Unlike a lot of his contemporaries in the Italian genre filmmaking scene, Bruno Mattei didn’t quietly drift off into the world of television. Instead, he teamed with producer Gianni Paolucci to make a string of daft exploitation shockers on SD video as his career neared its end. These gonzo sleaze excursions have drawn a small but devoted cult of bad-movie aficionados. The Jail might be the most-loved of Mattei’s late-era films within this group because it delivers a blast of sleazoid trash that conjures up the ’70s/’80s glory days of Italian exploitation cinema.
The setup for The Jail leaves no women-in-prison flick cliché undisturbed: Jennifer (Yvette Yzon) is a tough chick who finds herself thrown into a jungle hellhole where the guards are brutal and the warden (Odette Khan) is a corrupt authoritarian who turns a profit by loaning her prisoners out to the Governor (Jim Gaines), who happens to run all the whorehouses in this unnamed country. After a steady amount of beatings, rapes, tortures and death, Jennifer makes a bid for freedom and finds herself in the middle of a Most Dangerous Game-derived human hunt that turns the third act into a jungle splatterfest.
The Jail is as goofball as Mattei’s other late-period films: the dialogue is full of howlers, the video cinematography is cheap, the cast is full of hammy non-actors and Mattei’s energetic but club-footed staging ensures that all the shocks and sleaze play like accidental self-parodies.
That said, The Jail‘s nutty approach to exploitation enhances the fun if you’re a trash-film fan and such viewers will find it hard not to get swept up in the film’s pursuit of trashy thrills: whether it’s a naked woman being tormented with a python or the warden showing her strength by having the guards whip a dead prisoner, Mattei is having a grand old time pandering to the audience’s reptile-brain interests.
If your interests sync up with the kinds of bizarro escapades mentioned in the last two paragraphs, you’re guaranteed a tacky good time with The Jail. There was no one in the trash-film world like Mattei and this film offers a singular memento of his demented talents in action.
DVD Notes: This film recently got a U.S. home video release courtesy of Severin sublabel Intervision Pictures Corp. The transfer makes the best of the standard-def video imagery and the post-synch dub soundtrack comes through nice and clear.
Fans will be happy to know that Intervision also put together a few extras. The first is “Acting For Bruno,” an eight minute chat with actress Yvette Yzon and actor Alvin Anson, who was in some of Mattei’s other Phillipines-shot productions from this era. Both actors testify to the challenge of getting used to how Italian crews love to yell but both express fondness for Mattei. Yzon is particularly charming thanks to the humble appreciation she shows for getting the job and making friends on the production.
There’s an even bigger featurette devoted to the filmmakers: “Prison Inferno” offers 22 minutes of onscreen commentary from screenwriter Antonio Tentori and producer/co-writer Gianni Paolucci. This segment reveals how a screening of 99 Women inspired Mattei to put The Jail together and the benefits and drawbacks of shooting in the Philippines. Paolucci closes it with a nice tribute to Mattei, who he considers one of the last of the old guard in Italian genre filmmaking. The last extra is a trailer, a two-minute spot that is packed to the gills with gore, action and nudity.