Appellate Judge Tom Becker doubts he'll escape from hell, but he's hoping to sidestep the morning rush hour.
"Ravaged…Savaged! Licked by the fiery tongues of The Hot Box!"
"Their guns are hot and their bodies hard!"
"What makes a nice girl die in a place like this?"
Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to…Hell on Earth!
Yes, it's Shock-o-Rama's Women in Prison Triple Feature box set, a trio of films so sordid, they make The Big Bird Cage look like Toy Story. Heavy on the sleaze, but short on things like production values or actors you've ever heard of, this trio makes for a fun but grimy viewing.
In the middle of an unnamed jungle is an unnamed prison camp filled with hot but unnamed women. They lead lives of noisy desperation, are frequently subjected to beatings and abuse, and their only hope to Escape From Hell lies with a drunken and self-loathing camp doctor. If the miseries don't get 'em then the alligators will, but can they survive a dangerous dash to parts unknown?
Escape From Hell is the most rudimentary of the three films here, and the grisliest. Most of the film consists of naked or near-naked women working in either the hot sun or the pouring rain (they do all kinds of manual labor for no apparent reason), women being beaten, women being raped, women having sex with other women, and the camp doctor lurching around drunkenly and slurring invectives at himself. As a bonus, we get a borderline pornographic scene of consensual fun between an inmate and a guard.
Most women-in-prison films—the low-budget, post-'60's kind, at any rate—are little more than sleazy exploitation programmers, but even in this genre, Escape From Hell is like mildew on porcelain. At times resembling barely soft-core S&M porn, this is pure exploitation with nary a hint anything to "socially redeem" it.
While there's no shortage of action of all kinds here, there's not much in the way of personality. The women are interchangeable—they look alike, they sound like they were dubbed by the same person doing different voices, and the occasional costumes are all the same (damp paper towels, strategically ripped). One actress was reported to be a transsexual—hell if I would have figured that out without a little help from Shock-O-Rama's liner notes and the IMDb.com trivia page—which only amps up that kerosene-and-bugbite feeling you'll likely have after wading through Escape From Hell.
I've always believed that a movie that opens with a naked woman getting a full cavity search can't be all bad, but behold, Women in Cell Block 7 gives lie to that fundamental theory.
Actually, Women in Cell Block 7 is two bad movies in one—two movies that seem to have been shot independent of each other, then linked by inserting a narrator and post-dubbing a few pertinent lines of dialogue. Movie 1 is a Mafia-vengeance story with a bunch of middle-aged Italian guys beating on an older Italian guy ("the Don") for information about some missing heroin. However—as our narrator tells us—"the Don" is really an undercover agent, so his daughter, Swedish bombshell Anita Strindberg, goes undercover herself, thus setting the stage for Movie 2. Daughter gets herself thrown into prison—our narrator tells us—so she can get close to the girlfriend of the guy who actually did steal the drugs. The set-up is a labored and unnecessarily confusing device to get the lovely Strindberg into jail and out of her jumpsuit.
The prison here is the most traditional of the three films, with vicious and lascivious (female) guards, group showers, and hot- and cold-running lesbians in every corner. The women are a tough-talking bunch ("You slut, I'll stomp you!" "Eh, if you could screw your way to heaven, you'd be a saint!" "Look who's talking, you silly prick!"), but thanks to the bad dubbing and similar-looking actresses, it's hard to distinguish the various characters. The gratuitous-action level is off the charts here, with lesbian scenes that actually look like edited inserts from a porn movie, acts of violence so random that they seem like an afterthought, and perhaps the most idiotic riot sequence in the history of the genre, in which a dribbling fire hose is turned on some malcontents who respond by (you guessed it) stripping off their tops and dancing around wet, like drunken college girls on spring break.
Evidently, there are two versions of Women in Cell Block 7 floating around: an 81-minute "U.S. version," and the original 100 minute version, which is the one we get here. Normally, I'd be pleased to see the "unedited" or "director's cut," or whatever you'd call the longer version. This time, I'm not so sure. Chopping 20 minutes out of this would have been easy, without losing anything interesting or salacious. It's just too long at 100 minutes, and the frequent hopping back and forth between the prison story and the Mafia story gets old fast. They actually could have cut most of the Mafia stuff and kept the prison business and had a leaner and more entertaining film.
The Hot Box is the odd-woman-out here, primarily because it's not a women-in-prison movie, rendering its inclusion in a set called Women in Prison Triple Feature questionable at best. Shot on the cheap (naturally) in the Philippines, it's the story of four well-endowed nurses taken captive by rebels who want these angels of mercy to ply their trade in service of the revolution. Technically speaking, they are prisoners of these ragtag revolutionaries, but without the cramped confines of a cell, the sadistic female guards, and the gratuitous girl-on-girl sex, the slimy taste of the Women-in-Prison genre is lost. On the up side, it's the only one shot originally in English, and it boasts a script by future Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme, who'd revisit the whole girls-in-jail thing to better effect with Caged Heat a couple of years later.
Despite the backdrop of oppressed peasants in revolt, The Hot Box is the most lighthearted of the three films in this set. While the other two are grindhouse-ready, this Roger Corman production would be right at home on a drive-in screen, sharing billing with Candy Stripe Nurses, Big Bad Mama, or one of the many actual Women in Prison films Corman produced in the early '70s. The women here are far more pro-active and far less beaten-down than their sisters in the other films—once you hear the down-trodden rebels explaining their plight to these California girls, you know it's only a matter of time before our ladies are crying, "Viva la Revolucion!" This is really more of an action movie than a Women-in-Prison one, and we get gun battles, explosions, double crosses, lots of frenetic and confusing fighting, and a crowd-pleasing message about liberty, rebellion, and all that. Plus, our nurses are topless about 80% of the time. This one's a fun little entry, even if it's far afield of the theme.
Shock-O-Rama gives us these three films on two discs, with Escape From Hell and Women in Cell Block 7 on one, and The Hot Box on the other. Joining The Hot Box is the lone on-disc extra, a trailer vault for other Shock-O-Rama releases, lots of them recent, direct-to-DVD titles.
The prints offered here are horrid—full frame and packed with streaks, dirt, and other imperfections. So bad is the tech, that these are actually difficult at times to watch. Audio for each is a dull mono track, and there are no subtitles, so when the soundtrack overmodulates or dialogue is drowned out by music or incidental noise, you're on your own. If the trailer vault is not your thing, there's a very nice eight-page booklet featuring photos and posters, and some well-researched background on the films in this set.
Sleazy, gross, and unrepentedly non-PC, these obscure abominations are worth a look for those who like this sort of thing.
But that doesn't make them any less guilty.
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Scales of Justice, The Hot Box
Perp Profile, The Hot Box
Studio: Shock-O-Rama Cinema
Distinguishing Marks, The Hot Box
• Liner Notes
Scales of Justice, Women In Cell Block 7
Perp Profile, Women In Cell Block 7
Studio: Shock-O-Rama Cinema
Distinguishing Marks, Women In Cell Block 7
Scales of Justice, Escape From Hell
Perp Profile, Escape From Hell
Studio: Shock-O-Rama Cinema
Distinguishing Marks, Escape From Hell
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.