Three women find themselves in a penitentiary for female criminals run by sadists who enjoy the violent implementation of corporeal punishment. A local prostitute ring is also involved in the abuse of the unfortunate inmates.
If you are hoping for the claustrophobic trappings of House of Whipcord, look elsewhere. Whilst The Jail shares Pete Walker’s obsession with nudity and the cruelty of the matronly figure, it has none of his films’ subtleties or social urgency. The Jail feels more like a throwback to 1970s nazisploitation features such as SS Experiment Love Camp, with their emphasis in the potential morbidly erotic pleasures of punishment. In fact, the ridiculous inflexibility of the titular institution is emphasized early on, when the body of an inmate is given twenty lashings despite the fact that she has already been pronounced dead. But whipping is not the least of it: among other things, the girls are routinely subjected to heavy dosing from the jailors and to rape from an in-house corrupt doctor who issues fake ‘death by natural causes’ certificates.
I found little to admire here, but then I am not a fan of low-budget exploitation, the only possible target audience for this film. The Jail boasts some truly atrocious acting (Odetta Khan deserves a special mention for her dull and unintentionally funny performance as punishment-glutton directress), constant shouts of ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’, and a washed-out stylized video-camera finish that looks more like a result of limited means than directorial intention.
The ‘nude girls in a prison abused by older women premise’ is soon replaced by similar scenes shot in a man’s club. However effective these sequences may at first appear, they are soon reduced to a string of semi-erotic set pieces designed to extract titillation from lesbianism and the humiliation of fallen women. In fact, the film’s exploitation of naked women by maniac, moneyed men almost collapses into punishment soft-P*rn at various points. The main problem here is that the film is not sufficiently self-reflective: it takes too much pleasure from the suffering of the women, as well as from the seemingly aroused faces of the men who subdue them – the same is not necessarily true from the women jailors, who remain, for the most part, ice-cold in their treatment. This means that there is little room for critique. The Jail is not denouncing anything, and horror critics who have panned films such as Captivity or Hostel II for their misogyny would be shocked to discover this direct-to-video release. As it stands, the women are expendable, but not in the slasher style, and the potential enjoyment lies in images of nudity that pair uncomfortably with violence. The objectification of women is so extreme that a group of them is even served in a platter as a special dish.
The blood comes only later, almost as an afterthought. Once the girls escape, a hunt with ‘no rules’ and ‘no mercy’ begins, although some of the traps are the work of an unexplained tribe of savages that seem to be rendering a late homage to Cannibal Holocaust. The women are invariably shot, impaled, beheaded or have their tongues and nipples cut out. The gore factor of these scenes could almost be enjoyable, if it was not because this occurs amidst the frantic (and frankly tiresome) laughter and close-ups of men who wallow in the women’s helplessness.
The Jail’s poor attempt at subverting this dynamic through an inevitable and predictable attack on the men also fails to have any impact whatsoever, and it does not redeem the film from its previous leering misogyny. Mattei’s Snuff Trap was equally tired, but at least it managed to sustain a semblance of suspense. One thing in its favour: the line ‘by now the rats are having a banquet on her flesh, chewing on her beautiful cunt of cum laude’ is perfectly outré and could have been lifted from a Tarantino.
The Jail: The Women’s Hell (2006)