Escape from Hell
aka Femmine infernali
Antonio De Teffè as Doctor Farrell
Ajita Wilson as Zaira
Christina Lai as Vivienne
Cintia Lodetti as Katie
Luciano Pigozzi as Warden
Serafino Profumo as Martinez
Yael Forti as Marika
Anna Maria Panaro as Marie Antoinette
Directed by Edoardo Mulargia
Women in prison (WIP) movies have a special place in many people’s hearts. The shining stars of exploitation cinema, they can be incredibly entertaining pieces of filth, or so poorly made you wish flaming death to reign down upon its creators. Which one is this? Let’s just say I’m cooking napalm in my backyard and taking flying lessons. Escape From Hell is a complete pile of junk. Made when Italy was pumping out films faster than you could blink, the directors there were bridging into areas that pushed the boundaries of good taste (including cannibal films with real footage of animals being slaughtered.) There is no animal death here, but there is plenty of brutality, rape, and disgustingly greasy people both male and female (and she-male as it turns out!) If you’ve suspected from that list that Troma is involved, you are right, as they produced the most recent DVD release. You expect a deal of filth in WIP flicks, but there is a limit that when crossed turns it from a naughty pleasure into a disturbing look into the director’s psyche. The major flaw of this film is the fact it takes itself far too seriously, not letting us have fun with the violence, lesbianism, or other nonsense. The serious tone makes the film far more depressing than it should be, as the exploitation factors become troubling to sit through.
Another film called Savage Island was spliced together from both Escape From Hell and Hotel Paradiso with 10 minutes of new footage starring Linda Blair. The two original movies shared some of the same actresses, but they were playing very different roles, and thus when combined together it makes an incoherent mess. Which means it’s only slightly less coherent than Escape From Hell is by itself. Escape’s few attempts at a good plot pop out with the alcoholic doctor, who became so embittered by the horrors around him he crawled into a bottle and never came out. The rest of the film seems to be the standard WIP cliché list. We have lesbians, a sadistic warden, rapist guards, an evil female turncoat guard who used to be a prisoner, beatings, lesbians, women tied up and left to die, the one good employee who helps the escape, posses, lesbians, gun battles in the jungle, and lesbians.
Playing the drunken Doctor Farrell, Antonio De Teffè (credited as Anthony Steffen) was freaking Django in some of the many sequels to the original film. He was also the son of a Formula 1 champion and then ambassador to Brazil, and an Italian Baron, but gave it up to fight the Nazis, making him extra cool in my book. That also means he didn’t take guff from Mussolini, either. He sadly died in 2004 from cancer. Cintia Lodetti, playing Katie, was in three whole movies and spliced into a fourth (according to IMDB, which probably isn’t to accurate on 1980’s Italian cinema.) My favorite of her movie titles is Le Porno killers Playing Zaira, Ajita Wilson was born George Wilson, but was not content to be the neighbor to Dennis the Menace, so instead got a sex change and started making hardcore porn, which lead to her discovery for exploitation films in Italy. It’s really the classic Hollywood actress story. The few shots of her naked in this film (which look like they were lifted from another of her films) look screwy enough that you know her body isn’t 100% real. That was the Hell I wanted to escape from. She died in an automobile accident in 1987, but has many other films to leave as a legacy. Christina Lai’s sole credits are this movie, Hotel Paradiso, and their spliced together mess Savage Island. Some sources say she is Christina Hui, who had a cameo in Moonraker and some sort of role in Turin, Headquarter of Vice, which would have put her in Italy just in time to make these films next. Of course, she’d have to dye her hair sandy blonde. We got a headshot from her Playboy shots below with the best facial shot we could get of Christina Lai (credited here as Cristina Lay) so you can compare them yourselves. I am not convinced, but that’s from the full body shots (and in this movie her sandy blonde dye-job must have been done to both the carpets and the drapes):
Hey, let’s go on with the show! Women working in the camp spend all their time cutting down trees, raping the rainforest as they themselves are raped by the guards. The Circle of Rape I guess… They are forced to work in the rain, wearing only rags which are filthy and show lots of skin. The obligatory sadistic guards are there to beat them around. Prisoner Katie’s friend and lover Ann cannot stand it any longer, and makes a break for it. The evil guard woman Marika demands to know what happened to her, threatening torture for anyone who helped her. The big bald guard Martinez grabs the dogs and more guards to go hunt her down through the rest of the opening credits. This happens a lot in WIP movies (see Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion for a much better example.) In fact, just don’t bother with this film at all, and go get all of the Female Prisoner Scorpion movies. They are the gold standard to this rusty tin can before you. The punishment for Ann once she’s caught is rape by Martinez as the rest of the guards watch. The remaining girls return to the prison camp, while two of them get into a fight, which gives the guards an excuse to not give them dinner for the night. Martinez tells the handsome but alcoholic Doctor Farrell that Ann was killed by a jaguar after she escaped. This lie allows us to find out the movie must be based in the new world, somewhere between Mexico and Argentina. The conversation also reveals that Dr. Farrell is the highest ranking person at the camp until the new warden arrives. This should give him a chance to fire all the crappy guards (or at least set some against the others) but he’s too much of a pathetic drunk to even try. Living in a bottle instead of dealing with horrors is the coward’s way out, but Dr. Farrell will redeem himself later. Until then, he’s riding the Colonel Tigh train.
