Review: Bruno Mattei’s THE JAIL: THE WOMEN’S HELL on DVD

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Italian sleaze master Bruno Mattei’s nasty exploitation cheapie THE JAIL: THE WOMEN’S HELL on DVD.

I vividly recall the first time I saw Bruno Mattei’s 1980 cannibal zombie chunk-blower HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (aka ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH).

It was a rental, during one of my early teenage movie parties, wherein my fellow fright fans and I would borrow a stack of shockers for the night, eat a bucket of bad food and hope to heaven that we’d get the shite scared out of us. And while my more conventional compadres would mostly select mainstream American films, usually of the Freddy/Jason/The Shape variety, I would always poison the well with my selections, which were almost always some sort of Eurotrash extravaganza, usually one I’d read about in GOREZONE magazine via the pens of Tim Lucas or Chas. Balun.

One night I pushed to pick up NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, which I knew was Italian and had seen reviewed in Mick Martin and Marsha Porter’s Video and Movie Guide, slapped with the dreaded “turkey” rating and condemned as “just one big, long cannibal fest”.

Sounded fine to me!

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Unfortunately for my friends, NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES was just too much for their delicate sensibilities. Even I was heavy of jaw after absorbing this one. The fact that it played out like a skid-row version of DAWN OF THE DEAD (complete with the Goblin score, which, along with cues from CONTAMINATION and BUIO OMEGA, were licensed by the producers) was one thing, but the movie astonished primarily because, between the gross-outs, half of it was comprised of grainy stock footage left over from a National Geographic expedition. Slow-motion birds, hopping marsupials and grease-painted ghouls make for strange bedfellows. My pals were aghast at what they deemed the worst movie they’d ever seen and my rental-pick power was suspended for some time.

But like all of us who groove on this stuff, I kind of fell in love with the film. There was a tacky energy to it; something inept, yet honest and wonderfully low-rent. The film was credited to director Vincent Dawn, which is, of course, Mattei’s anglo pseudonym and I soon looked for more Mattei fool’s gold, hidden under whatever name he opted to use. Stuff like the gritty RATS (which has the most absurd and oddly disturbing ending ever), the histrionic THE OTHER HELL (evil nuns and more recycled Goblin music!) and the earthy THE TRUE STORY OF THE NUN OF MONZA (which is like a crack-house baby made by Borowczyk and Pasolini). And these titles are just the ones I could find. Indeed, Mattei’s catalog runs deep. And dirty.

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And though he passed away in 2007, Mattei recently found a new lease on life via Severin’s grubby kid sister imprint InterVision, which recently released the sleaze kingpin’s double-dose of Philippines lensed, shot on video junkfests ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD and ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING, both co-written by Antonio Tentori (DRACULA 3D) and both released in the last year of his life. Those gory, macho, donut-budgeted cheapies proved that, despite nearly four decades in the business, Mattei had learned little about quality (and about seamlessly blending stock footage; there are chunks of CRIMSON TIDE jarringly jammed into the latter title!) and God bless him for that.

InterVision goes another round with 11th hour Bruno with his 2006 greaseball gem THE JAIL: THE WOMEN’S HELL a truly astonishing, similarly shot on video in the Philippines, Italian throwback exploitation film (credited to Vincent Dawn) that has to be seen to be believed. Even then, you may not believe it. Channeling the crass, misogynistic Nazisploitation and Women-in-Prison gems of his early years, THE JAIL sees Mattei throwing every vulgarity at the fluid-stained wall and praying some of it sticks. So relentless is the depravity in the film however, that none of it truly offends; rather it’s kind of, dare we say, charming?

The film once more stars Mattei’s Filipino go-to-girl, the delectable Yvette Yzon, as one of a gaggle of gals who end up in dunghill women’s prison hellhole called The House of Lost Souls (HG Wells just did jumping jacks in his tomb) and are promptly abused, beaten, humiliated, raped, shot (then raped!), molested by snakes and raped again by lesbians. It just never stops. And then, just when you think Mattei and Tentori can’t bash our brains in any further, the entire enterprise somehow morphs into yet another riff on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME.

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THE JAIL sports some of the most outrageous, ham-acting I’ve ever seen in an Italian exploitation flick and that’s saying something. Outside of the operatically malevolent guards, cackling away in the thralls of depravity, whoever oversaw their English dub must have gotten the cast loaded and had a party. It’s just insane. There are no words. All I can say is that by the end of THE JAIL, I felt like I had been shot into another dimension. It makes Mattei’s notoriously sick Nazi/WIP opus WOMEN’S CAMP 119 (which featured footage of real concentration camps) seem restrained.

But again, it must be stressed that no matter how revolting Mattei’s work gets, none of it is ultimately offensive. Maybe that’s because Bruno was, by the accounts of people I know who knew him very well, a sweet guy. A smart guy. A decent guy who made a living making indecent films. THE JAIL: THE WOMEN’S PRISON is a perfect final act capper to one of the liveliest and faux-filthy careers in all of Eurotrashville. Recommended…but not to everyone, obviously.

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