Directors: Edoardo Mulargia, Rino Di Silvestro, Joe Viola

I recently discovered the perfect setting in which to watch a women in prison, or W.I.P. flick. I did not anticipate my evening to unfold as it did, and considering the financial and physical anguish I was forced to endure, I can not in good faith recommend recreating such a situation willingly, but given my circumstances I think I did the best to make lemonade out of the fruit with which I was dealt.

On one of the hottest days of the year, with a heat index well over 100 degrees, my air conditioner decided to stop working. This of course happened on a weekend, ensuring that any repairman called would undoubtedly charge double for having to go out of his way on what was suppose to be his day off, and to make matters worse, I was flat broke. Even if I could get someone to come out on a Saturday night and look at my unit (that doesn’t sound right), I wouldn’t be able to pay him, leaving me with little other recourse than to sit and bear it. And so I did. Covered in a second skin of perspiration and funk, beads of sweat racing down my back, my testicles floating in my pants like two fat guys in inner tubes drifting down the lazy river, I sat down to indulge and sympathize with the imprisoned ladies of Shock-o-Rama’s Women in Prison Triple Feature.

Tending to the inmates of a tropical women’s prison camp has driven Doctor Farrell (Anthony Steffen, THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE) to drink. A lot! Left in charge while the camp waits for its new warden to arrive, the good doctor spends his days nursing a hangover, waking only to tend to the cuts and bruises of his co-workers and their prisoners. Without a sober authority figure, the camp's guards (both male and female) indulge in a variety of sadistic activities (i.e. torture and rape), stopping only to escort a new round of ladies to the ditch-digging fields or to ration out the camp's sole delicacy, snake meat. Such brutal behavior sees a dramatic up swing upon the arrival of the camps newest warden, played by Luciano Pigozzi (FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS). Determined to bring authority back to the prison, the new warden implements a rigorous and harsh schedule designed to whip the crumbling facility and its prisoners back in to shape. With their hours of hard labor increased, the camp's convicts barely have enough energy to make their way back to their cells for lights out, let alone the strength to plan an escape or cuddle. Lust however is one emotion that is not easily subdued by chains or low electrolytes, and with only a few choice room mates to go around, it isn’t long before the more dominate gals begin to fight for the top bunk. Feed up with the rapidly decreasing conditions of his job, Doctor Farrell sobers up long enough to devise a plan that would take advantage of the his new boss' germaphobia and allow him and a few lucky ladies a "get out of hell free" card, but braving the untamed elements of the Amazonian rainforest may prove even deadlier than the prison they're are trying to flee.

I thought this was a women’s prison camp, what's Ajita Wilson doing here? Filthy, grimy, snake head biting fun; ESCAPE FROM HELL is a trashoholic's wet dream. It may not possess the talented eye or skillful nuances of either of Jack Hill’s benchmarks in the genre (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, THE BIG BIRD CAGE), but it does have a lot of half naked women running around in the jungle trying not to get raped or killed, with most failing on both accounts. Ajita Wilson shares too much screen time for my tastes but if you can look past the transsexual's mannish jaw line there is a variety of more feminine cast members to ogle in various states of undress. Cristina Lay, breaking away from the group for an impromptu skinny dip, seems incredibly foolhardy given the numerous dangers that the rain forest has to offer but the gesture is certainly appreciated. Cristina is quite fetching dressed in what appears to be a tattered old potato sack, however it is Cintia Lodetti's shapely frame that draws the most admiration, at least from this reviewer. Blonde, busty and covered in dirt, Cintia’s numerous fight and lesbian scenes may come across in poor taste to some but trash devotees will no doubt covet them as cinematic treasures worthy of proper preservation. Those looking for more of Cintia Lodetti would be well advised to seek out THE PORNO KILLERS, shot the same year.

Eduardo Mulargia shot ESCAPE FROM HELL (Femmine infernali) back to back with another jungle prison picture, Orinoco Prigioniere del Sesso, also known as HOTEL PARADISE. Edoardo used most of the same cast for both pictures, including Anthony Steffen who had worked with Edoardo Mulargia (under the name Edward G. Muller) in the past on a number of westerns, including W DJANGO! and SHANGO, LA PISTOLA INFALLIBILE. Footage from Eduardo’s two jungle films would later be chopped, cut up and mingled together with new footage featuring Linda Blair and Penn Jillette and released as SAVAGE ISLAND, a confusing mess that threw continuity out the window and saw the best parts of both pictures excised altogether.

Accompanying ESCAPE FROM HELL on disc one of Shock-o-Rama's two disc set is Rino Di Silvestro’s first film, WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7 (Diario segreto da un carcere femminile, which roughly translates to “Secret Diary from a Feminine Prison), the story of Hilda (Anita Strindberg, YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY), a devoted daughter who agrees to go undercover in a women’s penitentiary in an attempt to clear her fathers name. Once behind bars it doesn't take Hilda long to acclimate to her new surroundings. Identifying which guards are on the take and which convicts can best assist her, Hilda gets the word out that she is looking for Daniela (Jenny Tamburi, THE PSYCHIC), a fellow inmate doing time on a bogus drug charge. Daniela however has her own problems to worry about and little time or care for Hilda's, or anybody else’s questions. Clueless to the missing dope that everyone thinks her boyfriend stashed with her, the naïve beauty struggles with her sanity as she fends off unwanted sexual advances and attempts to lie low as a growing sense of rebellion threatens to boil over and consume the penitentiary in a full scale riot.