We get to meet the new warden as he is heading up a prisoner caravan going to the camp and being a total stuff-shirted jerk. Momma always said that if you can’t say something nice about someone; don’t say anything at all, so I’ll reveal that the Warden is nice to spiders. Also, he beats woman. Okay, hopefully Momma won’t be reading this review. Back at the prison, we meet Marie Antoinette, a prisoner who has a doll that she treats as her baby, and is overly friendly with one of the guard dogs. A guard dog named Skippy, no less. This disgusts the human guards, as they aren’t partial for canine sloppy seconds during their rape visits. Katie discusses Ann with her cellmates, none of which buy the jaguar story. In their quarters, Martinez and the Lady Guard Marika reenact the Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene, then they laugh at Ann’s death. It’s sleazy sex time! A shaggy haired guard has a female prisoner in his quarters who he sexes up: dirty, grimy sex as they are peeped upon by a man in an orange jumpsuit (a MALE prisoner???) The sex is entirely non-erotic and borders on X rated. The new Warden arrives the next morning, who is a stickler for law and order. He’s a big fan of Lenny Briscoe…wait, wrong law and order. The Warden is one of those jerks who would report you to the principal’s office if you were talking too loud in the hallway. We also find out that the male prisoner in the orange jumpsuit has no tongue, and is pushing seventy. The Warden yells at Dr. Farrell for being drunk, not wearing a shirt, and daring to play music. MUSIC of all things!
SHOWER TIME!!!!!! Full frontal nudity goodness as the women bathe. Well, only a minute or less of shower time, but it’s the best we’ll get. The new prisoners are divided up between the cells; one is thrown in with Katie’s group. Her name is Vivienne, and Katie introduces the others. Mary is a prostitute. Zaira got 20 years for premeditated murder, and Katie got life for killing her girlfriend. Zaira will be our black prisoner who is also sort of the villain prisoner, but not 100%. She’s also technically the second male prisoner, as she is played by the actress who was born a man. Katie explains that she rules the cell, and slaps Vivienne around for good measure. Ah, exploitation. At dinner, Dr. Farrell has sobered up some, and the Warden says he wants the girls to cut down the entire area by the end of the season, which is pretty much impossible, especially since all the girls live on is snake meat. Now that I don’t believe, as importing gruel is probably cheaper than sending out guards to hunt for snakes. The Warden is also a neat freak, as he wears gloves while he eats to avoid sickness. I’m not sure of the logic of that, but it’s what he explains. So he’s evil, paranoid, and dumb; a deadly combination.
The next day at work detail, the girls are on a water break while Zaira looks for roots, only to be hassled by guards. She refuses to play their game, and one guard says “The more you resist us, the more you excite us!” Martinez holds a snake in front of her, threatening to toss it at her unless she sleeps with them. She responds by biting the snake’s head off! I’ll let you invent an appropriate manhood joke here. The guards then tell the warden she refused to go back to work, so the Warden ties Zaira to a tree, and the rest of the prisoners get no work breaks for a week. Dr. Farrell scores a moral victory by refusing to allow the Warden to use the Doctor’s music in his punishment speech. That will learn the Warden!
Sometime later, as shown by the fact that Zaira is back in the cell, Katie and Vivienne are buck naked and kiss passionately, much to the enjoyment of the male audience who has gotten restless at the boring snake biting and Warden overacting. Zaira is upset, and as soon as the kissing stops, she tries to kiss Vivienne, which causes Katie to have to beat her around some to maintain her top dog position. They have a long fight, where Katie is completely naked and Zaira’s clothes are ripped open, showing what hormones and surgery could do in the 1970’s (not much.) The fight goes on long enough that the guards get bored with it and have to drag them both away. They get tied up to a huge wooden structure that seems to have no other function but to have women tied to it as a warning to other women prisoners. They are hung by their arms, which is more painful than just being tied to it. The Warden tears up letters from home for all the prisoners in a dramatic speech, blaming the two hanging ladies.
It’s work detail again, and Vivienne sneaks off to have a nude bath in a filthy waterhole. This is entirely implausible and obviously gratuitous fan service, as you know some of the guards are going to wander by soon. So Martinez and the shaggy haired guard come by as if on cue, and it’s rape time. Pretty graphic rape, not in brutality but in where Martinez has his hand, I know gynecologists who don’t get that intimate with patients. Dr. Farrell is drunk again, but now Vivienne is in the infirmary, recovering from what the guards did to her. Dr. Farrell is rather out of it, as he stumbles around, putting on some music then lying on top of Vivienne, calling her Julia and wondering why she left him. Oh, delusional drunks, they are so fun! Vivienne seems to be enjoying it; it’s nice to know that the pain and trauma of rape can be overcome so easily.
