Saturday, June 11, 2011
ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS
Starring: Dyanne Thorne, George Buck Flower, Uschi Digard, Colleen Brennan
Easily one of the most famous exploitation films of all time, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS holds a very special place in my heart. It was one of the first films on my list of "difficult films to find that I NEED TO HAVE." I first owned a bootleg VHS copy and then proudly bought the DVD the week it came out. It still sits on my shelf and gets pretty frequent use. I actually just wrote a paper about it for a film class. I'm not sure how that went over.
Surprisingly, it's also not as offensive as you would think, though I could just be really jaded. Sure, there are Nazis, gruesome medical experimentation, softcore sex, torture, etc. But no more or less than any other exploitation film of the period, with the exception of some of the violence, i.e. castration. Nazism is a prop, not a critical element of the plot. It's essentially a woman-in-prison film transported to a stalag (actually filmed on the set of Hogan's Heroes!) with a big breasted, nympho warden/commandant.
The wonderful Dyanne Thorne stars as Ilsa, a malicious, sex crazed commandant, determined to prove her theory that women can withstand more pain than men, thus they should be allowed to serve the Vaterland on the front lines. Obviously, she plans to test this hypothesis with extreme torture. These "scientific" experiments are meant to mimic real Nazi medical testing. Naked female patients are exposed to pressure and temperature tests, vaginal electrocution, disease, disfigurement, and outright torture. The prisoners not chosen for testing are sent into another branch of the camp and are destined to be sex slaves for the sadistic guards.
In addition, Ilsa regularly chooses male patients to try to satiate her sexual appetite. When they inevitably orgasm and fail, she has them executed or castrated. Then she meets an American prisoner of war who has the magical skill of withholding orgasm for as long as he desires. Soon he gets involved in a secret rebellion and Ilsa's weakness becomes her eventual downfall.
First, she pisses on a Nazi general.
Clearly a stalag (prisoner of war camp) and not a concentration camp, the film carefully skirts around the issue of anti-Semitism and racial purity/cleansing. A particular example of this is that the German guards are allowed to have sex with/rape prisoners and Ilsa herself dallies with many of them. The Nazi guards are slovenly, disgusting and about as un-Aryan as you could imagine Nazi guards to be. Ilsa is the only one who really matters in this film.
This is actually a Canadian production. Director Lee Frost and producer/sleaze master David Friedman hit gold with Love Camp 7 and decided to give it a second and more successful go, though Friedman eventually distanced himself from the project and changed his name on the credits.
I think, hands down, the most offensive thing about this film is the opening warning statement. Absurdly, the film is dedicated to Holocaust victims. Really? That's worse than a women-in-prison film dedicating itself to rape victims, which, as far as I'm aware, has fortunately never happened.
Ilsa is loosely based on female SS officers Irma Grese and Ilsa Koch who were notorious for their sadism and wanton sexuality. In fact, no female officer was ever the commandant of a camp or prison, though women could still gain a reasonable amount of power in the SS. The medical experiments, unfortunately, are close to the truth, though Nazi doctors and scientists certainly were not trying to prove any sort of sex based supremacy using people they deemed inferior: Jews, communists, Catholics, and ethnic Romany, to name a few. The sexual slavery is also factual, though less common. Certain camps had Joy Divisions, where women forced into prostitution to service compliant prisoners; no "true" German was allowed to consort with them.
I've managed to disgust myself more by talking about Nazism in that last paragraph than thinking about all the atrocities and humiliations in Ilsa combined.
I'm reviewing the single disc Anchor Bay DVD, which is restored and looks a hell of a lot better than my bootleg VHS. Sadly it is full-screen, but I don't think you're missing a whole lot. For an exploitation film, Ilsa is beautifully shot, something that comes across mainly on the dark indoor sets, which this print improves upon. It comes with a pretty interesting commentary track, though I wish it was just Dyanne Thorne and not the jackass interviewer/narrator. If you've never seen an exploitation film this is definitely high on the list. It might be an extreme place to start, but it is wondrous.