Grotesque, iconic exploitation classic
Even if you happen to be among those who're only slightly interested in cinema, chances are that in one way or another you're familiar with the name of Ilsa. But do you also know what hides behind the name? Though Spartan, the movie poster itself featuring only the female title character reveals just about enough to give a clue about what to expect. She's wearing shiny, black boots and tight, matching pants, a bright, white shirt with a generous cleavage exposing an awe-inspiring, gravity defying bosom and is holding a short whip in her hand, - the signals generated by the image of this authority figure are so obvious, that reading between the lines becomes beside the point.
It's apparent that the statuesque iron lady Ilsa certainly isn't an innocent grade school teacher, but more likely every masochist's wet dream come true and the very definition of the ultimate dominatrix. By the way, did I forget to mention the band with the swastika around her arm? That's right, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS promises heavy dozes of S/M-inspired sex and torture in a Nazi setting - and it delivers. The story takes place during World War II in a German concentration camp lead by the stern Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne), who conducts cruel, extreme experiments on the imprisoned women in order to gain results that could be of help to Germany's warfare, - besides proving that women are as fit for fight as men. The consequences for non-compliance are very severe.
But even though it's business, it appears she fulfills her duties with perhaps a bit too much gusto, particularly with regard to the strong, but unfortunate captive Anna. One also should take pride in his or her work, but inflicting pain on her guinea pigs isn't Ilsa's only source of joy, because when she isn't hard at work she derives high amounts of pleasure from sleeping with the male inmates. And they better deliver a killer performance and not come too soon, or else it's over with being 'a real man'. Sadly, the number of castrations is ever increasing - that is until the Aryan-looking American Wolfe (Gregory Knoph) is apprehended and brought to the camp. It turns out he's blessed with a great gift: He can hold back for as long as he wants and go on all night long. Can this really be true?
To be absolutely sure, Ilsa submits him to an endurance test where he has to satisfy two of her woman guards, but the outcome is unambiguous. Ilsa's found her breeding stallion and she decides that she wants to make beautiful super humans with him ... if their relationship is going to last that long. In secrecy Wolfe and one of his cell mates, Mario (Tony Mumolo), are planning their escape along with a group of women, among others Rosette and the syphilis infected Kala (Nicolle Riddell), and with the American armies getting closer for every passing moment, it's only a question of time when the sadistic warden Ilsa's evil reign is going to come to a bloody end in a full-blooded action finale.
Clearly, the absolutely ludicrous story doesn't harbor any artistic aspirations and neither does it strive to serve a higher cause, even if the makers behind Ilsa state otherwise. In the prologue (playing over an authentic recording of an Adolf Hitler speech) a statement by the producer solemnly says that the atrocities displayed in the movie are based on fact and are meant to have a deterrent effect on its audience, in the hope that something similar will never happen again - but we all know this is a sham. Director Don Edmonds' approach to the subject matter is nothing but exploitive as he simply wallows in stupefying amounts of female nudity (kudos to the very brave actresses) and - like his title character - relishes grotesque violence from start to finish. No good intentions in sight.
So how is it possible to defend something like Ilsa, that lacks anything even remotely resembling good taste? Well, it isn't. The level of depravity knows no boundaries and among the 'highlights' are the familiar line-ups and medical inspections, close-ups of maggots in open wounds, electric dildo probing, savage flagellations, victims submerged into boiling water, torture in pressure chambers, and in the somewhat lighter category, Ilsa urinating on a general in order to stimulate and excite him and a most unusual dinner banquet. As an extra bonus, prolific B-movie queen Sharon Kelly and equally delectable porn star Sandy Dempsey have uncredited bit parts. In fact, the only thing missing is the obligatory group shower scene, but other than that, all the bases of the disreputable WIP genre are covered.
One could rightfully argue that it's morally wrong and indefensible to eroticize and capitalize on certain aspects of a historical event that has caused pain to millions of people. But then again, the film is strictly amateur night in terms of scripting and acting that it's virtually impossible (and not worth the trouble) to take Ilsa seriously, much less get offended by it (except maybe for its in-your-face nature if you are among the sensible viewers). Most of the lead performances are hammy and way over-the-top, the German accents are a travesty and the dialogue is excruciatingly bad - in particular Wolfe's 'sexual machine'-monologue where he explains about his rare love-making abilities is hilarious and a classic in its own right.
In the late 70's the Italians (especially the infamous Bruno Mattei) churned out loads of other nazi-sploitation efforts that were decidedly more sick and twisted than Don Edmonds' contribution to the genre, and compared to those, Ilsa actually has a certain irresistible, trashy charm. And every so often respectable and 'oh so politically correct' films are liable to make you feel more queasy than the decidedly seedy ones, that at least don't try to be something they're not. It may not be Schindler's List, but on its own terms, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is a highly entertaining (and surprisingly riveting) joke - a sick and perverted one, no question about that, but a joke nevertheless. If you can stomach the nasty, relentless brutality.
René Pedersen, December 13th, 2005
Anchor Bay has worked wonders with this transfer, and it's virtually impossible to fathom that this low-budget movie was made some 30 years ago, as the print used is in absolutely pristine condition with only the very odd nick and scratch showing up here and there. You'll find yourself having a hard time taking your eyes off the staggering, warm and vibrant colors, the natural looking skin tones as well as the strong, consistent blacks and whites, and while some scenes exhibit light grain, the picture stays pin-sharp and maintains the same high level of detail throughout the feature. And don't bother looking for compression artefacts or edge enhancement. The aspect ratio is 1.66:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs.
The original English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack is much better than expected. All of the dialogue and screams (of which there are many) come through nice and clear without distortion or hissing, and while not overwhelming, the wide dynamic range makes sure there's plenty of punch in the music, action and flogging sequences. An above-average job indeed.
The piece de resistance in the extras section is a lively and engrossing audio commentary (moderated by humorist Martin Lewis) featuring the director Don Edmonds, producer David A. Friedman and the star herself, Dyanne Thorne. Far from being scene specific, all three main participants are, however, very informative (even if they joke around a great deal) and still manage to relate many funny anecdotes regarding the actual shoot, how Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS influenced their respective careers (in good and bad ways - Thorne, for instance, undeservedly lost some of her friends after they saw her in this), how the movie was received and why it still holds up today - as well as many other things. There's hardly a silent moment, so keep your ears peeled. Next up is the theatrical trailer (3.55 min) presented in very poor quality, and finally there are some OK talent bios for Thorne, Edmonds and Friedman.
Truly pushing the envelope in the exploitation genre, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS pours on the sleaze nice and thick and doesn't look back. Made for the sole purpose of shocking its audience, the mix between extremely convincing gore make-up effects and graphic nudity is so effective, that the movie remains a very disturbing and horrifying experience, even though more than three decades have passed since then. And Anchor Bay has made sure that all you thrill seekers out there can savor it in the best possible quality with this stunning release. This is simply drive-in B-movie heaven.