No matter how many times I go into a Bruno Mattei movie thinking it will be the one that stands out and justifies his long and prolific directing career, I always come away disappointed. It’s never enough to give up on him completely, as his work consistently achieves a kind of trashy delirium in its best moments to compel me to keep seeking his work out. So while 1983’s Women’s Prison Massacre—now out on Blu-ray from Scream Factory—is far from being Bruno Mattei’s undiscovered masterpiece, there’s enough violent weirdness in store that I’m sure I’ll be more than willing to check out whatever the next Mattei film is to cross my path. Even if it is against my better judgment.

Things start well enough in Women’s Prison Massacre (aka Emanuelle Escapes from Hell), which begins with an expressionistic sequence featuring three female inmates monologuing directly to the camera like something directly out of Rob Marshall’s adaptation of Chicago. It’s revealed to be some sort of prison play (the context making it immediately less interesting), at which point Massacre settles into being a much more traditional exploitation film complete with a sadistic warden (Lorraine de Selle of Cannibal Ferox fame), lesbian sex, and lots of savage, bloody violence. The main character, a former reporter named Emanuelle (Laura Gemser, the original Black Emanuelle), is locked away on trumped-up drug charges to stop her from exposing a corrupt District Attorney. When a group of psychotic male inmates—each on death row and awaiting execution—arrives at the prison, all hell breaks loose.

While I’m no fan of watching movies ironically—laughing at how bad something is robs us of either the chance to see the good in it or the two hours we could spend seeing something better—I’m not entirely sure how else to enjoy Women’s Prison Massacre. Mattei’s direction (he’s credited here as Gilbert Roussel) isn’t as incompetent as it can be in other films, but it sure is sloppy. His editing is almost nonexistent, which is not to say there are no cuts but that it doesn’t feel like enough thought or attention went into setting the movie’s pace, as shots and moments play out three to four times longer than their logical endpoint. He directs his cast to go so cartoonishly over the top in their performances that the only emotional response they’re able to elicit is unintentional laughter. Sometimes it’s just amateurish. Sometimes it needs to be seen to be believed.

And yet, with some tighter editing, Women’s Prison Massacre could really be something. Even in its current form the movie is totally watchable, though best suited for those with a good deal of patience and a predisposition towards sleazy exploitation movies. Mattei delivers the goods sporadically enough to hold our interest through the next stretch of dead space, rewarding our investment with another lunatic beat like a prisoner taking a guy out by hiding a razorblade in her vagina. Women’s Prison Massacre ends up being a microcosm of sorts for Mattei’s entire filmography: it’s messy and crude and not particularly good, but provides just enough cause to keep me coming back for more.

Though slightly harder-edged than their usual releases, Scream Factory is giving Women’s Prison Massacre its high-def debut on a no-frills Blu-ray that presents a decent if unspectacular 1080p transfer of a film that didn’t look particularly great to begin with. Signs of age are present but generally kept to a minimum, and though the image is occasionally unstable and lacking in detail, this is as good as we can ever hope the film to look. The lossless stereo audio track delivers the (dubbed, often poorly) dialogue clearly and does right by Luigi Ceccarelli’s score, which Mattei slathers incessantly throughout the entire movie. No extra features have been included, not even a trailer.

It’s hard to really recommend a movie like Women’s Prison Massacre. I don’t regret the time I spent watching it, but there are such better examples of this particular subgenre that I don’t see myself going back to it very often, and the lack of supplemental material doesn’t help either. Like most of Mattei’s movies, it’s frustratingly uneven but works just enough to keep me from swearing him off for good. This is a disc best recommended to diehard fans of women-in-prison movies and Bruno Mattei completists. You know who you are.

Movie Score: 2.5/5,  Disc Score: 2.5/5

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on, and, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.