Three of the sleazier entries in the notorious Women In Prison cycle, offered on 2 discs from the ladies and gentlemen of Retro Shock-O-Rama.
Disc one serves up ESCAPE FROM HELL and WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7.
ESCAPE FROM HELL (a.k.a. FEMMINE INFERNALI; HELL PRISON) was directed by Edoardo Mulargia in 1980, and as such represents one of the later entries in the WIP canon.
It's also perhaps influenced by the success of Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, released in the same year, as it shares that film's misanthropic edginess and the voyeuristic behind-the-bushes handheld camerawork that features during the rape scenes that punctuate both efforts.
The film opens with female convicts in tight brown attire toiling hard in the Amazon jungle during a torrential downpour. One, Anne, decides to make a run for it - only to be caught by the brutal Martinez (Serafino Profumo, amusingly dubbed here by the same gruff voice that gave him English dialogue in SS EXPERIMENT LOVE CAMP and SS CAMP WOMEN'S HELL). He rapes her, and then returns to the ramshackle jungle-set prison camp to tell kindly Dr Farrell (Anthony Steffen) that she was killed by a jaguar.
Farrell is a drunk who gets pissed and listens to classical music to overcome the torment he feels for doing such a painful job. But this proves to be unpopular with the new Warden (Luciano Pigozzi), who bans music from the camp and throws water in Farrell's face in a bid to sober him up.
Farrell watches sadly as Martinez and his men become even more brutal towards the female prisoners under the Warden's unforgiving regime.
But the women dream of a revolt at night-time in their wooden cells, and an escape en masse is planned ...
ESCAPE is a badly shot and clumsily edited affair that nevertheless works, simply because it is chock-full of shower scenes, female full-frontal nudity, lesbian trysts and sadistic sexual violence. It's not the most explicit film, but definitely exhibits a mean spirit at every available opportunity. The moral reasoning of Farrell (all cheap politics and insincere philosophising) almost undoes the tone of the film, but thankfully it's nasty enough to overcome such badly-written intrusions.
Again, the above is what made me think that the film was perhaps influenced by the style of HOLOCAUST. However, whereas HOLOCAUST is powerful, potentially dangerous fare, this is trite in comparison. It's hugely enjoyable, but it's hokum - thanks to lots of bad dubbing, over-acting, a grating score and the gleefully ripe English dialogue of dubber Tony La Penna.
It's fun, but nothing more. Look out for cult tranny Ajita Wilson too, who looks baffled most of the time.
WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7 (a.k.a. DARIO SEGRETO DA UN CARCERE FEMMINILE) is an earlier entry into the genre (1973), and attempts to marry a Mafioso crime thriller plot with WIP conventions.
It begins with an earnest voiceover explaining how an Interpol plot to arrest a mobster suspected of smuggling tonnes of heroin went tits up when the gangster was assassinated and the dope stolen.
The prime suspect turns out to be the boyfriend of the chief Mobster's daughter. Her name is Daniela (Jenny Tamburi), and she's recently been sent to a brutal women's prison on a drugs charge of her own.
Interpol recognise that they need to get close to Daniela for answers, and so engage their agent Hilda (Anita Strindberg) to go undercover in the prison.
After too much time where the film cuts between gangster violence on the outside (including a pretty decent, low-budget car chase through the streets of Italy), the film finally settles down into a fairly satisfying WIP flick - complete with an array of amusingly quirky characters, an unintentionally funny riot sequence and some rather unattractive (and hirsute) nudity.
Aesthetically more pleasing than ESCAPE (this is the only film in the set that boasts a genuine bricks-and-mortar prison dwelling), it's also infinitely less fun.
Disc 2 is home to the intriguing potboiler THE HOT BOX.
THE HOT BOX, produced by Roger Corman in 1972 following the success of THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and directed by Joe Viola (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Demme of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and CAGED HEAT fame), is a pedestrian effort that barely qualifies as a WIP feature.
Shot in the Philippines, the film purports to be based in the fictional Republic of San Rosario. It's here that four visiting American nurses are working for Dr Sanchez (Rey Silad).
A military leader's 10-year-old son falls ill during the opening credits and the nurses successfully perform surgery on him. This brings them to the attention of a guerrilla group called the People's Army of San Rosario, led by the enigmatic Flavio (Carmen Argenziano).
The terrorists emerge from nearby bushes one afternoon while the nurses are sunbathing with male friends on a beach, and kidnap them - taking them to their secret lair in the jungle and explaining they are now obliged to help them with their cause. After all, the American government helped their government suppress their people ...
And so the girls are subjected to badly written political ideologies, early morning exercises and even the odd spot of rape.
Although not as harsh as the preceding two films, BOX still manages to achieve a comfortable level of sleaze that warrants its inclusion here. Although, it must be said, this isn't strictly a Women-In-Prison film ...
No matter. The performances are enjoyably over-zealous, the script is ripe and the pace is all over the place. At least the photography and production values are slightly better than in the last two films!
Each film is presented in 1.33:1. If that sounds disappointing, just wait until you see the actual transfers. Best described as "old VHS quality", all three films are presented in soft, blurred transfers with colour bleeding and worn texture. ESCAPE is possibly the worst-looking of the three. Still, I found their dubious visual quality was oddly suited to the sleaziness on display. I found each film highly watchable regardless ... but, you have been warned.
Likewise, the English dubbed audio on the first two films is a wildly uneven affair. You can look forward to it being loud, clear, muffled, quiet, suffering from hiss, loud again, and so on. BOX is presented in it's original English audio and offers a slightly clearer playback that the first two films.
Primitive-looking animated main menu pages open both discs. Although there are no scene-selection menus, each film has the following chapters: ESCAPE has 19 chapters; WOMEN has 20 chapters; BOX has 18 chapters.
The only on-disc extras appear on disc 2. These are a plethora of trailers for other Shock-O-Rama titles, including PRISON-A-GO-GO, PSYCHO KICKBOXER, CRI MINALLY INSANE and many more.
There's also a fantastic 8-page colour booklet on offer, containing some well-informed liner notes by "The Shock-O-Rama Collector" along with most welcome reproductions of the original theatrical poster artwork for each film.
All in all, this is a great wallet-friendly package highlighting everything that is so great about the Women-In-Prison genre: sex, violence, sadism, cheesiness, shower scenes, lesbianism, and catfights ... wow. So what if they look like crap? Would we have them any other way?
Seriously though, I'm just happy to see these films uncut - as far as my research can testify - in an English-friendly release. I mention the lousy picture/audio quality, not because it bothers me (it doesn't in this case) but just in case it may bother you ...
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Shock-O-Rama Cinema|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|