Nostalgic for Sleaze, part VI: film review for ‘Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.’

Dyanne Thorne and her intimidating assets feature prominently on the film poster for ‘Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS’.

At last, we come to the final of the three exploitation films I planned to discuss for my Nostalgic for Sleaze series of blog posts.  In June, I offered my two-cents worth on Joe D’Amato’s Images in a Convent (1979), and then earlier this month I discussed Women in Cages (1971). As promised, I reviewed each film in [quote] “descending order from “most enjoyable/least offensive” to “least enjoyable/completely offensive” [end quote]. And thus, we now arrive at that most notorious of naziploitation films Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974).

To begin, I’d like to get a few obvious points out of the way. Any film that hinges its plot — however threadbare this plot might be — on ‘dramatic recreations’ of actual Nazi atrocities is not going to be pleasant viewing. I understand that a subgenre of exploitation cinema exists that’s dedicated to detailed accounts of war atrocities — many of them focused on Japanese WWII war crimes, curiously enough — but I personally find these distasteful as forms of entertainment. Oh sure, Ilsa offers up topless Aryan babes in highly fetishized Nazi uniforms whose bodies glisten with sweat as they flog prisoners to death, but…Sweet Jesus, they just flogged those prisoners to death. And then hung them upside down, naked and bloodied, for the rest of the camp to admire. Sexualized violence reaches its most vile and maladjusted apex in this nasty piece of exploitation cinema. Even though Ilsa was filmed on the former set of Hogan’s Heroes, this definitely isn’t a fun film.

Quick Synopsis: A female Nazi Stalag Commandant performs gruesome ‘medical experiments’ on her female prisoners in an effort to demonstrate that women can endure more physical pain than men, and should therefore be allowed into combat. When she’s not torturing women, Ilsa amuses herself by forcing various male prisoners to satisfy her carnal urges. When these men disappoint her — as they invariably do since, in addition to being a sadist, she’s also an insatiable nymphomaniac — she has them castrated. Ilsa becomes flummoxed when she encounters Anna, a prisoner who seems capable of withstanding an enormous amount of pain. She also discovers a male prisoner — with the über-masculine name Wolfe — who possesses impressive porn-star talents that just may help him keep his, um, manhood.

Ilsa and her blonde henchwomen.

Though it would be impossible to deny the excessive sleaziness of this film, there are a few elements that make it almost watchable. The scenes between Wolfe and Ilsa are hilarious, as the ordinarily domineering Commandant coos and swoons like a schoolgirl before his cocksure male swagger. Are we to understand that Ilsa is a misunderstood sadist-Nazi who’s simply looking for the right fella to fawn over? The other amusing element is one of Ilsa’s implements of torture, which is an electrified dildo. While that does sound rather nasty, the image of Dyanne Thorne waggling this menacing black dildo under the nose of her victims is thoroughly giggle-inducing.

But then, there’s the rest of the film. Fans of this cult favourite argue that the gore and torture is so over-the-top that it’s cartoonish and silly. While I can agree with this to a point, I simply cannot defend the film’s continual coupling of naked titillation with extreme violence. Here’s a quick sampling of some of the unpleasant ways you could meet your end if you’re a woman in Ilsa’s prison camp:

1. Being flogged to death by topless Nazis.

2. Having your innards spew outwards inside a pressure chamber. Oh, and we get a good look at your tits while you’re spewing.

3. Being boiled alive till you’re red as a lobster.

4. Having some highly dubious gynaecological surgery performed on you, without anesthesia.

Admittedly, the many moments of high camp and pure, B-movie excess in Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS make it more ridiculous than truly sinister. That said, I still felt like having a shower after watching it. Yuck.

Can’t recommend it, but hey, it’s your party. Watch at your own risk.

Nostalgic for Sleaze, part V: film review for ‘Women in Cages’.

In August 2007, Grindhouse director Quentin Tarantino said of the film [Women in Cages], “I’m a huge, huge fan of Gerry de Leon…. [the film] is just harsh, harsh, harsh,” he said, and described the final shot as one of “devastating despair.” — from Wikipedia.

The unfortunate inmates of ‘Women in Cages’ (1971).

If you’ve ever viewed the trailer for the Roger Corman-coproduced Women-In-Prison (often abbreviated to WIP) film Women in Cages (1971) and heard the voiceover intone its famous tagline “white skin on the black market”, then you just know that what you’re about to encounter is a gloriously sleazy gem of 1970’s exploitation cinema. In this regard, Women in Cages doesn’t disappoint. Replete with the usual sex and sadism typical of this exploitation subgenre, this film also boasts Pam Grier as a cruel prison warden named Alabama who’s brimming with more racial hatred against ‘whitey’ than an entire Black Panther convention. While her anger may be somewhat justified, given the revelation of her abusive past, her constant and relentless viciousness makes Grier much less enjoyable to watch here than in her signature roles in the blaxploitation classics Coffy and Foxy Brown. That said, Grier still chews up the scenery and is easily the best thing about this picture. The weakest performance regrettably comes from the lead actress Jennifer Gan, who doesn’t even have the B-movie courtesy to become naked in lieu of being able to act. What I like about Women in Cages is the fact that it’s less about titillation and more about the sweaty grime of a Filipino jungle prison. Whereas Images in a Convent was essentially a soft-focus, nun-themed porno with good lighting and a melodramatic musical score, this film is pure B-movie sleaze with zero pretensions.

Quick Synopsis: A naïve American woman learns the hard way that her Filipino gangster boyfriend isn’t actually a nice guy when he sets her up as a drug mule. Thrown into an exceptionally harsh prison in the Philippines, she endures hardship at the hands of the sadistic warden Alabama, who alternately seduces and tortures her inmates. She plots her escape, all while her boyfriend enlists some ‘inside help’ to have her dispatched before she can implicate him as a drug lord.

Production: In contrast D’Amato’s Images in a Convent, the film quality here is very low. Like many of the exploitation films shot on location in the Philippines, this was done cheaply and with no attention to things such as, oh, camera work and lighting.

A visit to Alabama’s torture chamber can potentially singe that abundant 70’s bush in “Women in Cages.” Ouch.

Sin Factor: The prerequisite nude shower scenes and inferences of lesbian sex, though much less explicit than Images in a Convent. Drugs, several catfights, an oceangoing brothel and a roving gang of male bounty hunters/rapists. The most disturbing element is Alabama’s personal torture chamber, in which uppity inmates get whipped, burned, and electrocuted. On the whole, nastier and more violent than Images in a Convent, even when you factor in the troublesome rape scene of the nunploitation film. I’d still recommend this film, but understand what you’re getting into.