4 out of 5 stars
‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS’ is a notorious cult classic and a forerunner in the Nazi/sexploitation genre. Released in 1975, ‘Ilsa’ was directed by Don Edmonds, whose filmography includes several other sleaze/soft core exploitation flicks. In fact ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS’ is the first installment of an Ilsa trilogy which includes, ‘Ilsa, Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks’ (1976) and ‘Ilsa The Tigress Of Siberia’ (1977). All three films star Dyanne Thorne as the insatiable, voluptuous villain, Ilsa. These films are infamous in the grind house movement, and recognizable to a larger, younger audience today partially due to Quentin Tarantino (His faux trailer ‘Werewolf Women Of The SS’ in ‘Grindhouse’ specifically). ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS’ is essentially a soft-core pornography punctuated by scenes of torture and prison camp life.
Like a concentration camp overseen by Caligula or The Marquis De Sade, ‘Ilsa’ explores the darker side of human desire, pain and gluttony. Before the film there is a disclaimer stating that ‘Ilsa’ is an adult film, and that the events depicted are based upon truth, condensed into one setting for dramatic appeal. I’m not entirely sure why the warning is read aloud in German, because the entire film is in English, but all the same I like the effect that it has. As for the disclaimer itself, I believe that gruesome medical experiments were conducted in Nazi prison camps, but that is probably the extent of the factuality in ‘Ilsa.’
For anyone unfamiliar with ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS,’ the first three scenes can summarize the entirety of the film. The picture opens with a somewhat explicit sex scene showing Ilsa unsatisfied by a man who can’t last long enough to give her an orgasm. The second depicts Ilsa masturbating in the shower, achieving herself what the man couldn’t. Now the finale shows the same man being castrated and we realize that he is one of the male prisoners. Apparently none of the men can satisfy Ilsa’s sexual hunger, and after she is finished with each man they lose their manhood, becoming ‘half men.’ An American student living in Germany finds his way into Ilsa’s camp. The student, ‘Wolfe’ (Gregory Knoph) possesses the rare talent of complete control over his orgasms. He can hold back as long as he needs, permanently if necessary. Ilsa summons Wolfe to her quarters where she finally finds the satisfaction she has been yearning for. These nightly erotic sessions continue throughout the entirety of the film. In one scene Ilsa forces Wolfe to prove his sexual mastery by watching him fornicate with her two guards/assistants. The camp seems like hell for the men (Except Wolfe), who mill around their barracks when they aren’t digging graves. The men exist in some sort of sleazy, decadent ‘Stalag 17’ type world, bitter and frightened at all times.
The women in ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS’ fare much worse. Firstly the women are divided into two groups; those that will be ‘sterilized’ to serve the German soldiers as prostitutes, and those that will meet their demise through obscene medical experimentation. Little is shown of the sterilization process, and the few women chosen for brothel life aren’t addressed again after the initial sorting.
Fortunately for the viewer, in keeping with the exploitive spirit of the film, the gruesome existence of the medical testers is shown at length. Women are boiled until their scalded skin bubbles; their toes are crushed with pliers, they are left to internally implode in compression chambers and some infected with a plethora of deadly diseases. One poor woman has been given syphilis, aware of her imminent death and alive only for revenge, her face is eaten away by the disease. Another shot shows worms infected with Typhus writhing around upon a girl’s giant open leg wound. Most of the torture occurs in a setting that more resembles a dungeon instead of a laboratory or examination room. Also after dark, Ilsa’s assistants lose their tops and the torture sessions become topless or fully nude. I have grave doubts about the authenticity of these sequences, but who can argue with topless busty women flogging each other. Anna (Maria Marx), a willful girl among the group immediately fell upon poor graces with Ilsa and became the subject of her personal experiments with pain. Ilsa was convinced that a properly trained woman could withstand more pain than a man. This hypothesis, whether it is true or not just seems somewhat hair-brained and a weak theme throughout the film. But it isn’t the writing that attracts one to this film; it is the nudity, violence and gore. Also noteworthy is the part when the general visits Ilsa’s camp for a routine inspection of her experimental progress. In keeping with the spirit of the film, the general is a complete sexual deviant, unable to climax unless urinated upon (Which Ilsa does unwillingly). The film ends with a prisoner rebellion, allowing Wolfe and a girl to escape before Nazi tanks and troops arrive to slaughter the lot and burn the camp (Thus showing the general’s true reason for visiting) before it is captured by the allies.
‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS’ is highly stylized and meant to exist as entertainment instead of a moralistic statement upon humanity. There are numerous scenes of torture and degradation, but they cannot be disturbing with nude/half nude women bouncing everywhere. Films Like ‘Men Behind The Sun’ (1988) or ‘Salo: The 120 Days Of Sodom’ (1975) depict scenes of torture with a disturbing authenticity. While ‘Men Behind The Sun’ is more reminiscent of a legitimate medical film, streaming scenes of depravity and pain, ‘Ilsa’ switches between mild torture and sex scenes, softening the blow of anything ‘heavy.’
Even though the same types of experiments are shown, there is no humor, no campiness in ‘Men Behind The Sun.’ I was reminded of ‘Salo’ due to the libertine air with which Ilsa carried herself throughout the film. She had complete reign over the camp and explored her darkest desires without fear of repercussion. The dinner scene felt very much like Passolini’s film. But both of these films are much darker than ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS,’ unsettling viewers with heartless, humorless torture. ‘Salo’ also includes a great deal of nudity and sex, but again there is no gratification in the explicit scenes; instead shame and pity are the popular emotions felt by viewers.
Don Edmonds directs ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS,’ perhaps his most famous film among a string of sleazy ‘B’ pictures. Regardless of his background, Edmonds did a fine job directing this film, although some of the special effects lacked authenticity (Particularly the shot of the soldier having his throat slit). Dyanne Thorne stars as the sexy vixen ‘Ilsa,’ a high point in a career that seems to consist of mostly soft-core or campy pictures. George ‘Buck’ Flowers is perhaps the most prestigious actor in ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS’. Although never a leading man, Flowers has appeared in numerous films of all genres, including family, sci-fi, horror, sexploitation, etc. Most of the supporting cast has little to no filmographies.
Remember that while ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS’ is a picture about the holocaust and concentration camps; it isn’t to be regarded as one would Alain Resnais’ ‘Night And Fog’ (1955). Very far from a documentary, ‘Ilsa’ was made with the sole intention of being awesome. If one were to pull any message from the movie, it’d have to be that Nazi’s are bad, breasts are good. I would recommend this film to exploitation/grind house lovers. For those unsure if ‘Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS’ is your thing, just use the first ten minutes as a deciding factor for the remainder of the film. Don’t miss this one; it is certainly a classic.