One of the many sleaze curios to come out of Italy during the ’70s, Giovanni Brusadori’s ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON (1978) is, despite its rather deceptive U.S. release title, only tenuously connected to the women-in-prison genre, but it nonetheless remains a gritty, squalid slice of erotica, which made its worldwide Blu-ray debut earlier this year from Severin Films.
Led by the revolutionary Monica Habler (Lilli Carati), four women escape from prison, but when their getaway driver—and Monica’s brother, Pierre—is wounded, they manage to sneakily obtain help from a passing busload of female tennis players on their way to a tournament. Thanks to a special radio bulletin, their identities are eventually blown, and then self-professed leftist radical Terry (Ines Pellegrini), suggests they hide-out at a friend’s nearby villa, unaware that the owner, a prominent judge (Filippo Degara), is also at home. While Anna (Zora Kerova), one of the tennis players, tries to negotiate the safety of her teammates with Monica, most of the women are locked away in the villa’s basement, where they are continually tormented by Monica’s fellow fugitives, Diana (Marina D’Aunia), Erica (Ada Pometti) and Betty (Artemia Terenziani), but as the police close-in, tensions escalate and further violence ensues…
Although never even stepping foot inside an actual prison, Brusadori’s film clearly establishes the notion that these captive women will never be ‘free’ and, as they seek shelter inside the judge’s big house, it becomes very much a prison unto itself (which is at one point cleverly symbolized by the iron bars in many of the home’s windows). Populated by a relatively obscure cast of actors led by the charismatic Lilli Carati (adequately dubbed on the English version by Susan Spafford) and Zora Kerova (fresh from her starring role in Claudio Giorgi’s SATURDAY NIGHT FEVERrip-off, AMERICAN FEVER), many of the prurient goings-on—the film’s entire raison d’être—are highly in keeping with standard W.I.P. film tropes, including lesbianism (“You know how we managed to keep warm in prison? With the warmth of each other’s bodies!”), degradation, beatings, rape and even rising dissention among the imprisoned group; which, in the final act, leads into darker, even nastier territory still. In this respect, the film has more in common with Wes Craven’s seminal shocker LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), along with a number of similarly-themed Italian films such Franco Prosperi’s LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH (a.k.a. TERROR, 1978) and Raimondo Del Balzo’s considerably tamer MIDNIGHT BLUE (1979).
Despite the film’s sleazy stature, ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON was little-known even during the VHS days, when it was paired-up (“2 films. 1 cassette.”) alongside Michel Levesque’s SWEET SUGAR (1972) on Continental Video’s big box VHS videocassette, for which it was severely edited in order to fit onto the double-bill VHS tape—as a result, the (quote) “horror and depravation of women behind bars” was a whole lot less horrible and depraved! EFWP also appeared on Canadian videotape through Videoline and VEC, whose releases surprisingly retained the film’s original export version under the title WOMEN AGAINST WOMEN: A TALE OF SEX AND VIOLENCE. In 2006, it appeared on DVD via BCI/Brentwood as a ‘Women Behind Bars Double Feature’ double-teamed with Rino Di Silvestro’s grimy Nazisploitation film, DEPORTED WOMEN OF THE SPECIAL SECTION (1976), but, like its co-feature, it was taken from a VHS source.
Presented in two variant cuts, Severin Films’ Blu-ray is a massive improvement when compared to the numerous murky VHS and DVD releases that preceded it. As per the film’s pre-credits disclaimer, the first cut was taken from a (quote) “dupe negative” via the film’s stateside theatrical distributor, 21stCentury Film Corporation. Running 83m11s, this print is full of scratches, jump-cuts, visual debris and the usual amount of grain, which is to be expected, but at the same time, detail is sharp and at times even relatively colourful. It definitely captures the spirit of the film’s grubby nature! The original Italian cut (which appears to have been taken from CineKult’s Italian DVD, but comes with the added bonus of English subtitles), is also present, running 94m12s. Presented in SD and considerably softer in appearance, much of the film’s political leanings as depicted by Carati’s character are expanded upon, as are a number of other expository scenes, but—BONUS!—this Italian version also contains a few more scenes of explicit nudity besides. In regards to the film’s audio, in spite of some light hiss here and there, the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio is most satisfactory, highlighted by many of the film’s memorably colourful lines (e.g., “You can take that hand of yours and stick it up your wife’s bunghole!”).
Extras are provided by an informative on-camera interview with director Brusadori in Of Freedom, Sex and Violence (33m10s), wherein the one-time director talks about how he developed the idea after reading a (quote) “newspaper story about a female terrorist” and how he was influenced by the ’70s “Anni di piombi” or “The Years of Lead”, a sociopolitically chaotic time in Italy’s history; the film’s versatile Parma and Salsomaggiore locations; much of the cast and crew, including praise for DP Nino Celeste (“He was good, fast and knew how to solve problems”), as well as composer Pippo Caruso; and in general what an (quote) “extraordinary and wonderful” atmosphere there was on the set. The only other extra is the film’s Italian-language trailer (“A film that reflects our reality without exaggeration!”), subtitled in English, which advocates prison reform and, for some strange reason, is masked to an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
Politically-charged yet undemanding, ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON remains a solid, memorably scuzzy little programmer, which should thoroughly please most sleazaholics. Available on Blu-ray, DVD or as part of the Sleaze is Risen Bundle from Severin Films, or if you prefer, from DiabolikDVD. For you Canadian readers, order it from Suspect Video.