There’s a surprising amount of cheese to be found in the Amazon Prime Video library. Eurocrime, Giallo, Spaghetti Westerns, sexploitation and even some Japanese exploitation movies. Prime Cheese is our look at some of the cheesey goodness you get for free with your Prime membership.
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is the second film in a four film series based on a popular 1970’s manga. Meiko Kaji stars as Matsu, aka Sasori (Scorpion), the baddest of the bad in a hellish female prison. The movie opens on Matsu, shackled and laying in a dank pit, holding a spoon between her teeth as she methodically scrapes it on the concrete floor to sharpen it into a weapon. The sadistic guards enter and we learn she’s been in solitary for a year, punishment for gouging out the eye of the warden. Today is her lucky day, however, as the warden’s boss will be conducting an inspection so Matsu will be brought out with all the other prisoners. An ill-fated attempt to take the warden’s other eye is met with some brutal punishment and a transfer to another prison, along with six other inmates. And we all know what happens when complacent guards are tasked with transporting dangerous criminals along an isolated country road.
The story follows a pretty standard prison break narrative but the difference here is there’s real art in the imagery, the lighting and cinematography. At times the lighting and sound are almost Suspiria-esque, with a little Evil Dead thrown in. At one point the seven women meet an old crone, leading to some kabuki-style fantasy sequences and traditional Japanese music with songs detailing their crimes. The hallucinogenic interludes elevate the movie to something more ambitious than typical grindhouse fare.
Another surprise is the themes touched on in the story. All of the women have committed horrible crimes but in each case they were driven to it by the men. There’s not one sympathetic man in the movie, they’re all sadistic rapists or spineless wimps. There’s even a scene where a drunken middle aged Japanese man is entertaining a group of younger men with his stories of raping Chinese women during the war of Manchuria, a rare example of Japanese atrocities being acknowledged at the time. The women aren’t exactly a tight knit sisterhood either, they fight among themselves but know they have to work together to escape and defend themselves against these despicable men. There’s a lot going on here regarding women’s role in Japanese society, men’s cruelty and ultimate inability to control the women. Ambitious for an exploitation flick.
Even with all that, this is still an exploitation movie. That means the performances vary wildly, the script doesn’t always make sense and we’re guaranteed some exploitative violence, cruelty and nudity. The nudity is minimal however; this isn’t a sexy picture. The violence and cruelty make up for it though. There are some creative kills, and some gut wrenching cruelty involving a mother trying to reunite with her small child. The real standout here is Meiko Kaji, dominating the movie with little more than the power of her stare. I think she had two lines the entire movie but still conveys the seething anger and resolve in her quest for vengeance. I know it’s a cliche when talking about these movies but it’s hard to not comment on the obvious influence on Tarantino. Matsu’s silent menace and determination are a clear inspiration for Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill. Kaji was great in these tough girl roles, starring in the Stray Cat Rock series of girl gang films as well as Lady Snowblood, the clearest influence on Kill Bill. She also sang the title songs on the Female Scorpion and Lady Snowblood films, used on the Kill Bill soundtracks.
Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 is a must-see for any fan of Tarantino and bad ass women who take revenge into their own hands. Check it out on Amazon Prime.
If you enjoy this one, there’s a super deluxe boxed set of all four movies on eight Blu Ray and DVD discs, with a ton of supplemental material. I haven’t seen it yet but the reviews are great, it looks to be a top notch collection. Female Prisoner Scorpion Boxed Set on Amazon.