If A Problem Comes Along, You Must W.I.P. It… THE JAIL – THE WOMEN’S HELL Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Intervision (Severin). Unrated.

We’ve already alluded to the gonzo career twilight of “Vincent Dawn” (and I’m using that line here because I gather it’s been vetoed as the title for my upcoming Dark Side piece) and considered some of the zombie and cannibal efforts perpetrated by Bruno Mattei in his unexpected (indeed unpredictable, unprecedented and arguably unwelcome) Indian Summer of shot-on-video atrocities elsewhere on this blog. The germ (in every sense of the word) of The Jail – The Women’s Hell was apparently a screening of Jess Franco’s 99 Women, introduced by its director, at a Festival dedicated to the memory of Joe D’Amato. Mattei attended (my God, what a Fest… where / when was it held? Why weren’t we invited?) alongside new screenplay collaborator Antonio Tentori and when the latter asked producer Giovanni Paolucci if his Japanese buyers might entertain a sleazy Women In Prison effort alongside all those zombie / cannibal gut munching extravaganzas, his answer predictably ran along the lines of: “Is a bear a Catholic? Does the Pope shit in the woods?”

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Yvette Yzon, subsequent star of Mattei’s swan song zombie brace, stars as Jennifer, whom we first encounter on a boat taking her and fellow female cons Lisa (Love Gutierrez) and Carol (Amelie Pontailler) to a prison camp in the remote Philippine jungle. An Oscar-worthy exchange of dialogue (kind of) establishes what they’re in for…

Lisa: “Dirty trafficking for dirty people!”

Carol: “I whacked my pimp… that bastard had it coming”

Jennifer: “I’ve done everything you said…and worse!”

Hard cases, for sure, but even they are chastened, on arrival at the prison, to witness a disobedient prisoner being pulled out from the confines of the camp sweat box and given 20 lashes… even though she’s already dead! Talk about flogging a dead whore!! This proves to be an appropriate welcome to what the guards describe as “The House Of Lost Souls”… no, there’s no mad scientist subjecting the inmates to bizarre evolutionary experiments, but the expected cohort of sapphic, sadistic camp director (Odette Khan), gun-happy governor (Jim Gaines, who would also appear in Island Of The Living Dead and Zombies The Beginning), lecherous camp doctor (David Brass), casually cruel guards and collaborationist fellow prisoners subject them to just about every other indignity that you could hope for in a W.I.P. … about none of which, to paraphrase Sir Allan Bryce, would Amnesty International be best pleased:

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… hosing downs, cavity searches, mandatory lesbianism, enforced participation in the sexy floor show of the burlesque club that seems to have been built on the side of the jail, , incarceration in that sweat box and / or a submerged rat cage… one unfortunate is even trussed up, semi naked and has a snake draped all over her. The reptile in question is clearly some kind of constrictor but apparently kills her with a venomous bite. I’m not going to quibble too much about because I was worried that this scene might take an exceptionally dodgy turn, only for Mattei to wind it up with an uncharacteristic fit of self restraint.

For the first hour of The Jail Bruno sticks enthusiastically but unexpectedly closely to the sleazy W.I.P. formula but as its final third looms, you sense that he just can’t control his eclectic itchings anymore and after a successful escape attempt, Jennifer and pals are pursued through the jungle in the best Most Dangerous Game style by Jim Gaines and pals, making the short hop from overacting, lip-smacking rapists to overacting, lip-smacking Count Zaroff types, keen to re-enact their favourite moments from Cannibal Holocaust and Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals.

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Indeed, there are even pop-up attacks from a troupe of South American cannibals who look like they took a wrong turn off the Orinoco somewhere. No zombies but, y’know, Mattei was probably writing / prepping / shooting / post-producing about five other movies that week and it must  have slipped his mind…

More gob-slapping than any of the by-the-numbers excesses of The Jail – The Woman’s Hell is its arbitrary and unbelievable conclusion, by which Jennifer, having escaped and alerted the authorities, is driven back to the jail in time to abort the imminent hanging of one of her mates and be installed as the new camp director as her predecessor is arrested and driven off… just like that! Say what you like about these developing nations, but they cut through that red tape like a dose of salts!

The Jail – The Women’s Hell isn’t quite as deliriously distracting as Mattei’s eleventh hour cannibal and zombie efforts but demonstrates that, even at this late stage in the game, when all of his more feted contemporaries had long given up, Mattei was unapologetic about serving up trashy exploitation… and God bless him for it! Maybe he, Joe D’Amato and Jesus Franco are together in heaven (or somewhere else) right now, planning the greatest sleaze portmanteau movie of all time. If only…

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Bonus materials comprise the expected trailer and two featurettes, Prison Inferno (in which Paolucci and Tentori recall the genesis of this project and look back fondly on their collaborations with the late Bruno Mattei) and Acting for Bruno, in which Yvette Yzon and Alvin Anson remember the shoot as a demanding but ultimately rewarding experience. Yeah, he was a shouty director but they’ve forgiven him. Aaaah…

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