DISCLOSURE: AS AN AMAZON ASSOCIATE I EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING, AT NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU, I EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES. AFFILIATE LINKS ARE MARKED WITH #ad. "I" IN THIS CASE MEANS THE OWNER OF FILMDAFT.COM. PLEASE READ THE FULL DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
Regular FilmDaft readers might have spotted that I have a weakness for campy B-movies from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
A central concept for many B-movies of the era was exploitation.
Those decades saw an explosion in genres such as grindhouse movies, sexploitation, blaxploitation, Nazisploitation, and martial arts movies, thanks to the popularity of Bruce Lee (Bruceploitation), sci-fi, superhero, and action movies.
Exploitation films piggyback on popular trends and niches and add some skin to lure the viewers in. The exploitation genre is essentially sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll for the silver screen – and later for VHS.
The W.I.P. film genre
One such subgenre dealt with depicting women in prison (W.i.P. films).
Female exploitation prison films are usually built around the same core concept: you have a bunch of beautiful (and often naked) women who are sent behind bars (or to a remote island or steamy tropical jungle) with a life sentence and a sadistic correctional officer (male or female).
In prison, they are often to some sexual abuse or humiliation, from which they must escape.
More often than not, it’s an innocent woman who gets a prison sentence, gets to experience the rough prison life, and then starts a riot with other inmates.
Women-in-prison films revolve around recurrent themes such as lesbianism, humiliation, sadism, and taboos. And – of course – nudity as much as possible.
These movies are from a time before intimate coordinators and where sex scenes were mostly improvised on the spot.
The WiP genre wasn’t just an American thing. The genre was also embraced, especially by Italian and Asian directors and audiences.
The WiP genre is still popular today
It’s pulp fiction in the truest cinematic form, but if you can look past the low production value of these films, they offer an exciting insight into a cultural niche that still influences movies and TV shows today.
These early female prison movies are an early attempt to portray female prison life.
The depiction of women in prison has become increasingly popular and matured into modern dramas. This can be seen in a TV show like Orange Is the New Black (2013-2019) or the LGBTQ+ series The L Word (2004-2009).
This article is mainly about the best campy female prison movies from the 1960s to 1980s, although I have found a place for some classic films and more serious dramas.
So let’s dive into the raunchy female prison movies and visit the women behind bars.
1. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a 1972 Japanese revenge film directed by Shunya Ito.
It stars Meiko Kaji, Isao Natsuyagi, Akemi Negishi, Rie Yokoyama, Yoko Mihara, etc.
It is the story of Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji), a young woman used by her police boyfriend Sugimi (Isao Natsuyagi) to bribe the yakuza for money.
However, Sugimi had led her to believe she worked for him as a spy for a real police mission.
When Nami is found out and raped by several gang members, she decides to kill Sugimi, but her attempted murder fails.
She is then sent to a female prison, as prisoner #701, filled with sadistic guards and inmates.
After enduring months of abuse and torture in prison, Nami breaks out and embarks on a bloody revenge spree against those responsible for her incarceration.
The film combines artistry, violence, and feminist themes, making it a cult classic.
2. Brokedown Palace (1999)
Brokedown Palace (1999) is a women-in-prison movie directed by Jonathan Kaplan.
It tells the story of two young American friends, Alice (Claire Danes) and Darlene (Kate Beckinsale), who travel to Thailand, where they meet the handsome Australian man – and unbeknownst to them, drug dealer and smuggler – Nick Parks (Daniel Lapaine).
Nick invites the women to Hong Kong, but they are arrested at Don Mueang International Airport because one of their bags is full of heroin.
The women are then sentenced to 33 years in a maximum security prison. They soon realize that life in prisons in Thailand is filled with violence.
After a while, they get the help of lawyer Hank Green (Bill Pullman), who tries to help them out of prison.
3. Caged (1950)
Caged is a 1950 American drama film directed by John Cromwell and starring Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, and Hope Emerson.
The movie follows the story of Marie Allen (Parker), a young woman who is sent to prison after being convicted of a robbery attempt together with her husband, Tom, who is killed during the attempt.
Once in prison, Marie is forced to confront the harsh realities of life behind bars, including the oppressive rules and regulations of the prison and its tyrannical matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson).
