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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: Seven Women From Hell (1961) review

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Patricia Owens (Grace Ingram), Denise Darcel (Claire), Cesar Romero (Luis), John Kerr (Lt. Bill Jackson), Margia Dean (Mara), Yvonne Craig (Janet), Richard Loo (Sgt. Takahashi), Yuki Shimoda (Dr. Matsumo)

Directed by Robert Webb

The Short Version: At times looking like it was shot at a family barbecue, SEVEN WOMEN FROM HELL has lots of things to recommend it to serious trash fans and bad movie buffs. Only marginally better than the craftsmanship of the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis, or Larry Buchanan (well, lots better than Buchanan), this goofy and unintentionally funny early Women In Prison quickie has all the earmarks of classic 'B' movie conventions and wears them like a badge of (dis)honor.

A group of women captured by the Japanese plan an escape from a vicious New Guinea POW camp during WW2 with the help of a sympathetic Japanese doctor. Attempting to make it to the Allied camp, the ever dwindling group of girls are chased by the Japanese forces.

This hysterical and frequently politically incorrect early example of the Women In Prison genre is a smorgasbord of ineptitude and fun. Even though the plot is played totally straight, one can't help but marvel at the hilarity of the whole enterprise. The acting is 'Cue Card' level line readings that only adds to the absurdity. The main cast of femme fatales are trotted out at the beginning along with dozens of other men and women. This sequence, which strives for pathos, garners giggles instead. Everyone looks like they're extras recruited from a nearby suburb, picnic, or straight off the golf course.

For a 1961 production, the violence level (mostly during the first half) is mildly eyebrow raising, yet tepid and tame when compared with later movies such as THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1972) and THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS (1973) to name two. The women are voluptuous and show just enough skin that could be gotten away with at the time. Misogyny abounds as our feisty and, or fragile females are slapped around, kicked, ogled in various stages of undress, or repeatedly made to bow whenever they are in the presence of their captors.

Most of the popular plot devices ensconced in the sleazier 70s examples are present here and accounted for. The main female characters are the stock variety adopted for all the later similar movies. Additionally, there's wicked wardens, a sympathetic Japanese doctor, cat fights, cleavage and frequent action, violence, (attempted) rape and torture sequences. There's no lesbianism or shower scenes (the girls do take a bath in a river), though. Barely 25 minutes into the movie there's a raid on the camp by air (a single plane mind you) riddling it with machine gun fire and explosives. Meanwhile, one of the girls threatens to give birth amidst the ruckus outside.

Patricia Owens, the wife of THE FLY (1958), is the lead actress here and she's one of the few decent performances of the bunch. Oddly enough, five years earlier, director Webb was behind the Elvis Presley classic, LOVE ME TENDER (1956). The stunning Yvonne Craig (who went on to play Batgirl on the BATMAN television series) also took part in an Elvis vehicle, KISSIN' COUSINS (1964) as well as playing the sexy, yet psychotic green woman dancer in the 'Whom God's Destroy' episode of the original STAR TREK. Speaking of BATMAN, Cesar Romero, the Joker on that show, has a role here as a wealthy plantation owner--his character providing a last minute plot twist.

Lovers of babes with big busts will no doubt be in awe of French import, Denise Darcel, who could have been a lovely attribute to Russ Meyer's cinematic catalog. Horror fans will recognize John Kerr as the hero in Roger Corman's THE PIT & THE PENDULUM made the same year. That films cinematographer, Floyd Crosby, took photographic duties here, too.

Yvonne Craig and John Kerr

If there's one major negative here, it's the ending--there's no big finish. You don't even realize it's coming till 'The End' appears onscreen. Still, the movie does end with an hilarious single line of dialog from an Allied Forces member upon seeing the girls on the boat. There's yet to be a DVD release in America, but the film turns up occasionally on the Fox Movie Channel. Those with an appreciation for 50s and 60s programmers and lovers of vintage trash will find lots to savor here. Bad acting hounds will likewise enjoy the show as well. The cast are all attractive and the movie moves at a fair clip aided by the unintentional goofiness. SEVEN WOMEN FROM HELL is a flick straight from 'B' movie heaven.

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