Some subgenres of exploitation cinema border on the unconscionable, such as the rape-victim-seeks-revenge movies that hide misogyny behind feminist rhetoric, and some dive wholeheartedly into the abyss of pure depravity. Really, isn’t it almost sufficient to cite the names of two such genres, “Nazispoitlation” and “slavesploitation”? As lawyer Joseph N. Welch once said to red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?” Clearly, were that inquiry posed to David S. Friedman, who produced the infamous Nazispoitation epic Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS under the pseudonym “Herman Traeger,” Friedman’s answer would be damning. Just as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is the apex of tastelessness, it’s the apex of shamelessness, because it’s a noxious blend of sotftcore porn, Third Reich iconography, and torture fetishism. The mere fact that Friedman positions Nazis as psychotic villains does not excuse the picture’s grotesque nature, and neither does the fact that the movie is weirdly entertaining because of its campy excess. Vile is vile, no matter the particulars.
Set entirely at a remote Nazi prison camp during World War II, the picture tracks the adventures of the camp’s sadistic commandant, Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne). A twisted medical researcher in the vein of real-life Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele, Ilsa treats the people in her custody like lab rats and/or sex toys. In her laboratory, she burns, dismembers, freezes, mutilates, and whips people to test their levels of endurance. In her private cabin, she forces male prisoners to service her, and she inevitably castrates her lovers afterward as punishment for failing to fully satisfy her cravings.
The main threads of the slender plot include the following: 1) Ilsa meets an American prisoner with remarkable sexual stamina, which gives the inmates a means of distraction for mounting an escape attempt; 2) Ilsa brutalizes a female prisoner whom she cannot intimidate, thus making a formidable and mortal enemy; and 3) Ilsa curries favor with a visiting superior officer by first torturing and killing an inmate as a form of dinner theater, and then by granting the officer’s wish for a golden shower. Scenes of prisoners conspiring to break free are brisk and perfunctory, because Friedman, director Don Edmonds, and writer Jonah Royston are much more concerned with stringing together images of sex and violence.
How nasty is Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS? Well, the bit during which Ilsa drops maggots into a nude victim’s open wound, then smothers the wound with gangrenous pus to transform the victim into a new Typhoid Mary, comes to mind. And how sleazy is Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS? Leading lady Thorne, a tough-looking Amazon with enormous breasts, does myriad sex scenes and striptease bits, and nearly every female in the cast ends up fully naked, usually while being raped or tortured, if not both. Does it matter that the acting is bad and that the production values are patently artificial? Of course not.
The Canadian-made Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS did so well internationally that Thorne played variations on the character in three sequels (1976's Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks and the 1977 releases Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia and Wanda, the Wicked Warden), some of which shared the original movie’s X-rating, and some of which were coproduced by American companies. Those eager to learn more about Ilsa’s distasteful exploits are duly informed.
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS: FREAKY