Cast: Elisabeth Hartmann, Mauricio Do Valle, Sergio Hingst
Exploitation films are tricky beasts. By design, they prey on our basest interests, offering up copious amounts of salacious material. Sometimes the sheer boldness of the scenarios can be compelling and we can cast aside the faults and limitations that plague these works. "Amazon Jail" falls under the "Women in Prison" sub-genre, providing plenty of lascivious scenes involving young, nubile women in various states of undress. Does the film successfully explore its exploitation roots? Or is it hampered by storytelling missteps and a lack of budget?
The first half of "Amazon Jail" tells the heart-warming tale of a couple named Edgar and Helena who happen to dabble in white slavery. Edgar likes to fly in well-to-do businessmen to his Brazilian compound, where he supplies them with booze and women. Having been kidnapped and herded into a corral, these women are constantly berated and threatened by the domineering and bisexual Helena. Complicating matters is Edgar's nephew (we're never given his name), who happens to be in love with Betty, the main slave and ringleader of the captured girls. While the prisoners sit around (some naked, some partially clothed; all sweaty) and conspire to escape, some of them decide it would be best to go along with things and see what happens, even threatening to start a union! Helena also has problems making some of the girls perform for her guests, prompting me to wonder if they are truly familiar with this whole white slavery concept. In between all this wackiness we're treated to a couple of orgies that are comprised of sweaty, painted and glittery girls writhing around Edgar's dining room with equally sweaty and writhing businessmen.
Later, a few convoluted plot "twists" occur, involving a missing gun, a wily lesbian named Mary, a deathly ill girl named Angel, a suddenly take-action side of Edgar's nephew (who becomes a one-man killing machine) and three captured local girls who happen to be sunbathing nude at a nearby river, which disrupts the serene balance of Edgar and Helena's slavery ring.
The second half of the film brings a whole new level of absurdity to the narrative, focusing on the survival tactics of the girls after they escape from the prison. Searching for food in the harsh jungle and dealing with tropical maladies, the film suddenly becomes a soft-core version of "Lord of the Flies," complete with girl-on-girl fighting and murder. Just as my mind began striving to comprehend what my eyes were seeing, the film gets even more bizarre, as the girls are captured again (does everybody in the Amazon own a slavery ring?) and forced to reside in a gold-mining community that is run by a gay priest who has a proclivity for white suits and who strangely resembles Truman Capote. Did I mention that the priest has a homosexual, black butler who single-handedly sets back race relations by about two hundred years? Before the "uplifting" ending lets us off the hook, we're assaulted with another endless nude dancing scene, more explosions, a murder that occurs without any hint of how it happened and yet more horny, sweaty men writhing on the ground.
Even though "Amazon Jail" was made in the early 80's, the aesthetic qualities are symptomatic of 70's grindhouse films. As such, we get unnecessary zooms, an incessant, redundant musical score, questionable camera placement, continuity mistakes and moments of overacting (Edgar really hams it up, coming across like a genetic amalgamation of Yanni and Gerard Depardieu). Throw in loads of nudity, some ludicrous plot points, misogynistic tendencies, overt racism and gay stereotypes and you got yourself quite a strange stew.
While there is a certain camp value at work here, these elements ultimately become boring. There are long stretches of repetitive scenes (like the miners panning for gold for what seems like an eternity and the "seductive" dances that the girls perform) and the eroticism the film advertises never comes to fruition. One would think that a movie filled with naked women in almost every scene would be, in the least, a tad arousing. But "Amazon Jail" piles on the misogyny and racism to such ridiculous heights that you can't help but feel dirty from the over-abundance of sleaze. It doesn't help that none of the characters display any kind of intelligence, which makes their actions infuriating and eventually renders them inconsequential. While I did have a couple of laughs during the "psychedelic" interludes (like when Liz, after nonchalantly mercy killing her snake-bitten friend, has a flashback that, of course, involves nude dancing or when Betty has a nightmare about a group of hang-gliders…who I guess are attacking her?), it becomes wildly apparent that the threadbare plot is only there to string the nude scenes together. All in all, the film struggles to be more outrageous than it actually is. For the most part, the sex scenes are fairly tame, often abruptly cutting off (which leads me to think that maybe there's some missing scenes floating around somewhere). The exception to this rule is a brief moment when the lesbian of the group administers a quick bath to another girl that gets about as graphic as a gynecological exam. Without this though, "Amazon Jail" is no different than any of the other soft-core pablum you'll find on late night cable television.
Blue Underground presents "Amazon Jail" in a widescreen 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The print is noticeably damaged, with grain and specks prevalent. Also, there are significant instances of edge enhancement, which severely hampers the look of the film. If this wasn't enough, skin tones are inconsistent from shot to shot. For such an obscure film, I'm guessing that this is the best it has and will ever look. Somehow though, all these faults lend a certain charm to the experience.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track doesn't fare any better, with strikingly low volume levels. Most of the soundtrack is extremely flat and distant, with dialogue sounding like its being spoken through a thick piece of sheet metal. An acoustic rumba score springs to action every few minutes and the repetitiveness will drive most insane, unless you have a high tolerance for pain. I don't. It is fun to guess "What's that sound?" though, especially when the rain, fires and lightening all sound the same. I'm guessing the foley artist crinkled up some aluminum foil in front of a boom mic and just laid it over these various scenes. There are no subtitle options, just a badly dubbed English track.
The only Extra is a Trailer, where an over-the-top Narrator makes the film sound more interesting than it actually is.
Sometimes an obscure curio like "Amazon Jail" is obscure for a reason. Unfortunately, Blue Underground decided to unearth this exploitation disasterpiece, cleaning it up the best they could. Short on cheap thrills, with the erotic quotient missing, there is some camp value apparent, but the high sleaze factor does nothing to temper the boring scenes that pad out the already brief running time. Somebody get the Warden, this flick need to be sent back to prison!