Marie must also contend with the other inmates, who range from hardened criminals to frightened young women.
Marie also discovers she is two months pregnant and later gives birth to a premature baby. She seeks the help of her mother, but her stepdad won’t have the baby in the house.
She then tries to escape but without luck. As a result, she has to give up her baby for adoption.
As time progress, Marie hardens due to prison life – especially the violence and time spent in solitary confinement.
Caged is a tale of the loss of innocence and a subtle critique of how time spent in prison makes hardened criminals instead of getting humans back on track to a life without crime.
4. Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975)
Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) is a women-in-prison film by director Don Edmonds.
It stars Dyanne Thorne as an evil female warden, Gregory Knoph as Wolfe, Tony Mumolo as Mario, and more.
The film follows the story of Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne), a sadistic warden of a Nazi prison camp during World War II, who has a huge sexual appetite towards men. She copulates with, castrates, and has a new man killed each night.
She is also convinced that women can endure more pain than men and should be allowed to fight in the German armed forces. To prove this, she conducts all sorts of sadistic experiments on the prisoners – male and female.
When the virile blond-haired and blue-eyed prisoner Wolfe (Gregory Knoph) arrives, Ilsa finds a man who can finally bring her to orgasm. In return, he becomes her first repeat sexual partner.
As the Allied forces break through the German defenses, Wolfe ties Ilsa to her bed during one of their many sex games and steals her gun.
Wolfe, Mario, and the other prisoners revolt and kill most of the guards, and Wolfe and a female prisoner manage to flee the prison without being killed.
A commander of a retreating tank troupe inspects the camp, where he finds Ilsa tied up. He then shoots her in the head and orders the camp destroyed to remove any evidence of the atrocities.
Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS is a rough sexploitation movie that explores taboo themes such as sadomasochism, aggressive female sexuality, and hypersexuality, and through the years, it has gained a cult following.
5. Ladies They Talk About (1933)
Ladies They Talk About (1933) is a classic film directed by Howard Bretherton and William Keighley.
Nan Taylor (Barbara Stanwyck) is a bank robber who got caught and sent to San Quentin State Prison.
The radio star David Slade (Preston Foster) falls in love with her and gets her released as a favor from District Attorney Simpson (Robert McWade). However, she’s sent back to the slammer when she confesses that she helped the bank robbers. Slade keeps writing her, but she’ll have nothing to do with him.
In prison, she meets fellow inmates Linda (Lillian Roth), ‘Sister Susie’ who fancies Slade (Dorothy Burgess), Aunt Maggie (Aunt Maggie), and the prison matron Noonan (Ruth Donnelly).
Her bank robber friend, Lefty Simons (Harold Huber), tells her that their accomplice Don (Lyle Talbot), is also doing time in San Quentin State Prison.
Lefty tells her to make a map of the women’s section and a copy of the matron’s key to help the men escape via the women’s section.
However, the plot fails, and Don is shot dead as he enters Nan’s prison cell to break out. Nan believes Slade has told the prison guards about the escape plot.
As punishment, Nan is given another year. When she is eventually released, Nan seeks out Slade and shoots him in the arm. He professes his love for her, and Nan agrees to marry Slade.
In the meantime, Sister Susie witnesses it all through a keyhole, suggesting she was the prison snitch the whole time because she is in love with Slade and wants Nan out of the way.
6. Women’s Prison (1955)
The film Women’s Prison (1955), directed by Lewis Seiler, follows the story of a newly arrived prisoner, Helene Jensen (Phyllis Thaxter), convicted of accidental vehicular homicide, who is sent to prison governed by the ruthless superintendent Amelia van Zandt (Ida Lupino) and the warden Brock (Barry Kelley).
Not a hardened criminal, Helene Jensen panics and is put in solitary confinement in a straight jacket.
Another inmate, Joan Burton (Audrey Totter), has had secret sexual meetings with her husband Glen (Warren Stevens), a men’s wing prisoner, and the couple is now expecting a baby.
When Van Zandt interrogates Joan about how Glen managed to visit her, she beats the pregnant prisoner to death. The other inmates revolt, and it quickly turns into a full-scale riot. They capture van Zandt and threaten her until guards shoot tear gas and bullets into the wing.
Glen manages to get a gun and looks for van Zandt to kill her, but Dr. Crane (Howard Duff) of the infirmary, who disagrees with the ruthless treatment of prisoners by van Zandt and Brock, intervenes just in time to point out that the ordeal has driven her mad so he does not need to shoot her.
Van Zandt is put in a straitjacket and taken away, while Dr. Crane informs Brock that he will no longer be warden after the prison board meets the next day. In the end, Helene is finally released and reunited with her husband.
The movie Women’s Prison shows how brutal conditions can lead to rebellion. However, justice is served at the film’s end when Van Zandt is captured and removed from power.
The movie highlights the importance of standing up against injustice and shows the potential for positive change even in a seemingly hopeless situation.
7. Reform School Girl (1957)
Reform School Girl (1957) is an American women in prison film directed by Edward Bernds and starring Gloria Castillo, Ross Ford, and Edd Byrnes.
Donna Price is picked up on a double date by Vince and discovers the car is stolen. During their night together, Vince tells her he would murder anyone who turned him in.
As a cop car approaches, a high-speed chase ensues. Vince strikes a pedestrian, kills him, flees the scene, and leaves Donna alone in the car.
She gets arrested and dares not reveal Vince out of fear for her life. So she is sent to a state school for girls.
Vince is worried Donna will turn him in, so his girlfriend calls the police posing as Donna, and tells them one of the girls in the school is a thief. The other inmates believe that Donna is a police informer, and the inmate Roxy attacks her.
Donna defends herself, but the school now views Donna as dangerous, and she is to be transferred to the state prison.
In the meantime, Vince is getting paranoid that Donna will turn him, so he breaks into the reform school before she’s transferred and attempts to kill her.
Luckily, he fails and is arrested, and after a thorough investigation, Donna is finally released.
8. Olga’s House Of Shame (1964)
Olga’s House of Shame (1964) is a cult classic directed by Joseph P. Mawra and starring Audrey Campbell, Judy Young, Ella Daphni, Alice Denham, and Brenda Denaut.
In this third installment of the ‘Olga’ series, brothel owner Madame Olga (Audrey Campbell) expands her criminal empire by adding jewel smuggling to her repertoire, which already includes forcibly training young women to sell drugs and prostitution.
Being an Olga movie, the training methods primarily consist of S&M methods, including the expected barrage of violence featuring soldering irons, floggings, spankings, and electric chairs.
All this, she runs out of an abandoned mining shack in upstate New York.
Olga’s House of Shame is a black-and-white silent film with narration. However, Audrey Campbell’s portrayal of Olga is comically menacing.
9. The Big Doll House (1971)
The Big Doll House (1971) is a women in prison movie directed by Jack Hill and starring Judy Brown, Kathryn Loder, Brooke Mills, Sid Haig, Pat Woodell, Pam Grier, and Roberta Collins.
The plot follows five female inmates in a tropical prison in the Philippines.
Collier (Brown) is sent to a tropical prison for killing her husband and meets her cellmates, who are doing time for various crimes.
When conflicts break out among the beautiful inmates, they get punished by torture by the sadistic guard Lucian (Kathryn Loder), all while a mysterious cloaked figure oversees the torture ceremonies.
To escape the horrors and take their revenge on Lucian, Collier plans a prison break together with her cellmates Alcott (Roberta Collins) and Bodine (Pat Woodell) and two other inmates – Grear (Grier) and her heroin-addict girlfriend Harrad (Mills).
During their great escape, they take various personnel from the prison as hostages, including the prison warden and medic.
Of course, the movie is filled with sex, guns, and strong female leads.
10. Caged Heat (1974)
Caged Heat (also known as Renegade Girls) is a classic women-in-prison movie directed by Jonathan Demme. The film stars Barbara Steele, Erica Gavin, and Roberta Collins as inmates at an all-female correctional facility.
The movie follows a girl, Jacqueline Wilson (Erica Gavin), who is convicted of illegal drug offenses and sent to a women’s prison.
She soon discovers that the sadistic prison warden Superintendent McQueen (Barbara Steele), runs the place.
The prisoners band together to fight the oppressive policies of the warden and the corrupt doctor, who is using illegal electroshock experiments and raping drugged prisoners.
And – as you might have guessed – everything explodes when all that caged heat is released.
