Amazon Jail (1982) Amazon Jail/Curral de Mulheres (1982/1985) -**½

     The original Portuguese title for this movie is far more appropriate than the handle it uses in the English-speaking world. Amazon Jail implies a women’s prison movie in the same vein as director Oswaldo de Oliveira’s earlier Bare Behind Bars, but that isn’t exactly what we have here. Rather, Amazon Jail is a bit like a Third World White Slaves of Chinatown or an Ilsa: Harem-Keeper of the Oil Sheiks for the Brazilian rainforest. The film does, however, prominently feature a corral of women (that is, a curral de mulheres)— at least until it gets blown up by the world’s most powerful yet selective Molotov cocktail, and the story turns in yet a different direction even further removed from anything the English-language title might be taken to suggest.

     There is nevertheless one noteworthy parallel between Amazon Jail and Bare Behind Bars: like the older movie, this one parts company with the tradition of opening on the protagonists in the course of their regular lives, and instead introduces us first to the main villains. That curral de mulheres? It sits out behind the villa of a loutish slimebag named Edgar (Sergio Hingst, from Ritual of Death and Sadism: Sexual Aberrations), who keeps it stocked by advertising job openings for female tour guides in big-city newspapers. The girls who answer the ads find that their final job interviews consist of being herded into the locked stockade by Edgar’s bisexual girlfriend, Helena (Elisabeth Hartman, from Male and Female and Palace of Venus), and a team of armed thugs led by a man called George (João Paulo Ramalho, of Insatiable Fugitives and Fatal Hours). After seeing to it that they’re suitably trained, Edgar sells his luckless dupes to a circle of well-heeled white-slave traffickers, and if the size and luxuriousness of his home in the jungle is any indication, it’s an exceedingly profitable business he’s got going.

     Edgar has one slight problem, though. His teenaged (and unnamed, so far as I could make out) nephew has come to live with him recently, and while the kid has thus far been perfectly cooperative with his uncle’s shady dealings, there’s always danger inherent in bringing an outsider onboard a criminal undertaking of such seriousness, even if he is both a blood relative and not very smart. (My best guess is that Edgar’s nephew is played by Wilson Sampson, of Fetish Orgy and Animal Sex, but that really is nothing better than a guess.) And sure enough, the lad has gone and fallen in love with one of the captives, although he goes to some lengths to keep that a secret. Furthermore, the object of his affections is Betty (Sandra Graffi, from Winds of Love and S.O.S. Sex Shop), the ringleader of a plot to escape the villa and bring Edgar to justice. Edgar’s brainwashing techniques are effective enough that Betty has but two followers as of yet— Angel (Ligia de Paula, of Dr. Alberto’s Prostitutes and Group Sex) and a feisty, short-haired brunette whom nobody ever bothers to name— but there’s a new class of prisoners about to matriculate, offering a chance for some further recruits. In fact, among the new girls, Liz (Elys Cardozo, from An Adolescent’s First Night and Strange Game of Sex) seems like she’d be ready to tangle with her captors at the earliest opportunity, even without anybody else in the big wooden cage backing her up. Put her and Betty together, throw in the latter girl’s across-the-bars romance with the most naïve and impressionable of their jailers, and the odds in favor of a bust-out start looking halfway decent.

     First, however, the captives attempt something a little more limited in its ambitions. The next time Edgar throws a party for his customers, Betty assigns Mary (Shirley Benny, of Forbidden Sex and Sexual Desires of Elza), the prisoner with whom Helena is infatuated, to distract her from her girl-wrangling duties; Edgar himself habitually joins the prospective buyers in their carousing, so he should be pretty well neutralized by his own hand once the shindig really gets rolling. Then Angel can sneak out of the villa (one girl out of a dozen being easy enough to miss) and make a break for the surrounding jungle with an eye toward fetching outside help. The plan comes very, very close to working. Mary and Edgar alike play their appointed parts, and Angel even makes it past the villa’s armed guards. The dogs, however, are harder to fool, and their barking alerts their owners that there’s been an escape. Even so, Angel stays ahead of her pursuers for a few days, and succeeds in making contact with a trio of young women who like to go skinny dipping at a certain wide spot in whichever little Amazon tributary runs through this part of the jungle. That’s about when Edgar’s men finally catch up to the escapee. Leaving witnesses to Angel’s recapture is obviously out of the question, so the skinny-dipping girls who looked at first like Angel’s ticket to rescue now wind up among Edgar’s merchandise themselves.

     The thing is, those immodest swimmers have boyfriends, and when they don’t come home that evening, the guys in question band together to discover what became of them. Meanwhile, the failure of Angel’s solitary breakout convinces Betty and Liz that the time has come at last for the real thing. Edgar’s birthday is coming up, and the festivities attendant thereupon seem to offer the best chance the corral girls are going to get. Betty prevails upon Edgar’s nephew to smuggle several bottles of bad overproof rum out to the stockade, permitting her and her fellow would-be escapees to incapacitate the newly redoubled guard. (As we all know, no B-movie villain henchman can resist a pretty girl with a bottle of booze.) And on top of everything else, Helena— who has secretly been having an affair with George all this time— sensibly concludes that the kidnapping of three local girls can’t fail to lead the authorities to the villa eventually, and that the time for cutting and running has come. It just so happens that she and George attempt to make their exit at exactly the same time as the corral girls are blowing up the inebriated guards (and the stockade wall as well) with a Molotov cocktail made from a full liter of shitty rum, and that Edgar catches his two most trusted companions in the act of deserting him. All that’s missing from the ensuing scene is a little “Yakety Sax” on the soundtrack.

     You will notice, however, that the movie is only half-over at this point, and that the guys combing the jungle for their girlfriends have not as yet actually done anything. You’ll never guess what Oswaldo de Oliveira has planned for the remaining 50 minutes— no, I mean never. There are these gold miners out in the jungle, see, and their boss (I’m pretty sure he’s played by Mauricio do Valle, from The Seven Kittens and Bruce Lee vs. Gay Power) is an ex-priest who has reinvented himself as a sort of Jim Jones character. Oh— and his mining camp doubles as a Satanic gay sex cult. Betty and the half-dozen or so other girls who still survive by this time come staggering into the miners’ compound, and it’s just trouble all around for everybody. From the ex-captives’ perspective, a gold-mining Satanic gay sex cult isn’t exactly the rescue they were hoping for, since the priest and his followers are naturally no more eager to come to the attention of the authorities than were Edgar, Helena, and George. And from the priest’s point of view, this mob of good-looking females seriously compromises his own position as the most sexually desirable person at the camp. (The clear implication is that all of the priest’s followers save his absolutely flaming black valet are boarding-school homos at best, and would go back to playing for the other team the instant an opportunity presented itself.) The priest has Betty and the others locked up in one of the huts, and lets it be known that they’re all to be sacrificed to the Devil following a big rape party to pacify the miners. The boyfriends’ search posse, in other words, is still at least potentially relevant to the plot. Meanwhile, Liz takes over for the exhausted and rather ill Betty in plotting a second escape— and in scheming to abscond with as much of the miners’ gold as she can carry while she’s at it!

     Amazon Jail is substantially tamer and more coherent than Bare Behind Bars, much more closely approximating the tenor of a conventional sexploitation action movie. This is not a good thing. Like the earlier film, Amazon Jail has little going for it except sleaze and idiocy, so toning down both of those things leaves it less entertaining than it might have been. That said, it still has a respectable parade of jiggling and gyrating butts (Brazilian butts, too, I hasten to remind you), the delightful Molotov cocktail scene (seriously, there is no way the inferno that thing touches off wouldn’t roast everyone within ten feet of the corral medium rare), and the gold-mining buggery cult to set it apart from the run of the mill. Amazon Jail’s best feature, though, might be Sergio Hingst’s utterly unhinged performance as Edgar. Admittedly, the dubbing surely didn’t do him any favors, but the overwhelming impression he left me with on the basis of the American version was of a Brazilian Hy Pike. You remember Hy Pike— the loathsome and all-too-frequently-nude mayor in Dolemite? The show-stealing police detective in Spawn of the Slithis? This is an exclusive club indeed, to be sure, but anyone who left either of those movies wishing for more of Pike’s… shall we say fiercely individualist?… approach to the craft of acting will be thrilled by how completely Hingst dominates the first half of Amazon Jail. It isn’t every bad actor who can turn a mere white slaver into a plausible rival to a queer Satanist priest with a secret jungle gold mine for audience attention, after all!



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