On a camping holiday in the (fictional) South American country of Canpuna, Sarah Ragsdale (Victoria De Mare) and her boyfriend Jack (Vinnie Bilancio, who also co-wrote the screenplay) are attacked by a huge hairy werewolf. While Jack is torn to pieces, Sarah survives being bitten only to awaken in a women's prison for the criminally insane, and promptly fondled by Mistress Rita (Jackeline Olivier), the bisexual S&M dominatrix chief jailer. Rita and sleazy warden Juan (Domiziano Arcangeli) run this rat-infested hell-hole where comely American girls framed on drug-trafficking charges are exploited for pornographic photos posted on a prison-girls-gone-wild website or sold as drugged sex slaves. Sarah befriends tequila-swigging tough gal Rachel (Eva Derrek) and sultry Angel (Meredith Giangrande), who trades sexual favours for cigarettes from ravenous Rita, but earns an instant enemy in lesbian bully Crystal (Kristen Zaik). During their prison yard catfight, Sarah exhibits superhuman strength and takes three tranquilizer darts before she goes down. Strange urges by the full moon and a warning from beyond the grave signal Sarah's transformation into a werewolf on a bloody rampage behind bars.
Funny how so many proteges of infamous rock svengali Kim Fowley wind up carving B-movie careers. A quarter century after Cherie Currie, former lead singer with The Runaways, popped up in Parasite (1982), erstwhile Black Rock Doom punk rocker Victoria De Mare headlines this low-budget indie horror comedy. As is obvious from the title, Werewolf in a Women's Prison is a loving dual hommage to both the groundbreaking werewolf films of the early Eighties and the Women-in-Prison flicks that packed grindhouses throughout the Seventies. Exploitation maestro extraordinaire Roger Corman honed this scuzzy genre down to a fine art, most notably with The Big Doll House (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972) and Caged Heat (1974), but co-creators Jeff Leroy and Vincent Bilancio throw in nods to such campy highlights (or lowlights, depending on your opinion) as Chained Heat (1983), Violence in a Woman's Prison (1982) and Blade Violent (1983). All the sleazy clichés are accounted for: catfights, abusive prison guards, an underground porn ring, and as many gratuitous girl-on-girl scenes as the plot will allow.
Dozens of home-made, zero-budget horror films go straight to video each year, routinely trading on sophomoric thrills aimed at undemanding sleaze fans, but Werewolf in a Women's Prison rises above the pack by virtue of a witty script laden with film buff in-jokes, vivid performances that capture the campy spirit of the piece without pitching into Troma-levels of obnoxiousness, and an overall infectious sense of fun. Leroy's stylish direction overcomes the meagre budget with an array of offbeat angles, interesting lenses and inventively lurid comic book colours. However, the editing is somewhat hit-and-miss and the action sequences slackly staged, save for one compelling chase scene with a steadicam tight on Sarah's feral face. The female bonding between heroines De Mare, Derrek and Giangrande (by which one means cameraderie, not the other kind) proves disarmingly affecting as the filmmakers strike a delicate balance between silly and sincere.
Leroy and Bilancio know what fans of z-grade exploitation want to see and set out to deliver. Porn star Yurizan Beltran bares her Russ Meyer-worthy bountiful bosoms for a steamy lesbian clinch before being ripped apart by the werewolf. Chained naked, Sarah and Rachel lick the sweat off their bodies to avoid dehydration. Amidst the wolf rampage, Leroy intercuts even more sexploitation as a pole-tied Rachel turns the tables on her abuser by relishing the sex and deriding his flagging energy (good taste rarely figures when it comes to exploitation). Only when an undead, rapidly decomposing Jack appears to advise Sarah on ending her cursed life does the film cross the line from hommage to outright plagiarism of An American Werewolf in London (1981). Nevertheless, rather than a simple stalk-and-slash plot, things take off in interesting directions as, for once, the villains prove more on the ball than usual. Warden Juan and Mistress Rita capture werewolf Sarah to serve as the star attraction in a live show to entertain drunken American tourists, using a captive Rachel as bait in a nod to King Kong (1933).
The werewolf costume created by Ron Karkosha is occasionally a bit Power Rangers cheesy, but more often surprisingly effective when lunging out of the dark. The latex gore and gallons of spurting blood are very accomplished for a micro-budget film. Equally likeable is the score by David Zasloff and Iliana Rose which sounds as groovy as something Bruno Nicolai might concoct for some sleazy Eurohorror flick. You can't pay a better compliment than that.