11. Women In Cages (1971)
Women in Cages (1971) is a women-in-prison movie directed by Gerardo de Leon and starring Judith M. Brown, Roberta Collins, and Jennifer Gan.
Carol ‘Jeff’ Jeffries (Jennifer Gan) is set up by her boyfriend, Rudy (Charlie Davao), and finds herself in a harsh prison run by sadistic guard Alabama (Pam Grier).
Together with her prison cellmates Stokes (Robert Collins), Sandy (Judy Brown), and Theresa (Sofia Moran), they are forced to do hard labor and suffer cruel punishment. Stokes and Sandy both agree to plot against Jeff to gain favors.
Jeff makes an escape plan involving fleeing through the jungle. But he learns that the jungle is full of poachers who are paid to hunt down and kill escapees. Theresa offers to help Jeff escape, revealing that she knows the jungle well and can get outside help.
The cellmates finally agree to help each other and try to escape the prison together.
This is another excellent example of the female-in-prison sexploitation genre that follows the same setup as so many other movies, i.e., a bunch of beautiful female inmates, lesbianism, a sadistic prison guard, and a dash for freedom.
12. Sweet Sugar (1972)
Sweet Sugar (1972) is a women-in-prison movie directed by Michel Levesque. It stars Phyllis Davis, Ella Edwards, James Houghton, Albert Cole, Timothy Brown, Pamela Collins, Cliff Osmond, and Angus Duncan.
Prostitute Sugar Bownman (Phyllis Davis) is sent to work on a sugar-cane plantation for two years for a drug charge set up by one of her customers.
Together with her cellmate Simone (Ella Edwards), the women are forced to work in the fields with machetes, watched by the brutish overseer Burgos (Cliff Osmond). They must also undergo the depraving medical experiments of the sadistic Dr. John (Angus Dungan).
Simone meets and falls in love with Mojo (Timothy Brown), who claims to have voodoo powers. Sugar is then caught having sex with the handsome guard Carlos (Darl Severns) by Burgos, who then kills Carlos.
When Sugar tries to flee into the jungle the following night, she is caught, and all the women are punished by having Dr. John’s drugged-up cats released on them (yep – you read that right!).
When the girls and Mojo discovers some buried human bones in the jungle, Mojo tries to perform a voodoo ritual to exorcise Dr. John but is knocked unconscious by some guards and killed.
This is the last straw for Simone, who cuts off Burgos’s hand with her machete and urges the women to riot. But the guards quickly suppress the riot, and Simone is imprisoned in a wooden cage suspended over flames.
That same night some of the women, including Sugar, burn down the sugar-cane field, free Simone, kill Burgos (with a machete, of course), and escape in a jeep with the help of Rick (James Houghton) and Max (Albert Cole) – two guards who the beautiful women prisoners have seduced.
Together they flee across the border, and Rick and Max suspect getting a sexual reward from Sugar.
But it turns out that she has jumped off the jeep and slipped away. The movie ends with Sugar again working as a prostitute in the big city.
Sweet Sugar has all the tropes of the 1970s WiP movie – plus machine guns!
13. Terminal Island: Intro (1973)
Terminal Island is a 1973 women-in-prison movie directed by Stephanie Rothman. It stars Phyllis Davis, Ena Hartman, Marta Kristen, and Barbara Leigh as inmates of the Terminal Island prison.
Sometime in the near future, the death penalty is outlawed. Instead, prisoners are sent to San Bruno Island to spend the rest of their presumably short lives fending for themselves.
Carmen (Ena Hartman) is sentenced to the island and discovers two factions. The main faction is controlled by the brute Bobby (Sean Kenney), who forces the women to service the sexual needs of the male prisoners.
A.J. (Don Marshall) and a group of first-degree murder convicts have fled the main faction and gone into hiding. They disapprove of Bobby’s methods and free the women, which triggers a war between the two camps.
14. Chained Heat (1983)
Chained Heat (1983), directed by Paul Nicholas and starring Stella Stevens, John Vernon, Tamara Dobson, and Sybil Danning, is a cult classic women in prison movie.
Carol Henderson (Linda Blair) is sentenced to 18 months in a California women’s prison run by Warden Backman (John Vernon) and his assistant, Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens).
