Note: this review contains blatant spoilers
One 7 Movies have really picked up a nudie-roughie oddity that apparently never had any English language distribution during its theatrical run, and (most likely) home video editions.
Although made in 1985, the frank tone and graphic nudity are more typical of seventies Italian sleaze shockers with wholly inappropriate male behaviour violating the woman-in-peril, drafted into a desperate situation by bad circumstances, timing, and spurts of feminine non-compliance. Set in 1951, the story is ostensibly about a brooding political prisoner recruited for an escape plan by a pensive inmate. Manuel (Rodrigo Obregon) isn’t a talker, but he’s smart enough to know that adding an extra pair of slow-moving escapees to the elite group will insulate him from the inevitable gunfire, and he seems aware his recruiter has equally slim odds of escaping.
Armed with the full escape plan of crossing a river, grabbing a car, riding across baked mountainous terrain by horse, and reaching the end of the Colombian border, Manuel goes for broke when his fellow escapees are slaughtered by guards on horseback, and he eventually manages to reach the car and make it to a remote villa, where the elite of Colombia’s wealthy and morally indolent have assembled for the wedding of Amparo (Eleonora Vallone, daughter of classic Italian actor Raf Vallone) and some rich milquetoast.
Perhaps because his car is completely kaput, Manuel is intent on stealing a new auto, and he decides to grab Amparo for extra insurance in case of lethal gunfire. The two eventually reach a farmer who’s supposed to supply Manuel with horses and food for the second and most dangerous stage of his escape, but Amparo’s father has sent a military dragnet, which now surrounds the shack.
Manuel pretty much repeats the same tactics by using Amparo as a hostage, and the two eventually trek to some remote mountain pockets, hiding out from Amparo’s father, fiancé, and an airplane which repeatedly radios back their exact location. It’s during the course of their horseback and foot travels that Amparo’s defensive actions change Manuel from an indifferent convict to a serial rapist, and director Nello Rossati doesn’t shy away from any ugly details, albeit framing every shot as elegantly as the rest of the film’s richly photographed sequences.
Erotic Escape (the DVD’s title) is a clear-cut, morally repugnant film, but it is strangely fascinating to see how the director and writer Franco Reggiani defend their indulgent episodes of graphic assault and blatant nudity. From their stance, had Amparo’s father let Manuel ride off alone from the farmer’s shed as planned, his daughter would’ve been recovered intact. Had Amparo not attempted to escape or smack Manuel in the head with a rock, he may well have just dragged her along as a human shield until he reached the second river crossing.
From Rossati and Reggiani’s view, whatever happens to Amparo is deserved because angering any escaped convict is the Number One Bad Move, but the film goes further than merely depicting nasty behaviour with blatant pickles, beaver, and boobery. The drama follows the classic structure of a rich bitch ravaged by a lower class brute, and becomes conflicted in her allegiance as the old Stockholm Syndrome kicks in. When the pair reach the border river, Amparo literally begs Manual to take her along: with her honor in shreds, she claims she’s unable to return to her family nor fiancée, and prefers his company, his dominance, or being sold to someone else simply because her worth is less than a whore.
When Amparo does cross the river on her own, it’s after Manuel’s been arrested and awaits confirmation by border patrol that he’s neither a political agitator nor convict. After Amparo enters the border station, a handcuffed Manuel discretely orders her to use her skills and convince the guards to free him, or he’ll talk about Amparo’s ‘willingness’ during her captivity with him.
Circumstances of captivity, prisoner, and servitude are central to the film, and the drama remains steadily balanced even though there are odd points when the film veers into slightly distant genres, flipping from prison drama to erotic sleazefest, then jumping to rape-revenge drama. Rossati also uses an epic pull-back from a helicopter to punctuate Manuel’s reaching of the second river, which cheats audiences into thinking the film has arrived at its natural conclusion. It’s an odd visual choice, given the revenge chapter in the border station is set to begin, but the film’s true ending is morally revolting.
