Jess Franco’s Hellhole Women is a collection of hundreds of tiny absurdities assembled into one giant absurdity that sometimes resembles a movie. It’s wildly ridiculous, even by women-in-prison-movie standards, but there’s one exchange between a (topless) prisoner and a (topless) guard that sticks in my mind above all the rest:
Guard: “Hey, you. What’s your name?”
Prisoner: “My name is Mercedes, like the car, but everybody calls me Conito.”
Guard: “That’s a funny name. What is it, the place you came from?”
Prisoner: (Pointing to her own crotch) “I came from right here, baby, and it’s a whole lot cleaner and prettier than yours is.”
My focus here is on Mercedes/Conito’s snarky retort that, along with displaying a chest-swelling amount of genital-related pride, seems to imply that she was, or at least believes she was, born from her own vagina. Ever-willing to give the benefit of the doubt, my first thought was that maybe she was simply referring to her own lady-parts in an abstract, semi-poetic “we all come from the womb of the Mother Goddess” sort of way, but because she goes on to describe the merits of what is clearly her own vulval region I dismissed that idea rather quickly. No, I think Mercedes/Conito is convinced she gave birth to herself, be it based on a willfully ignorant understanding of female anatomy on par with that of an American Tea Party Congressman, or as a result of some cruel joke perpetuated by her parents that they never got around to explaining to her. Either of those possibilities may go a long way toward explaining why she lives in a prison camp.
But even if we ignore, for a moment, Mercedes/Conito’s impossible ideas about her own origin in the first part of her statement, we’re still left with a pretty poor display of trash-talking in the second part. I’ve heard women utter some pretty catty things to each other over the course of my life, but I can’t say I remember labial aesthetics ever being a matter of bragging rights. My gut tells me a verbal attack on another woman’s privates is her absolute best effort, but I’m willing to cut her some slack and chalk it up to one of those brain-freeze moments we’ve all experienced where, in our overzealousness to deliver a stinging comeback, out sputters something along the lines of a Tommy Boy-esque “Your brain has the shell on it”. I once witnessed a friend, in the midst of some good-natured back-and-forth smack-talking, completely freeze up, the bumbling, blurted-out result being him referring to his verbal sparring partner as having “Nintendo feet”. It was a dark moment for my friend, but these things happen.
Ultimately, Mercedes/Conito’s small act of defiance was the domino that began the cascade of horrible things that happened to her throughout the rest of the movie, so it probably wasn’t worth it. Still, I can’t help but have a certain amount of respect for her level of commitment to her wildly flawed understanding of the logistics of her own birth. She faced down certain punishment as a matter of pride and that takes balls. Balls that, I’m certain, are cleaner and prettier than yours or mine.
And that’s why the woman born from her own vagina is an unsung hero of 80s horror.