Taylor controls the prison’s prostitutes while Ericka (Sybil Danning) is the leader of the white prisoners, and Duchess (Tamara Dobson) is the leader of the black prisoners.
When the administration pushes the prisoners too far, they unite to revolt against their common enemy.
15. Black Mama, White Mama (1973)
Black Mama White Mama (aka Women in Chains) is a 1973 chain gang film directed by Eddie Romero and starring Pam Grier and Margaret Markov.
The movie follows Lee Daniels (Pam Grier) and Karen Brent (Margaret Markov), two women chained together and transferred to a maximum security prison in a tropical country.
During their transfer, Karen’s rebel friends rescue them and allow them to escape.
The movie shows their escape and struggles to survive – still chained together. The perils are many, as they must escape the army, led by Captain Cruz (Eddie Garcia), and his hired cowboy gang, led by Ruben (Sid Haig).
Along the way, the pair bond and eventually escape with the help of rebel leader Ernesto (Zaldy Zshornack).
In the end, there is a violent shootout between the army, the cowboy gang, the rebels, and the gang of Lee’s former pimp Vic Cheng (Vic Diaz).
Black Mama, White Mama is one of the few real chain gang films of the 1970s with women prisoners.
The movie has elements of blaxploitation and is an excellent example of many of the many Philippine prison films shot at the time (to keep the production cost down).
16. The Bamboo House Of Dolls (1973)
The Bamboo House Of Dolls is a 1973 sexploitation film directed by Kuei Chi-hung and released by Shaw Brothers. The film stars Birte Tove as Jennifer, Niki Wane as Elizabeth, Roska Rozen as Mary, Lieh Lo as Tsui Kuo-Tung, and Terry Liu Wai Yue as Mako.
The confusing plot is set in the 1940s, where Japanese troops attack Chinese resistance fighters.
In 1940s China, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japanese soldiers stole gold from Chinese banks and hid it in a cave at White Cloud Peak. The only surviving fighter tells his wife, Hung Yu Lan, the treasure’s secret.
After the Japanese soldiers have beaten the Chinese, the woman is captured and sent to a POW camp with some beautiful hospital nurses.
The women prisoners are subjected to all kinds of cruelty, overseen by the strict sadistic warden Mako (Liu Wai Yue).
A group of women – led by the nurse Jennifer (Birte Tove) – eventually escape the camp, with the Japanese in pursuit. However, it turns out that there is a traitor among them who works for the Japanese.
17. House Of Whipcord (1974)
House of Whipcord (1974) is a British horror-thriller film directed by Pete Walker. It stars Penny Irving, Barbara Markham, Ann Michelle, Sheila Keith, Patrick Barr, and Ray Brooks in the lead roles.
It follows Ann-Marie Di Verney (Penny Irving), a naive French model who is humiliated when her boyfriend publicly displays a photo of her being arrested for public nudity.
She finds solace in Mark E. DeSade (Robert Tayman), who takes her to his isolated country estate. Here she discovers it is run by his sadistic mother, Mrs. Margaret Wakehurst (Barbara Markham), and that Mark works for his mother and procures young girls in need of moral correction.
Margaret is a former reform school matron who runs a secret illegal prison for young women, where she tortures and executes them after they gain three ‘demerits.’
Anne-Marie attempts multiple escape attempts but is recaptured every time. Eventually, her friends find the prison, but too late to save her.
When Mark confronts his mother, she kills him. Margaret ultimately kills herself, and the surviving prisoners are freed.
18. The Big Bust Out (1972)
The Big Bust Out (1972) is an Italian nunsploitation movie directed by Ernst Ritter von Theumer and starring Tony Kendall, Monica Teuber, William Berger, Vonetta McGee, Christiane Thorn, Nuccia Cardinali, Margaret Rose Keil, Linda Fox, and Felicita Fanny.
Sister Maria works with a group of convicts in a southern country in a convent. However, the women are regularly beaten and sexually humiliated by the guards.
The convicts outwit the guard and take over the convent, forcing the other residents to get rid of their religious garments so they can flee disguised as nuns.
Sister Maria joins the criminals to prevent them from doing more damage.
However, soon the escaped women find themselves in the hands of a trafficker, Bob Shaw, and his friend Jeff.
Jeff refuses to transport the girls further and helps them flee the country over the mountains, but they are attacked on the way by El Kadir, who intends to bring them to his soldiers in the desert.
