BAFF 2018: AMAZON HOT BOX Blends Every Women-in-Prison Movie Ever

“An American college student named Penny is erroneously apprehended during a dissident round-up in the banana republic of Rattica. She is incarcerated into the island penal system overseen by Wardress Von Krupp who is constructing the world’s greatest information extractor. Crocodiles, religious zealots, psycho inmates and voodoo-based experiments block her every escape. Life is cheap and the jungle explodes in Amazon Hot Box.”

Director James Bickert follows up his mad scientist/biker picture Frankenstein Created Bikers with the relatively straightforward women-in-prison homage Amazon Hot Box. The big deal about this movie is that it was evidently shot in secret, then unleashed fully-formed upon the viewing public without any of the usual build-up brouhaha, making its appearance at the Buried Alive Film Festival kind of a big deal.

If you’ve seen any women-in-prison movie before, be it The Big Bird Cage, Caged Heat, or Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, you know what’s going on here. There’s a plethora of nudity, violence, and strange goings-on, all in a jungle setting rife with mystery. In this case, the mystery is an unfortunately under-explored mind control experiment that renders prisoners into zombie-like creatures ferociously bent on human flesh, but the bulk of Bickert’s flick is centered on Penny and her trials and tribulations behind bars.

Penny (Kelsey Carlisle) has her main opponent in Val (Tristan Risk), the queen of the women inmates, who’s hell-bent on making sure that the “sardine” is made aware of where she stands in the prison hierarchy. It involves a topless beatdown that doesn’t go as Val planned, and sets in motion a series of events eventually resulting in everything going straight to hell.

The various elements play out well; Amazon Hot Box looks flipping amazing, courtesy of DP Jonathan Hilton — but I’m never going to be as big a fan of CGI special effects on low-budget as others are. CG blood will always look fake, even in the biggest of big-budget movies, and here it’s obviously tacked on, especially when compared to the disembowelment and other practical effects, which feel so much more visceral and in line with what Bickert’s homaging.

Watching it, one does really wish that the various disparate aspects, which include a puppet government, international spies, voodoo, and so on, were more clearly delineated. The plot jumps from one aspect to another, and while I understand that most women-in-prison flicks were a mish-mash of misogyny livened up with any number of genre tropes, throwing every single aspect of every other film being homaged seems a bit much.

Spies sneaking into a prison to topple a government: fine. Spies seeking to discover the experiments: fine. An evil mastermind trying to overtake a country with voodoo zombies: fine. All of these, at once, but none fully and satisfactorily explored: kind of exhausting and unfulfilling.

Still, Amazon Hot Box, despite its flaws, is a blast to watch. The scenes between Val and Penny are excellent, and the scenes with Jett Bryant are all amazingly charming, despite being ultimately unnecessary to the movie as a whole. Bickert’s crafted another movie which manages to draw from its source material well, while still being something wholly original and fun, despite being a bit of mess.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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