Later, Dr. Farrell tends to the two hung women, and they try to tell him to leave this place, but he refuses. That night, Mary is given food and alcohol by Rodriguez, who says he prefers to buy her like a whore to raping her, which is bizarre. After their not interesting or erotic sex scene, she walks back to her cell with the food and alcohol smartly displayed openly for any other guard to notice and punish. One does, female guard Marika, who accuses her of theft. The prisoners are assembled and Mary is given 24 lashes. As the whipping commences, one prisoner tries to rush the guards. As we’ve never seen her before, she gets shot instantly and the Warden yells “Throw her in some trench hole!” Mary is also buried, but only up to her shoulders. She’s left outside for the night, and it’s here we learn that there are snakes in the jungle that do nothing but bite human heads sticking up out of the dirt. This is a pretty specialized niche, and they have to compete with ants! The prisoners were praying for her, and the snake is preying on her! Now that Mary is dead, Martinez throws a new girl into Katie’s cell named Lucy, who was named after the famous fossil.
The next day at work, Vivienne cuts her hand badly, but Marika tells her to just wash it off and get back to work. Katie and Zaira are sick of her crap, so they grab Marika and drown her. That’s some satisfying murder. The Warden threatens to whip every girl every night until the murderer is found. He probably will anyway, as I bet he has a subscription to whippinggirls.com or someplace similar. That night, the girls plan to escape, which involves Vivienne pretending to be sick so she can go to the infirmary to try to enlist Dr. Farrell. I’m not sure how she got to the Infirmary, as before having open wounds gushing blood wasn’t enough to even get a coffee break. Dr. Farrell agrees to help. The next morning, he keeps Vivienne in the infirmary, telling the Warden she’s sick with a contagious disease, while also giving the prisoners some special water that will make them sick (Mexican water), and he’ll give them the antidote after the Warden sends them for treatment. The prisoners pass the potion around, even crazy prisoner Marie Antoinette drinks some. No indication if Skippy the dog drinks any. The next day there are like 15 sick prisoners, and the Warden wants to kill all of them. Dr. Farrell objects, and tells him he must separate the sick girls, sending them to a cabin miles away. This also allows Dr. Farrell to just walk out of the camp with the girls and get a good head start before they realize something is wrong. This plan would have worked, except Dr. Farrell strangles the Warden just before they leave. Now, he’s the character you most wanted to die the entire film, but his death will be discovered quickly and blow the entire escape operation! Surely you can pay someone to eliminate him once you get back to society. Especially since the toungeless guy watches Dr. Farrell do it. Since he can’t talk, Dr. Farrell and the girls at least leave the camp before the bad guys are alerted.
They are heading to where an old hermit lives in the woods, who has a boat. By now all of the girls have been cured of their temporary illness, and we get a flashback of Zaira where we find out she was in a circus as a trick shooter, and she accidentally shot her partner, which put her in jail. Really? They throw you in jail for accidental deaths like that? Earlier they mentioned she was in for premeditated murder, showing there is more to the backstory than meets the eye. Back at the prison, Martinez finds the Warden dead, and the mute tells them that Dr. Farrell did it. They thank him by shooting him dead for not telling them immediately. They organize a posse and go looking. Zaira has gone dreaming that she’s in front of a fireplace and stripping off her clothes…HELP!!! I’m trapped in a horrible nightmare! These scenes look nothing like the rest of the film; they look chopped out of another film. Katie is jealous that Zaira is by Vivienne, and they start fighting again. Later, a random prisoner is bitten by a poisonous snake, killing her dead. Snakes have killed more prisoners than the guards have now. The guards begin to close in, while another prisoner dies of heart failure.
LEECH ATTACK!!! A prisoner gets hundreds of leeches all over her body after falling into some water. Katie shoots her so she’ll have a quick death. QUICKSAND ATTACK!!! Marie Antoinette falls into some quicksand and sinks to her death at the guards attack the prisoners. The women are dropping like flies, here! I’m surprised any are left alive to be attacked by the guards. Two other girls get shot. Dr. Farrell blasts some nameless guards, then runs, and stops to shoot Martinez. Dr. Farrell then gets shot himself, but before he dies he shoots the shaggy haired guard. The only survivors are Vivienne and Zaira. Wait a minute, what the heck happened to Katie? She just completely disappeared, maybe she was one of the prisoners that got shot, but it was hard to see who they were. It’s odd she didn’t get a more dramatic death, what with her being a main character and all. Zaira and Vivienne end up floating down the river on a raft as the movie ends.
This film is a damn mess. I thought it would be just another enjoyable WIP movie but it turned into a disturbing pile of dung. I may be crazy, but I like my WIP films less graphic and more ridiculous.
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Rated 2/10 (Music and Whips!)
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