Sister Maria is desperate to save the women and finds herself in danger when she is almost stoned to death by Arab women.
They then encounter El Kadir and his soldiers, leading to a bloody showdown. Sister Maria goes wild and helps to decimate their opponents with a machine gun.
I mean, nuns with a machine guns? What’s not to like?
19. The Hot Box (1972)
The Hot Box (1972) is another tropical women-in-prison movie directed by Joe Viola, starring Carmen Argenziano as Flavio, Andrea Cagan as Bunny Kincaid, Margaret Markov as Lynn Forrest, and Laurie Rose as Sue Pennwright.
Four nurses travel to the tropical republic of San Rosario to work in a medical aid unit, only to be kidnapped by a troop of bandits and subjected to abuse.
A rebel rescues them and brings them to care for his poverty-stricken people, but they are soon recaptured by a sadistic government official, caged in a hot metal box, and subjected to hot steam.
The rebel is the only one who can save them.
Of course, there’s plenty of hot action and clothes-ripping galore. Oh, and does the plot sound familiar?
20. Ilsa, Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks (1976)
Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976), is directed by Don Edmonds and stars Dyanne Thorne, Maxy Thayer, and Jerry Delony.
Again, Ilsa is a villainess in this 1976 sexploitation flick – the first sequel to ‘Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS’ and has somehow survived.
In this film, Ilsa manages a harem for Sheikh El-Sharif (Jerry Delony). Of course, this means the women are subjected to all kinds of sadistic and sexual torture.
When a belly dancer in the harem is caught spying, she is subjected to Ilsa’s methods. She reveals that an American Navy commander Adam Scott (Max Thayer), who has a planned meeting with the Sheikh, had hired her for inside information.
When the Sheikh meets up with the American, Ilsa finds that she fancies the commander and ends up having sex with him (of course). It turns out he has infiltrated the Sheik’s harem to overthrow the corrupt government.
Sharif then finds Ilsa and the commander in bed with each other and has the commander sent to prison. He also ties up Ilsa and has a leper have sex with her in public, to the horror of everyone present.
After the public humiliation, Ilsa helps Scott escape and frees Sharif’s nephew Prince Salem (Bobby Woods), who is held prisoner, so he can’t inherit the sheikdom.
Sharif is then arrested and sentenced to death. Sharif’s last wish is to have sex with his sex slave, Katsina (Su Ling), which he is granted.
But he doesn’t know that Ilsa has placed a diaphragm bomb in her (yes, the a** bomb in The Boys (2019) is nothing compared to the Ilsa movies).
Prince Salim (Bobby Woods) is unhappy that Ilsa let the innocent Katsina die, so he sentences Ilsa to death by slow starvation even though she helped free him and saved his life.
21. Red Heat (1985)
Red Heat (1985) is directed by Robert Collector and starring Linda Blair, Sylvia Kristel, and Sue Kiel.
Christine Carlson (Linda Blair), an American college student, travels to West Germany to visit her fiancé Mike (William Ostrander), who is serving in the US Army there.
When he refuses to marry her, Christine takes a late-night walk and is kidnapped by the East German Stasi.
She is then taken to East Germany and thrown into a women’s prison, where she is subjected to brutal interrogation and false espionage charges.
In the prison, Christine clashes with the gang leader, Sofia (Sylvia Kristel), in a violent fight.
Mike is determined to free Christine and succeeds with the help of the US Army and the West German BND.
22. Barbed Wire Dolls (1976)
Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) (aka Caged Women (UK) and Frauengefängnis (DE) is a Swiss horror sexploitation WiP movie directed by Jesús Franco, starring Lina Romay, Paul Muller, Monica Swinn, and Roger Darton.
Maria da Guerra (Lina Romay) is jailed and sent to a woman’s prison after killing her father, who tries to rape her.
The prison is on an isolated island run by Carlos Costa (Paul Muller), an imposter and killer. He is assisted by The Wardress (Monica Swinn), a monocled lesbian woman who enforces the prison with an iron fist and reads Nazi books in her free time.
To keep their horrific practices of isolation and torture hidden, the prison authorities have been reporting the deaths of prisoners as heart failure.
However, they are reaching a point where this cover-up is becoming suspicious to the mainland authorities.