The final scene makes it clear Amparo isn’t necessarily scarred by her experience: lying in a separate bed while her husband sleeps nearby, Amparo seemingly recalls her sexual baptism through Manuel, haunted and intrigued by his brutality, and perhaps yearning for a re-enactment - either as a dream, or with another man. The punctuation to Rossati’s drama is the likelihood Amparo will leave her bland husband in the near future when another Manuel wanders into her sights.
It’s very easy to write off Rossati’s film as sleaze – which it is – but the fact seemingly sincere efforts went into developing the script’s dramatic twists and themes makes Erotic Escape transcendent among conventional genre entries. Rossati’s direction is also crisply professional: the prison scenes and breakout are superbly filmed and edited, and he employs several slow camera moves which a lesser director would’ve ignored due to budgetary constraints. Rossati and cinematographer Sandro Mancori (whose C.V. is filled with spaghetti westerns) exploit Colombia’s natural terrain in elegant portraiture, goosed with dramatic gusts of wind and mist which often blow weeds or shrubs for poetic effect.
One 7 Movies’ DVD uses a really beat-up print as its source. There are also periodic film breaks which affect the pacing and continuity of two specific scenes: Amparo’s first escape effort jumps from a run through grass to her already exhausted on the ground, leaving out an action done by Manuel that’s now missing; and after she smacks him with a rock, Manuel is about to force fellatio upon Amparo, but the coarse jump-cut to the next scene suggests offending footage was hacked out of the print. (This isn’t an unlikely hypothesis, because Rossati doesn’t shy away from full frontal imagery in one scene, nor the anal rape Manuel inflicts as the search plane buzzes above, unaware of the extended sexual violence.)
Hard matte lines in the supplied print sometimes drifts into the DVD transfer’s matted image from above and below, suggesting the film may have been shot in 2.35:1; there are also some edge details which get clipped – sloppiness neither director nor cinematographer would’ve accepted, given the obvious care in every shot’s composition.
The mono sound mix is relatively unblemished but a tad low in volume, and Luis Antonio Escobar’s score comes through cleanly, although musically it’s a strange match with the film: Escobar’s style is more typical of a late fifties / early sixties drama, with its classical arrangements and virtual lack of any electronic elements.
The English subtitles need to be turned on during the film’s play, and the translations are often fragmentary and filled with typos (as though a written transcript had been scanned using OCR software, but never proofed before married to the DVD master).
There are no extras, and the provocative cover art is another classic campaign lie: there is no such moment where a naked Vallone contemplates her situation on a beach, reasoning the image stems from a classic publicity tease shoot.
Whether a decent print even exists anymore let alone a negative preserving the film’s correct framing is a mystery; it’s likely the film disappeared into obscurity when it finished its grindhouse run, which is a pity, since one can imagine how well the film would look if transferred in HD from a decent source.
Rossati’s small canon seems to include genre hybrids and convention busters; his strangest is a zombie comedy called Io zombo, tu zombi, lei zomba (1983), which he made with the same cinematographer, screenwriter, and actor Obregon. Erotic Escape (originally titled Fuga) is part of a multi-picture slate Rossati made in Bogota Colombia, and includes his best-known work, Django Strikes Again (1987), plus Top Line (1988) and Tides of War (1990).
Eleonora Vallone only appeared in a handful of films within a ten-year period: Gardenia (1979), Carnada (1980), Afurika monogatari (1980), Si ringrazia la regione Puglia per averci fornito i milanesi (1982), Il motorino (1984), Erotic Escape (1985), and Italian Gigolo (1989) before a lengthy pause was broken in 2008 via a small role in Pupi Avati’s Giovanna’s Father / Il papà di Giovanna (2008).
Escobar, a noted musicologist, scored just a handful of films: El milagro de sal (1958), Mientras arde el fuego (1982), Erotic Escaoe (1985), and Caín (1984).
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan