Friday, 21 June 2013

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)

Yes, I'm back and boy howdy, do I have a movie for you. Today Black Cat Reviews tackles Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (Don Edmonds, 1975).

(Quick note -- I'm not really sure how it works to put a trigger warning on something, but I think probably trigger warning on this. Possible all of the trigger warnings on this. If you're squicked out by, well, anything, move along.)

"I want to talk to my agent."

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS opens with the following title card: "The film you are about to see is based upon documented fact. The atrocities shown were conducted as 'medical experiments' in special concentration camps throughout Hitler's Third Reich. Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites of notorious Nazi personalities; and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes. Because of its shocking subject matter, this film is restricted to adult audiences only. We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again."

This solemn and solicitous title card has about as much to do with the movie that follows as the Hippocratic Oath has to do with Deep Throat

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is the made-in-Canada (!) tale of Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne), the sadistic, sexually voracious stalag kommandant. Ilsa's on a quest to find a man who can satisfy her needs, but in the meantime she's performing vile, spurious medical experiments on her prisoners and taking long showers, which are filmed in medium close-up from the neck down. Ilsa finds her match in Wolfe (Gregory Knoph), a strapping American POW with unusual powers of endurance: infatuated with Wolfe, Ilsa displays a remarkable lack of forethought in allowing him to tie her up. Once Ilsa's out of the way, Wolfe and the other prisoners stage an only briefly successful rebellion, then some Nazi middle-management figures come burn the camp to the ground. It's not a great day for Ilsa. Or anyone else.

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is a terrible movie made in the worst possible taste. But it had plenty of company. "Nazisploitation" B-movies experienced a certain vogue in the 1970s, and before the decade was out film-goers "enjoyed" offerings including Hitler's Harlot (1973), Nazi Sex Experiments (1973), Deported Women of the SS Special Section (1976), SS Experiment Love Camp (1976), Last Orgy of the Third Reich (1977) not to mention maybe-trash-but-maybe-art films like The Night Porter (1974). Ilsa may be the best-remembered entry in this abortive sub-genre, but it was far from the first. So the question is, why? Why was even one Nazi sexploitation movie made, let alone a dozen or more? I have no idea. I really don't.

Aside from being wildly offensive, Ilsa is a deeply weird movie. It can't decide whether it wants to be torture porn or, uh, regular porn, and keeps swinging from one genre to the other so abruptly it's hard for the audience to keep track. Also, you would think that in a movie like Ilsa -- clearly founded (however successfully) on titillation -- any semblance of narrative would be an afterthought. However, the plot is actually played pretty straight, with long scenes establishing the inmates' emotional turmoil and escape plans, as well as Ilsa's stymied bureaucratic ambitions: the actors, especially Gregory Knoph, really seem to be under the impression that the film they're making is an important drama. Then without any notice we're back to blood and boobs. It's jarring.

Ilsa is basically artistically irredeemable. It's a cash grab that exploits one of the ugliest episodes of recorded history. Yet on some level, I think it speaks to the tenacity of the human spirit that there are filmmakers who can make a movie like this -- who can take a time and place defined by suffering and misery and redefine it by, well, sex. Are such filmmaker's intentions noble? Of course not. But like the tree that, unaware, cracks the cement sidewalk as it reaches to the sun, the sheer existence of such films is sort of an affirmation of a human vitality, isn't it -- an unaware privileging of libido over destrudo?

I've probably just offended my entire readership (all five of you). Sorry. Just throwing stuff out out there.

FINAL GIRL: Yes, there is one: Rosette, played by Jacqueline Giroux, escapes into the hills with Wolfe just before the credits roll. Unlike many of the players in this movie, Jacqueline Giroux had quite a lengthy pre- and post-Ilsa career, taking roles such as Virginia in Video Vixens, Kim in The Dirty Mind of Young Sally, and Maria in The Erotic Adventures of Zorro.

Honest living, y'all.

1 comment:

  1. These were the rage in the 70's as I recall, odd I have all of the movies...nice writing...