Impulse Pictures // 1975 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // April 13th, 2012
Give her the plucked chicken treatment!
While the Women-in-Prison film is a genre favorite in most of the western world, Japan didn't produce a whole lot of them. Still, when they did them, they did them right. At their best, we have Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion, which is actually pretty good, but at their sleaziest, I'd have to go with Nikkatsu Studio's True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell. Directed by Kôyû Ohara (Fairy in a Cage), who really knew how to make you feel dirty watching an exploitation movie, Sex Hell throws it all in your face. It's not the best of its kind, but I've got to hand it to the movie for that.
Whether they're guilty of their crimes or not, when the new girls arrive at this brutal juvenile prison, they learn the ropes pretty quick. If they want to get ahead and maybe get out at some point, they'd better keep their mouths shut, no matter what the pervy wardens say or whose hands are getting grabby. Mayumi doesn't see things that way, though, and she pays for it. Eventually, she earns the respect of her fellow prisoners, just in time for her to stage her big escape.
Sex Hell, awesome as that title might be, is far from the most extreme of its kind and really not all that exciting at any point, but it delivers basically every trope fans have come to hope for from a women-in-prison movie. Predatory guards, invasive showers, and catfights are all fully in play, but don't forget about the riots and inter-inmate coupling. Given its short running time, that doesn't leave a whole lot of time for plot or characters, which is probably a good thing. Plus, for those pesky things to have occurred, Ohara would have been forced to shorten the extended toilet and inspection scenes, and that would have been unacceptable.
It's all good sleazy fun, and the decision to have it take place in juvie instead of an adult prison really ups the perversion ante, so it's hard to really complain about what it lacks. On top of it, the soundtrack is fantastic, with an awesome title theme crossing '60s pop with chanteuse stylings that I really want in my collection, and the movie actually taught me something. At one point, a new prisoner smuggles in a cigarette and gives it to the queen bee as a gift. She decides to share it with everybody but, before doing so, has the tobacco cut with baby powder to extend it. What a simple, elegant solution to keep in the bank for when the times get lean.
Sex Hell receives a decent release from Impulse Picture. The image has been restored fairly well, with strong, surprisingly realistic colors on top of a relatively clean, error-free transfer. The two-channel mono mix is solid for what it is; clear dialog and little noise. There are no extras save a brief essay, but it looks and sounds good enough to make that a non-issue.
The movie isn't anything great, but it delivers on the Japanese-style exploitation and throws in a few nasty bits for good measure. Fans of this dubious subgenre know what they want and, on that level, they're going to get it in Sex Hell.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Impulse Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated