Impulse Buy Theater - Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS
The mention of this particular movie genre will generate a seemingly endless list of films…depending on who you ask and their varying exposure levels. There are constants within any of the films one would list: generally lower budget (either indicated by practical effects or film quality and grain), exploitive subject matter and dating from somewhere between the mid-60s to mid/late 70s. There are some classics that have emerged from this genre of film…but there have been FAR more instances of “What in the name of all that’s holy were they thinking???”
Today, we look at one of the many examples of that latter category as we take a look at Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS. If you’re looking at this film as a recipe, then the instructions are rather simple: 1 part women-in-prison film, 1 part torture porn (we’ll explain what we mean by that in a bit), spoon in some soft-core…then just add Nazis. Bake at 420 degrees (because this movie will probably be better if you’re a bit high for it) for 96 minutes and you get a sizeable helping of WTF-loaf. Seriously…take a moment to consider what it takes to come up with that. Someone had to stop and say that they wanted to see boobs and gore and Nazis. And then another guy had to say “I want to see that too. In fact, I’ll pay for it!” You almost feel like maybe an extra hug or a well-timed therapy session could’ve prevented all this. But, let’s take a look at each of the ingredients in this film first, then assess the final product.
Women in prison films have been a long standing staple in grindhouse cinema or drive-in fare. How the genre fits into Ilsa is that at Medical Camp 9, the Kommandant, Ilsa, is trying to prove a personal theory, that women can endure more pain than men and, as such, should be allowed to participate in the war effort…and even rise into command ranks. While the movie succeeds in some aspects of the genre, plenty of female nudity and a developing sisterhood between this section of the inmates (there’s a men’s “workers” section of the Camp as well), there’s no shower scene or major lesbian vibe/current amongst the inmates. We do get an instance of lesbian rape as one of Ilsa’s medical staff gets what she wants from a female prisoner before allowing some of the other workers to use the girl. (As you’d expect in a film like this, it doesn’t end well for the victim.)
Now, when you talk about torture porn, there’s two ways this can be read: first, the version best exemplified in Eli Roth’s Hostel movies, wherein it’s an exercise in practical make-up effects and devising methods that produce a visceral reaction from the audience…or the second, where the porn aspect comes from those delivering the torture either in varying states of undress or in provocative clothing. Ilsa manages to do both (not the character, per se, because she has her assistants carry out the topless floggings). The make-up effects, while perhaps somewhat dated, certainly still manage to create the necessary unease…although the blood effects are…well…terrible. [But come on, that’s expected in these sorts of films. – Ed.] And, as stated before, yes, there are a pair of blondes that are Ilsa’s direct underlings who administer topless beatings…if you’re into that sort of thing.
Soft core…yes, that too comes into play. We’ve talked about the women’s side of the camp, but only just briefly mentioned the men’s side…the ‘workers’. Well, as it turns out, Ilsa is, well, rather insatiable. That’s not the only reason the workers are there, no, they’re just as susceptible to her experiments as anyone within Medical Camp 9. But one of her major personal research projects is to find a man that can satisfy her. In the beginning of the film, we find out what happens to those who don’t: they get their junk cut off…and usually die soon afterward. We’ll use this as a segue to introduce our protagonist and a half: Wolfe and Mario. Mario’s been at the camp for a while, whereas Wolfe is a new arrival. As you’d expect, since Mario’s been there a bit, he’s been…ahem…tested. But that’s the thing, he tells Wolfe that he’s only half a man…so, what, did she pluck the berries but left the twig? Or leave the sack but take the wang? Or, did he just manage to survive the castration…unlike our victim in the opening? Personally, I lean toward the first option there…although it’s never explicitly said. Wolfe, on the other hand, is our protagonist: born a German but raised in America, trying to bring hope to those in the camp, formulating an escape plan, falling for one of the girls in the camp and…oh, yeah, the story’s Captain Good-dick. Yup, Wolfe has the mutant ability to be able to control when he gets off and, as such, is like a marathon runner in the sack…at one point not only satisfying Ilsa’s twin floggers, but then Ilsa herself right afterward. To slip into disc-jockey talk for a moment, ‘That’s three…three…three in a row!’ Apparently Wolfe is into the whole tantric thing like Sting…or he’s one of the X-Men that they never talk about.
