‘The world is putrid.’
Where would the Video Nasties be without jungles? At least Hell Prison isn’t another damn cannibal movie. Instead, it combines the aesthetics of the cannibal genre with the cheesy tropes of a woman in prison movie, to create a quite sensationally unpleasant movie, but one that occasionally transcends genre trappings.
Deep in a jungle somewhere, there exists a prison exclusively reserved for beautiful female criminals, lorded over by a sadistic prison warden (is there any other kind?) with a germ phobia. The inmates spend most of their time digging holes with spades, which is apparently very important work, though we never find out why.
They need to ‘break through the swamp area,’ which is as close as we get to finding out what’s going on. It doesn’t matter. In between digging, the prisoners get up to the expected shenanigans; trying to escape, getting caught, being abused by guards, taking communal showers and having naked catfights. Eventually they convince the washed-up alcoholic doctor to help them escape, leading to an inevitably tragic conclusion.
Hell Prison comes as quite a shock following Forest of Fear and Friday the 13th – this is a true Nasty, in every sense. The sex is frequent and as close to hardcore as you’re gonna find outside of porn. There’s clearly no faking going on in a couple of the scenes, including one rape scene that is more distressing than similar scenes in I Spit on Your Grave – it’s an absolute shocker that Hell Prison escaped prosecution.
But the most jaw-dropping moment in the film is reserved for the moment when a guard is menacing a woman by holding a snake to her face. Without warning, she leans forward and bites the snakes head off, spitting it into another guard’s face. It’s extraordinary and repulsive at the same time, so I guess kudos for that you sick bastards.
There’s even a genuinely scary sequence with a woman buried up to her neck in the ground, with a snake crawling towards her. Cut to a slow tracking shot past every cell, with the women arranged in stunning tableaus, praying for her. It’s one of those strangely moving moments that crop up in the Nasties from time to time, always where you least expect it.
So an hour into Hell Prison and it’s a solid recommendation for the more adventurous viewer. Then the last half hour is the escape, and things get pretty uninteresting, turning into a jungle adventure the likes of which we’ve seen plenty of already. It’s so drawn out that at one point the film cuts away to a woman performing a naked scarf dance, which has nothing to do with anything. Exploitation filmmaking at its finest!
‘The world is putrid,’ says Anthony Steffen as the likable doctor, but he could easily be describing Hell Prison too. Putrid is the word. Despite that, amongst the squalor and filth and sleaze, there’s some good stuff in here. Approach with caution, and if you feel threatened, don’t be afraid to lean forwards and bite its head off.
It’s the law of the jungle.