Most often noted for helming WEREWOLF WOMAN, Di Silvestro delivers the sleaze in all of the appropriate places for his first film but is less successful in his attempt to combine common elements of a women in prison picture with those of a crime thriller. What should have been an easy initial set-up, explaining how and why Hilda and Daniela landed behind bars, is dragged out into a rambling subplot that features a number of chases and double crosses, but none so enjoyable or necessary to justify their prolonged and repeated inclusion. They’re more or less unwanted bumpers between shower scenes. The English dubbed cut presented on this release features an iffy narration early on that attempts to explain the film's disjointed nature but it does little to save the picture from itself, which is a real shame, as amid all of the typical Italian crime trappings is a solid little W.I.P. picture.

The film itself opens rather auspiciously with Daniela receiving a cavity search from the chief lesbian warden, played by Olga Bisera (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME). From there, save for the annoying crime elements mentioned earlier, the picture presents a steady parade of female convicts working, eating and showering together, including Paola Senatore (EATEN ALIVE), Valeria Fabrizi and Gabriella Giorgelli (SEVEN BLOOD STAINED ORCHIDS). Prolific character actor Massimo Serato (AUTOPSY, THE 10th VICTIM, DAVID AND GOLIATH) gets in on the action too, playing the prison's warden but as it should be with any W.I.P. picture worth its salt, the best scenes are left for the ladies. Cellmates disrobe, fight, shower and disrobe again in a litany of physical encounters. One memorable scene features a bevy of ladies soaked to the bone by several male guards with large hoses (paging Dr. Freud) while attempting to riot in the prison's open air courtyard. Baring your bosoms in rebellion may not be the best way to get the powers that be to consider your demands, but it will get their attention.

Wrapping up Shock-o-Rama's W.I.P. triple bill is THE HOT BOX, the tale of four nurses, Bunny (Andrea Cagan), Lynn (Margaret Markov), Ellie (Rickey Richardson) and Sue (Laurie Rose), who are kidnapped by a guerilla movement and forced to train their solders in the medicinal arts. Lead by Flavio (Carmen Argenziano, PUNISHMENT PARK), the goal of the “Peoples Army” is to educate and arm average citizens in hopes of one day being able to rise up and overthrow the corrupt local government which keeps the working class in squalor. Rescuing the four girls from a filthy outfit of banditos, Flavio brings the nurses back to his secret camp so that they may provide medical aid to his impoverished people. The quartet is roughed up a little bit but are generally treated with respect, so long as they keep quiet, stay in line and don’t attempt escape. So of course, they attempt to escape, and succeed, only to wind up in a worse situation, as the prisoners of a shady government official. Uncovering a shocking betrayal that could deeply undermine the revolution, the girls again attempt escape, so as to warn their previous captors of the devious plans of their most recent captors. It’s really not as confusing as it sounds.

Produced and co-written by Jonathan Demme (CAGED HEAT, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), THE HOT BOX was shot in the Philippines for producer Roger Corman in an obvious attempt to recreate the success of Jack Hill’s THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, filmed a year earlier. Having previously worked together a year prior on ANGLES HARD AS THEY COME (which also stars BOX's chief villain, Charles Dierkop), again for Roger Corman, Viola and Demme’s second collaboration is an agreeable jungle picture that can at times come off as a bit preachy. The film isn’t so much a W.I.P. picture as it is a call to join a revolution. More emphasis is placed on the plight of its setting's third world occupants than on the four lovely nurses, resulting in too many different factions to vie for the audience's sympathy. Sermons aside, there is plenty of fun to be had and several unique moments of levity to enjoy, such as a brief but hilarious cameo by a very angry, very tiny marketplace shopkeeper. And of course the women are not exactly a chore to watch either.

Margaret Markov would continue to pop up in a number of drive-in classic after HOT BOX, including BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA in 1973 and THE ARENA the following year, both of which co-stared W.I.P. vet, Pam Grier. Cutting her teeth on BOX, Laurie Rose would also continue in work exploitation pictures such as THE ADULT VERSION OF JEKYLL & HIDE, under the name Jennifer Brooks, Arthur Marks' THE ROOMMATES and Lee Frost’s POLICEWOMEN. By all accounts Rickey Richardson’s film career was short lived, with Ellie being the last role she would ever tackle. She’s no Pam Grier but Rickey gives it her all, baring both her “heart and soul” for the production.

All three films are presented full frame with quality ranging from poor to down right depressing. Muddy, blurred, washed out colors reminiscent of an eighth generation bootleg are common and are most often accompanied by a distorted mono track that could care less whether or not you're able to hear what is being said. In short, it’s a mess. All three have previously seen VHS releases - ESCAPE FROM HELL was initially released by Wizard Video under the sole title ESCAPE before Troma (of course) picked it up and released it on DVD back in early 2000. WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7 saw a VHS release through Paragon Video Productions and USA Home Video, which released the film as part of their Sybil Danning’ Adventure Video line and THE HOT BOX saw a home video release through Embassy Home Entertainment. - and if you happen to already own or come across any of the included titles on home video, I'd say there is a 50/50 shot that they would feature a clearer picture and better sound. Given each film’s gritty nature, such faulty presentations can be overlooked and in many ways it does add to their individual sleaze factors, but it would have been nice to see a little more effort put into this release, particularly in regards to THE HOT BOX. Extras include a trailer vault of past Shock-o-Rama titles and an informative eight page booklet of liner notes that features several single page reprints of each feature's original one-sheet.

Although their presentation is deeply flawed, Shock-o-Rama’s Women in Prison Triple Feature did deliver on every one of my expectations, making my night in Hell a little bit easier to bear.
(Jason McElreath)