(a.k.a. JOSHUU 701-GO: SASORI)

Legendary filmmaker Roger Corman turned his hand to producing a handful of exploitative women-in-prison movies during the early 70s, most notably the Jack Hill-directed THE BIG DOLL HOUSE.

So many have claimed that Shunya Ito (who went on to direct later episodes in this movie series, JAILHOUSE 41 and BEAST STABLE) was ripping Corman off with this movie. Hardly. SCORPION was shot in 1972, and based on a Japanese graphic novel that preceded it.

Whatever your stance on the above argument, it all becomes irrelevant anyway when you sit down to watch FEMALE PRISONER NO 701: SCORPION. Put simply, it is ten times better than those Pam Grier/ Laura Gemser shitfests we've previously endured. This is the first instalment in what is undoubtedly the greatest WiP series ever made.

The film centres around the steely, mostly silent Matsu (Meiko Kaji, LADY SNOWBLOOD), who we first see attempting to escape from a brutal women's prison with her friend Yuki (Yayoi Watanabe, SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST). Chased down by alsatians and baton-wielding prison wardens, the girls are dragged back to jail and thrown into solitary.

It's here that Matsu reminisces over why she wound up in prison in the first place. Corrupt cop Sugimi (Isao Natsuyagi) tricked her into falling in love with him, and used her as a stooge in his plans - which resulted in her being not only deceived by him, but raped and beaten by several other men. Understandably, Matsu had wanted revenge - and tried to stab Sugimi outside the police station where he worked.

Her assassination attempt was unsuccessful, and so she ended up in the Hellhole prison that 90 per cent of this film is set in.

The plot is simple enough. Matsu wants to break free and extract revenge on Sugimi and his cohorts. Everyone else in the prison wants to beat the living shit out of Matsu and break her spirit. And that really is all there is to it.

But what makes SCORPION stand out from every other sleazy B-movie prison film is its inventiveness.

Sure, it's got the token shower scenes, the expected lesbian fumble, the obligatory set-pieces where guards push a prisoner to the limit - only to discover the prisoner is so spiritually strong that they have no boundaries - the brutal mob violence (all the usual clichés, you know). But, as enjoyable as all these staple ingredients are, the movie would not register so well were it not for the boundless energy of the performers, or the sterling, sometimes acrobatic camerawork, or even the glorious conceits of having cheap sets built that enable one scene to transform into the next without any cuts. Simple, but genius.

Of course, much will be made of the fact that SCORPION had an influence on Tarantino when he made the KILL BILL films. Fear not, it shits all over those cartoons from a great height. And it also shits on the fun THE STORY OF RICKY by getting there first, and approaching moments of true dementia rather than mere splatstick.

Lighting is used creatively to add unexpected atmosphere and depth to some scenes, while editing is flawless and the music (again, the song that can be heard in the film was cribbed by Tarantino for his horrible homage) adds dimension to the already stunning visuals.

Eureka's disc is great, if basic.

The film is presented uncut in it's original 2.35:1 ratio, anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. The images are reasonably sharp, although colours are slightly washed out. I suspect this is an issue with the source elements rather than the transfer itself. All in all, I couldn't imagine a better transfer than this clean, bright picture.

The original Japanese mono soundtrack is problem-free, as are the excellent easily readable optional English subtitles.

A static scene-selection menu allows access to the film via 20 chapters.

The only extra on this disc is a rather entertaining (if inferior quality) theatrical trailer that does a good job of selling the film as something that is artistic, trashy, funny, grisly and sexy all at once.

Another bonus worth mentioning is the four-page booklet with excellent liner notes from Matt Palmer.

A superb film, looking mighty fine in this pleasingly uncensored offering from the ever-reliable Eureka folk. The sequel, FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION JAILHOUSE 41 was also submitted by Eureka and has been passed uncut by the BBFC - so there's something else to look forward to. It's a film and a half.

Buy now, and hopefully Eureka will treat us to world-best DVD releases of the entire SCORPION series. Here's hoping!

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Eureka
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review