I'd like to think that I can find something good to say about just about any Jess Franco movie, but I have to admit that with his 1978 offering Wicked Women (AKA Women Without Innocence, AKA Frauen ohne Unschul), one of the movies he made for Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich in the late 70s, I’m really struggling.
This was clearly just a movie made for the pay cheque and Franco’s lack of interest is all too obvious.
The movie sells itself as a women-in-prison movie but it isn’t. The women are confined in a mental asylum, and the newest inmate is Margarita (Lina Romay). She was involved with two suspected diamond-smugglers and the unscrupulous couple who run the asylum want to find out where the diamonds are hidden.
Unfortunately for them Margarita is completely mad and they can get no sense out of her. The doctor in charge of the asylum uses various controversial therapies, most of which involve sex. The therapies would seem to be more likely to end someone more crazy than they already are but it does eventually get results, of a kind. And of course it necessitates Lina Romay taking her clothes off a lot. That’s certainly no disadvantage in a Franco movie but in this one the sex seems a bit perfunctory. And it’s not even very sleazy. If Franco can’t be bothered ramping up the sleaze factor then you know he’s not really interested.
Lina Romay as usual does her best. She was pretty good at playing severely disturbed women but this movie doesn’t really push her acting abilities as much as movies like Dorian Gray. She was always at her best when there was a lot of weirdness going on as well as just regular madness. And that’s another problem here - the weirdness level is just not high enough.
Many of the sets will be familiar to viewers who’ve seen Voodoo Passion, a much more interesting and generally much better Franco movie that came out in 1977, suggesting that Franco may have been indulging in his 1970s habit of shooting two movies simultaneously. The multiple-mirrored sex scenes are clever but the ones in Voodoo Passion have a bit more spark to them.
Lina Romay’s naked romp in the spa bath with a friend will certainly get your attention though. Of course it’s part of her therapy and Lina understands that if therapy is going to work you have to put some effort into it. Which she does.
It’s essentially a straight murder mystery plot, which was something Franco was quite capable of pulling off, as he did in the excellent and underrated Downtown - Die nackten Puppen der Unterwelt in 1975. But in that movie he was having fun as well, spoofing the private eye genre.
Wicked Women isn’t sleazy enough to be a great women-in-prison movie. it isn’t erotic enough to make it as an erotic film, it isn’t weird enough to be a classic slice of Franco uber-weirdness and it has no sense of fun so it also doesn’t make it as comedy. So it’s really a bit of a nothing movie, obviously cranked out to keep producer Erwin C. Dietrich happy (Dietrich incidentally gets a credit as co-writer). The prodigious number of lesbian couplings would certainly have pleased him.
The German DVD from Ascot Elite is up to their usual standards - picture quality is superb. The movie is in German with optional English subtitles.
This one is really for Franco completists only.