Bare Behind Bars (1980)

Also known as:
A Prisao

This is the first Brazilian Women-in-Prison film I've ever seen, and as such it's a pretty notorious one. Director Oswaldo de Oliveira covers virtually all of the required 'WIP' bases with Bare Behind Bars, and does so in quite a stylish, extreme and at times, even comedic way. I do have a few minor quibbles, though, which I'll detail at the end of the review. I certainly wasn't bored for a second, although the plot is about as perfunctory as they come with this type of film. I won't even bother naming characters, actresses or actors, as nobody seems to use names as the story quickly unfolds, and the Internet movie database didn't help me out at all after the viewing!

Perfunctory or not, there is some storyline to tell you about. In some sort of Women's Prison, presumably in Brazil, the prisoners are trapped in a true Hell on Earth. The prison guards all wear open-to-the-naval uniforms and are constantly beating and power-hosing them. The female Warden is a voracious lesbian, constantly demanding new lovers. Once they outlive their usefulness, she has them killed and buried in a secret location outside. In addition, the nurse and practically all the guards are also aggressive lesbians, the nurse seemingly virtually insane and not even a real nurse! With only her nurse's cap on, she plays naked 'horsie' with her favorite new (naked) prisoner, as well as sharing giant dildoes and watermelons ... In the meantime, the Warden tortures prisoners who won't comply with her demands for information about an escape plan, stripping them naked and tying them to a wire bed while water pours down on them. The rest of the prisoners who won't talk are forbidden showers, which only adds to the ever-present squalor they live in. De Oliveira details well the grime and filth of the place. Rats creep everywhere, grafitti and dried blood stains the walls of the grounds. The communal toilet is the stuff of nightmares.The obese cook mutters and curses as she wheels her trolly full of slops for the hapless girls. Their only pleasure is to pass dildoes around the cells secretly on a string, and of course they are often having sex between themselves. This a very explicit film, and will only become more so as we progress!

Of course, into this maelstrom of sex and misery comes the young "New Fish". She's a feisty eighteen year old, and resolves to break out of the place straight away. Even another tough black prisoner's attempts to get her to toe the line and be her bitch, don't faze her. The new girl's plan is to 'pleasure' the amorous warden into a distracted stupour, and in an explicit scene she begins her plan straight away. Another facet of the warden's ill-doings is that every now and then, she sells prisoners as sex-slaves to predatory customers. So a sub-plot of Bare Behind Bars is another young girl being taken away to an island location by an older lesbian and forced to comply with her sexual wishes. In the end the girl rebels, and is drowned by the older woman at the beach, before she can escape and tell the outside world.

The warden's deputy becomes concerned at the lunacy and debauchery getting worse at the prison, and convinces the boss lady - whose resolve is weakened by endless sex-sessions with the new girl - to let the girls have showers again. So we are then treated to the ultimate prison shower sequence, as at least ten naked female bodies soap up, cavort and pleasure themselves under one shower. The deputy wants to have some sort of concert for the girls to boost morale, but the half-crazed warden only partially agrees. She demands that they have a celebration mass instead, a too-serious occasion the worried deputy knows is doomed to failure. Meanwhile, the crazy nurse shows her girlfriend - who'd just been tortured by being left out in the hot sun totally nude, though there's barely a burn on her - the secret passage where they cart the dead victims of the warden's lust through to the outside world. It so happens that this girlfriend is one of the conspirators who want to escape ...

The sombre mass takes place, and three of the girls make their escape, leaving behind one crying inmate - the black girl who first tried to seduce the New Fish - for some reason. The three remaining escapees make their way into the outside world and a colourful Brazilian carnivale taking place. They break into a family's house to steal money. This is the where the film turns even more mean.They shoot the guy and cut his wife's throat, and kill the young son off-screen. Then, to stop a dog outside from barking incessantly and spilling the beans - one of them cuts off the dead guy's penis and feeds the severed member to the hungry mutt. Nice! When the police investigate the prison for the escapees, the deputy tells them about the corrupt warden and she's made new head warden, while the original crazy one is carted off for trial. Back to our 'heroines', who agree that now they have money, that it's every girl for themselves. They part, and try to make their way in the outside world. The New Fish returns to her mother. The other two take lovers, but the police are in hot pursuit and will track them down any second. Will they go out in a blaze of glory, or end up caught, humbled and thrown back into a waiting jail?

Okay, that was the essence of Bare Behind Bars's plot. It's the excess of the imagery that realy makes this one stand out from the pack. Barely a minute goes by without a character being naked or having sex. We are talking massive levels of nudity here. The sex is mostly of the lesbian persuasion, but the actresses were obviously not repulsed by what they had to do, to make an impact. In particular, the new fish and the warden really go at it. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more explicit, culminating in a hetero hardcore scene between one of the escapees and a secret lover. It's obvious de Oliveira was going all-out to make this the most sex-based WIP film ever. Either that, or he lost control over the production and the producers wanted hardcore porn. The violence of the production is pretty minimal, when you consider how extreme some notorious WIPs are. The whippings and torture scenes hardly take centre stage. They're very brief, shown in medium-shot and the actors barely put any energy into it. I guess they were all sexed out. De Oliveira also puts a high emphasis on humour, with the nutty 'nurse' being almost imported in from a low-brow comedy. This makes the massacre of the family at the end, with that infamous penis scene, even more jarring and intense. Overall the actors and extras put one hundred percent into their scenes when they're brawling, screwing, showering or generally being nude. The films's constantly twittering with giggling, laughter, chatter and screams. I have no idea how de Oliveira kept control over this mayhem! I guess there's a case to say that he couldn't, in the end.

Although I enjoyed all the sex and silliness, I couldn't quite shake the feeling an opportunity had been lost with the end-result of Bare Behind Bars. If the actors had been a little more intense in their speaking roles, a little more villainous, then I think this film would be talked about more than just the extent of the sex, or dip into hardcore territory. Perhaps the comedic aspects drag us out of the film too much. Or the torture scenes are too limp or brief. Our head warden looks great for a mature lady, but there's no real sense of genuine threat or madness from her. She just seems to be going through the motions here. On the up side, Bare Behind Bars has an excellent jazzy score that works it's way through the film and adds a touch of class, perhaps where one isn't even needed. It's also very well shot with lots of light flooding the screen, and excellent use of locations. We actually do get a nice sense of Brazil from the proceedings, be it the Carnivale or the ever-present slums.

So in the end, is Bare Behind Bars worth a view? It's quite a memorable little excursion into sex and sleaze, with a couple of scenes reaching new extremes of sweaty, orgiastic sapphic-ness. On that level I'd say yes, track it down sometime, especially if the WIP type-film floats your boat. Still, with a few tweaks and extra effort this could have been the ne plus ultra of the Women-In-Prison genre. It doesn't quite rise to this level, but for a few worthwhile minutes here and there, it comes pretty damn close.

© Boris Lugosi, 2008.

Home | Email