And who are the only people in modern history that were likely so depraved to let such a thing as Medical Camp 9 exist? Of course, Nazis. Sure, there’s plenty of deplorables here, from Ilsa herself, the aforementioned lesbian rapist, the eventual double-cross (or maybe in this instance it’s a double-iron-cross?) and let’s not forget the General who can’t get it up unless he gets peed on first. [Given that it’s Germans we’re talking about here, you should be glad it only goes THAT far. – Ed.] That’s really all I got here…when you need universal villains, you can always rely on Nazis to check that box. As the film series went on, more timely or topical bad guys were used: oil sheiks (70s oil embargo), Latin American dictators (there’s always at least one!) and lastly, of course, the Soviets. Oh, I guess this is as good a place as any to stick it [Never say that in a review ever again. – Ed.] but you’ll notice how the women and the workers sneak around at night, getting into each other’s bunkhouses and such…look familiar? Well, if you’ve got sharp eyes, you’ll notice that Medical Camp 9 bears a striking resemblance to another Nazi prison camp of popular culture. Yes, this was the same set used for Hogan’s Heroes. So there you go…usually I give trivia and now trivia you got.
Before we wrap up, it’s necessary to talk about Ilsa herself…as played by Dyanne Thorne. Any picture associated with the character or the films themselves will clearly display what Ms. Thorne brings to the film…and any scene she’s in will give you at least cleavage, and, given one of her aforementioned ‘experiments’, of course you’re going to see more than that. And yeah…wow…they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Well…okay, they do…but they MAKE them…these are au natural. And since I don’t know how to put the thumbs up emoji into MS Word…I’ll just move on. It is worth pointing out that she does kinda look like a showgirl that’s a bit past her prime. It doesn’t entirely detract, and sure, there’s plenty of other things to keep your eyes on. In fact, I’ll actually spring to Ms. Thorne’s defense because, having watched all of the next Ilsa film – Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks and bits and pieces of the third Ilsa film – Ilsa: The Wicked Warden, she actually looks better in those two films. Maybe it’s the hair…it’s a bit longer in the latter two films…or maybe I’m getting old enough where I dig older women…I dunno. [What did we say about sharing too much? – Ed.] Also, there’s the matter of her accent. Now, I’m no expert on German and German pronunciation…I took Spanish in high school and college and was told I spoke the language like a gringo…so, clearly not my area of expertise. But I want to point out her pronunciations of the words “General” and “Reich”. She says “General” with a hard ‘g’ sound as opposed to the soft ‘g’ that we typically hear it. Given that Nazi’s have been the focus of many a talkie film (to resurrect the old post-silent film era terminology), I can’t say I’ve heard a single one of them say “general” in that way before. When it comes to “Reich”…she doesn’t give the word the hard ‘k’ sound usually associated with the term…instead opting for an ‘sh’ sound, which really makes it sound very less intimidating. Heh…maybe that’s how Hitler could’ve won the war…if he’d gone with the ‘sh’ sound, perhaps the Allies would’ve underestimated him: “Reish? The Third Reish? Sounds soft to me, probably a bunch of pushovers.” Heck, France might’ve signed on as opposed to needing to be invaded: “Look, they abuse letters for no reason just like us! Welcome brothers!!!” [I’m going to step in here and stop you from pissing off THE ENTIRE INTERNET. You know, if that’s okay with you. – Ed.] Fine, fine. I guess my point here is that it kinda rips you out of the movie from time to time…boobs or no boobs. Okay, maybe slightly less when there are boobs.
All in all, does this film meet the three B’s that we look at when gauging the quality of these movies? Well, there’s definitely Blood and Breasts…but beasts? Well, if you count the Nazis…or Ilsa herself…or those that are scarred and tortured…then maybe. But when taken as a whole, yes, it certainly is a film worthy of the grindhouse label. Is it worth watching though? I have to admit…it’s really hard to say. If you’re a fan of grindhouse, then yes, absolutely. If you’re thinking about dabbling in the genre, well, this will CERTAINLY show you what you’re in for. But if you’re squeamish about the fetishization of torture and medical experimentation…you know, like any normal person would and should be…this is probably a solid pass. My closing opinion on it? Well, I’m simply fascinated, again, by the conversation that had to take place for this film to be made. “Hey, what do you think about a big breasted Nazi dominatrix who fucks and kills and tortures?” “I love it! I love it so much I want to pay you to make a movie out of that!” That was the grindhouse era and…good, bad, weird, extremely fucked up…it’s all there. And you’ll for damn sure never see anything like it again.