Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (Japan 1973)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/27/20
Cast: Kaji Meiko, Mikio Narita, Yayoi Watanabe

Having eluded the police at the end of "Jailhouse 41" (1972), escaped convict Nami Matsushima (Kaji Meiko) is trying to survive in society and keep a low profile. She brutally lashes out at a policeman who tries to grab her on a subway, and hacks his arm off when he handcuffs her. He survives, and relentlessly pursues Nami for the rest of the film. Lucky for her, a lowly prostitute named Yuki (Yayoi Watanabe) offers her shelter, although she nearly gets raped by Yuki's brain damaged brother who is kept locked in a closet. As if things weren't bad enough for Yuki already, she regularly has sex with her brother to keep him calm and sedated. Nami leaves the brother-sister pair in quiet disgust, gets an apartment of her own, and finds a day job as a seamstress. But it doesn't take long before she runs afoul of the criminal underworld, including a cruel brothel madam named Katsu who was a former inmate with Nami. Katsu makes the mistake of trying to get revenge on Nami, and Nami quickly turns the tables and takes out all of her men. Fearing her own death at Nami's hands, Katsu turns herself into the police in exchange for the relative safety of prison. Meanwhile, the police have trapped Nami in the sewers, while Yuki secretly brings her food. The police eventually pump kerosene into the sewers and burn it in an attempt to either flush Nami out or kill her, and that's when things start getting REALLY weird. Nami seemingly survives the fire assault and then ends up in prison on a three-month sentence for arson. Huh? She's maimed and murdered literally dozens of people, and now she's serving a sentence for a crime she didn't commit? Is it really Nami, or is this newcomer simply a product of Katsu's deranged mind and increased paranoia? The entire epilogue plays out like a surreal ghost story, with Nami being a supernatural tool of retribution who quietly disappears after Katsu's mind snaps beyond redemption. Then, to confuse things even more, the closing credits say that Nami served her sentence and was never seen again. So, was she real or not? And why all of the bizarre confusion?

It's a good looking and well-made film, but like "Jailhouse 41," it also suffers from an unattractive cyan tint. Further research indicates that this was a result of the remastering, and Arrow claims that this is how the film was originally intended to be processed. But again, the colors in the trailer look fine, so I don't understand Arrow's position on that. It's nice to see Nami outside of prison for a change, although she gets thrown in a cage full of crows by Katsu at one point. The opening scene of Kaji Meiko running through the streets with an amputated arm is a doozy, and one of the series' greatest highlights. Later, a dog finds the arm in a cemetery and starts chewing on it in a crowded street. Nami doesn't suffer nearly as much torture and humiliation this time around, which is nice. Kaji Meiko is as fiercely intense as ever, but she does soften up a bit and actually smiles a couple of times. She also has twice as much dialog as the previous film, which is about three lines.

Unfortunately, where the film staggers is in its glacial pacing and lack of action. While I never got bored, I was starting to get impatient with its deliberate slowness. The action is sparse, and even when Nami goes on a vengeful killing spree, it happens quickly and offscreen. (although there is a nice scene of someone getting impaled in the chest with a pickaxe) What's interesting this time around is that Nami seems resigned to her fate in Katsu's custody, until one of Katsu's hookers dies from a back alley abortion. From that point, she assumes the role of avenger, and claims to be "possessed by the soul of a dead girl." That's the spark that drives her to live and survive, rather than any agenda of her own. And while I enjoyed the poetic justice of having Nami and Katsu trapped in prison together, the fact that it didn't make any logical sense spoiled the whole movie and left a bad aftertaste.