DVD Review: Savage Sisters

A 1970s Women in Prison movie with fewer women in prison than you'd expect.

Devon Ashbyby Devon Ashby


Pleasantly and smartly, MGM is continuing this month to promote its DVD-on-Demand program, which makes many of the films in its historical archive available for perusal and ownership without the frills of a standard release. One standout title in MGM’s new batch of available MOD films is 1974’s Savage Sisters, directed by cult Filipino filmmaker Eddie Romero (no relation to George). Romero is known primarily for his B-horror contributions throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, but he’s also at least partially responsible for the inception of the Women in Prison subgenre, boasting the dubious distinction of being the most prominent contributor to its legendary Filipino-lensed first wave (The Big Doll House, Women in Cages, etc.) who was actually born and raised in the Philippines.

Eddie Romero is known and loved, both by genre fans who worship his immensely popular ‘50s and ’60s American drive-in exports and by afficionados of Filipino culture in general, who find gratification in his more personal entries that incorporate aspects of Filipino history and mythology. The Filipino film industry originated from outside the country, with both Japanese and American exploiteers shipping in film crews for two or three weeks at a time throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s to cash in on the charms and advantages of its cheap and exotic locales. Romero was the first local-born Filipino with cinematic aspirations to successfully seize the reins and capitalize on the growing presence of foreign film industries, carving out a career for himself by integrating many of the same aesthetic earmarks that made the Philippines such a popular location for overseas producers.

If there’s one thing the Philippines are known for – both homegrown, and foreign-sourced – it’s Women In Prison movies. The appropriately abbreviated WIP subgenre embryonically burgeoned and flourished in the Philippines thanks to the country’s sweaty, heat-drenched, laconically remote atmosphere, and its abundance of cheap, pretty, harried-looking background extras. Romero was a pioneer of the field, as were key American filmmakers like notorious rogue director Jack Hill.

Unfortunately, Savage Sisters is not a strong entry for Romero, whose work tends to be sketchy anyway, due to pernicious budget constraints and a lack of distribution options. The film’s marketing campaign pegs it as a WIP movie in the subcategorical “prison break” vein, with wild-eyed, big-breasted, vindictive she-assassins stalking through the sultry Filipino wilderness brandishing machine guns, but if sexually aggressive, artillery-wielding supervixens with thigh-high leather fetish boots and jacket-busting cleavage are your thrill, you’re liable to be sorely disappointed. Despite a few incongruously allusive moments, Savage Sisters is almost completely bereft of sexual torture or female aggression of any kind, let alone the sexual variety.

Instead, the film plays as a sort of flaccid, hijinksy sex comedy, with admittedly badass genre perennials Sid Haig and John Ashley spending as much time wisecracking and mugging into the camera as the movie’s featured females spend disrobing in front of it – more, in fact, since apparently some bizarre, unholy censorship regulation prevented the filmmakers from allowing any type of thematically-appropriate exercise of sexuality to occur in the movie at all. The few racy scenes that do exist are PG-rated at best (despite extremely dark thematic overtones in some, including, but not limited to, a fleeting Ilsa homage in the form of an electrified torture dildo). The weirdest non-nudity scene involves a prolonged striptease, climaxing with the enactor’s Mormon-style blouse clinging chastely to her nipples in a manner that could only have been accomplished using some type of discreet adhesive. This all sounds more far more zany and enjoyable than it really is, unfortunately, and though the film might not be a total bust for seasoned Z-grade trash affiliates, it’s far from the titillating jiggle-fest the trailer and cover box suggest.

Aside from historical interest, as mentioned above, the film does legitimately contain swaggering, and always-loveable Ron Jeremy doppelganger John Ashley. Equally beloved character actor Sid Haig also makes an appearance, as a gleefully shifty, turn-tail revolutionary bent on escaping the country with a million dollars in stolen cash – and corpulent Filipino mainstay Vic Diaz (who I also enjoyed profusely in Vampire Hookers) – both in tow.

The disc doesn’t include much aside from a trailer, but the picture quality was surprisingly decent for a film shot in a desolate foreign country on a shoestring budget thirty-odd years ago. The sound quality left something to be desired, but overall it’s at least a passable release for a film of this caliber, especially considering how long it’s languished in unavailability. If you’re a fan of the performers, then I’m sure you don’t need my recommendation to prompt your purchase (and far be it for me to shout down anyone’s love of Ashley or Haig), but if you’re looking for a sexy good time with some coldblooded bad girls, you may want to skip it.