or German Dialogue with English subtitles. Its clear, bright and effective.


Extra Features

The bulk of the extra features are taken up with interviews with Erwin C Dietrich (12 mins), Jess Franco and Lina Romay (12 mins) with English and German subtitles. It's brief, but quite interesting as it gives a nice little insight into the making of the film.

There's fifteen production stills and an extensive cast and crew feature as well, neither of which are very exciting.

You also get trailers for Blue Rita, Ilsa The Wicked Warden, Jack The Ripper, Barbed Wire Girls and Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun. They're all Non-Anomorphic and picture quality varies considerably, but they're all pulpy, sleazy and well worth a look. Possibly the best way to watch a Jess Franco Movie is in its trailer form.

You also get the exact same documentary as you get in the other titles in this series. Not a bad thing in itself, it is a seventeen-minute long documentary about Franco and his work that looks at the resurrection of his films onto DVD. Its 4:3 and in Italian with English subs. It feature some quite interesting interviews with Franco's Producer Erwin C Dietrich, and you might well fail to suppress a titter as he asserts that Franco was actually shooting in the 'Dogme 95' style twenty five years before the technique was named. The bulk of its running time features a lengthy look at the print cleaning and digital restoration process that was employed for cleaning up these films which means that, for the first time, you can actually see turds being polished.

Note - The interviews and the documentary are in German language with English subtitles, but none of the trailers is subtitled

Conclusion

This film would make a fairly good introduction for the Franco neophyte. It's sleazy and camp, but does have something going on under the surface. Not much, granted, but there’s more to this than simple T & A and that can only being applauded. The discs extras are fairly unexciting, but the main reason to get this would be the absolutely wonderful picture quality.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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