There’s plenty of lesbian sex and naked breasts, and of course, we get to see Spanish actress Lina Romay, who ended up appearing in 109 Jesús France movies and later marrying him.
23. Interrogation (1989)
Interrogation (1989) is a Polish-language film directed by Ryszard Bugajski and starring Krystyna Janda, Adam Ferency, and Janusz Gajos.
Set in 1951, the film follows Tonia (Krystyna Janda), a cabaret singer in Stalinist Poland. One night she goes out drinking and wakes up in political-military prison, not knowing why she’s there. She is tortured and made to confess to a crime she is unaware of.
Over several years she is humiliated and bullied by prison officials. After her husband visits her in prison and confronts her about infidelities revealed by her interrogators, she attempts suicide.
One of her interrogators takes an interest in her recovery, and the two form a brief romantic relationship. She becomes pregnant and is forced to give up her child for adoption.
After her release, she visits the orphanage where her daughter lives, and the girl, now a toddler, recognizes her father and runs towards him.
The movie was finished in 1982 but was banned by the Polish government for eight years due to its anti-communist themes. It was released in 1989 after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.
Interrogation is a serious movie different from the other campy B-movies on this list and considered Bugaskis masterpiece.
24. 99 Women (1969)
The 1969 film 99 Women (aka Der heiße Tod), directed by Jesús Franco and starring Maria Schell, Luciana Paluzzi, Mercedes McCambridge, Herbert Lom, Maria Rohm, Rosalba Neri, and Elisa Montés, is a gripping tale of imprisonment and female solidarity.
On an island off the coast of Panama are two penal colonies, one supervised by a sadistic Thelma Diaz (Mercedes McCambridge) and the other by a passionate warden who enjoys himself with inmates of the women’s prison.
After several suspicious deaths, Thelma is replaced by the more lenient Leonie (Maria Schell), who is accused of a lesbian relationship with one of the inmates, Marie (Maria Rohm).
Marie tries to flee together with two other inmates, and one is raped while the remaining two are recaptured and flogged.
After a prison riot, Leonie is dismissed, and Thelma is reinstated, but Leonie discovers a pending penal investigation and reform.
25. Star Slammer (1986)
Star Slammer is a 1986 sci-fi WiP movie directed by Fred Olen Ray. It stars Sandy Brooke, Suzy Stokey, Ross Hagen, Marya Gant, and Aldo Ray.
On the planet Arous, Captain Bantor (Ross Hagen), the Sovereign (Lindy Sykes), and the Inquisitor (Aldo Ray) attempt to quell a rebellion.
Rebel freelance miner Taura (Sandy Brooke) defends herself against Bantor, causing him to lose his hand in a volcanic acid plume.
She is subsequently sentenced to a term aboard the prison ship Vehemence (a so-called Star Slammer), where she gains the respect of the other inmates.
Bantor arrives on the ship and seeks a mind control process to reduce the prisoners to zombies. Taura takes this opportunity to escape and return home.
Star Slammer isn’t one of the best sci-movies ever made. It’s not the best W.I.P. movie either, but as a huge sci-fi fan, I felt this list wouldn’t be complete without at least one sci-fi WiP movie.
Women in Prison films range from campy exploitation movies to more serious non-exploitation dramas.
WiP often shares a common theme and plot despite the differences in genres and subgenres. Fx the films often depict violence and abuse among inmates, guards, and other authority figures.
Inmates are typically depicted as the victims of physical or psychological trauma inflicted by sadistic guards, wardens, or other power-hungry characters in some form of high security prison.
This violence can be beatings, sexual assault, solitary confinement, and torture. In the campy sexploitation movies, nudity is often a significant selling point.
Scenes featuring riots are typical in this genre, demonstrating how solidarity amongst female inmates can lead to revolt and freedom from oppression.
Women’s agency is further demonstrated when they actively participate in their liberation rather than passive recipients.
The representation of female empowerment within this context varies depending on the director’s vision or interpretation; some filmmakers portray strong independent women who fight back, while others focus on vulnerable characters whose strength lies in their resilience despite suffering extreme hardship.
Ultimately, these stories provide a powerful account of courage, strength, and solidarity among marginalized individuals who seek justice despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
About the author:
Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.