By Jerome Reuter
Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS and Salon Kitty are the two most definitive works in the Nazi Exploitation subgenre. Many of the entries that followed were highly influenced by both of these films. The notorious reputation of the “Ilsa” movies still persists today. This is due mainly to the presence of actress Dyanne Thorne, who spent much of her career naked in front of the camera.
For those of you unfamiliar with this seedy sub genre, I’ll fill you in. These were exploitation films that were basically a short step away from soft-core pornography. They had absolutely nothing to do with the glorification of Nazism. The Nazis were more or less a backdrop to themes of sadomasochism, torture porn, and explicit sex. They’re not political statements in the least, and they’re definitely not The Night Porter, either.
Now that I’ve established what exactly this subgenre is, it’s time to discuss the film in question. It’s almost futile to discuss the plot, because much like most exploitation films, it’s thinner than a sheet of paper. It isn’t the story that draws the audience into a film like this, but the sexually charged imagery. Trust me, this film has more than enough of that.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell, Ilsa is the cruel commandant of concentration camp. Her activities include having sex with some of the male inmates, and performing cruel experiments on the female ones. For the most part, that’s what this film consists of. However, there is something about the experiment scenes I feel the need to touch base upon.
The film begins with a statement from the filmmakers, reminding us that this film is “based” on truth. I use the term “truth” very loosely. Yes, the Ilsa character was based on someone name Ilse Koch, ‘The Beast of Buchenwald,’ whose sadism has become the stuff of legend. Many of the experiments carried out on female inmates are based on real ones the Nazis performed, and they’re unsettling.
I need to point something out. The opening statement in the film reads:
“The film you are about to see is based on 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 happen again.”
I’m not sure I would view this statement as a warning. It’s an exploitation film—cut and dry. It serves no purpose as a cautionary tale. It’s not social commentary. As a good friend of mine once said, “It’s soft-core porn for guys who like to get whipped.”
That’s not to say the other Ilsa films had a hidden agenda. Most of the sequels took place in geographical areas with whom the United States had a issue at the time. (Soviet Union, Middle East, and South America.) This film continues to thrive on its reputation, and deservedly so. It’s one of the high water marks of the American Exploitation film movement.