USA/West Germany. 1974.
Director – Don Edmonds, Screenplay – Jonah Royston, Producer – Herman Trager [David F. Friedman], Photography – Glen Rowland, Makeup Effects – Joe Blasco. Production Company – Aetas Filmproduktion.
Dyanne Thorne (Commandant Ilsa), Gregory Knoph (Wolfe), Maria Marx (Anna), Tony Mumolo (Mario), Nicole Riddell (Kata), Wolfgang Roehm (General Sladek)
The SS Commandant Ilsa runs a Nazi concentration camp where she conducts cruel experiments in an attempt to prove her theory that women can withstand more pain than men. Ilsa is also sexually insatiable, taking male prisoners as lovers and castrating them once she is finished so they can be of no use to any other woman. She then meets her match in Wolfe, a German-American prisoner who is able to tame her passions with his ability to withhold ejaculation as long as he wants.
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is an exploitation film of considerable notoriety. Ilsa came out at a point after the greater relaxation of morals that came in the 1960s had given birth to a boom of films featuring large quantities of sex and violence – the splatter film, the nudie film (which was the precursor to the porn film) all had their beginnings in this decade.
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS falls into a body of films that includes the output of the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Donald Farmer and Jesus Franco, not to mention entire subgenres such as the Woman in Prison film and the continental witch persecution film, whose essential highlights were all graphic acts of sadism. Incredibly enough, the success of the film spawned a mini-genre of so-called Nazisploitation films featuring similar sado-sexual catalogues of Nazi tortures with titles such as The Beast in Heat (1977), Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977) and SS Experiment Camp (1977). (Nazis in Fantastic Cinema).
The basic appeal of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is a parade of tortures. These become quite extreme – burning brands and electrified dildos shoved up the vagina, maggots placed in open wounds, people being boiled alive and splattered in pressure chambers. What is utterly outrageous about Ilsa is how it exploits the Holocaust for its ends. A pre-credits note announces that it is offering up a true account of the Holocaust atrocities – a claim that is surely akin to a porn film declaring that it is making a realistic statement about rape.
There is a point where Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS could almost make its case – the character of Ilsa is loosely based on Ilse Koch, the notoriously sadistic Bitch of Buchenwald, the wife of the camp’s commandant who was known for collecting the tattooed skins of prisoners and flogging pregnant women with a razor-tipped whip. There is a vague connection to the real experiments conducted in the death camps by people like Dr Josef Mengele and the film certainly, as it states, does convey a grimness in depicting these.
If Ilsa had gone a little bit further the other way in a less exploitative direction it could almost have been a sobering portrait of sadism as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s masterwork Salo or 120 Days of Sodom (1975). However, when it comes to the climax where the prisoners turn the tables on their torturers with equally sadistic regard, one can see that the producers of Ilsa are only interested in the pornographic presentation of acts of torture without regard for who is conducting them.
Ilsa She Wolf of the SS features Dyanne Thorne in the role that made her an exploitation queen of sorts (and at the age of 42!). Dyanne Thorne holds attention on screen through the domineering presence of her character. To give the film credit, it at least gives her some character development – even if it only the sexist cliche of the cruel and sexually insatiable woman in power who is ultimately tamed by a man and whose lust proves her undoing.
The film is definitely made on the cheap. The Nazi uniforms seem ill-fitting, as though they had simply been rented from the local costume shop, and the death camp consists of merely half-a-dozen wooden huts. (It was in fact shot on the sets left over from the recently defunct Hogan’s Heroes tv series [1965-71]). To the film’s credit, it does at least make the attempt to translate its background signs into German.
The Ilsa sequels were:– Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) and Ilsa, The Tigress of Siberia (1977), while there was another quasi-sequel with Greta the Mad Butcher/Wanda the Wicked Warden (1977) starring Dyanne Thorne as the sadistic matron of a psychiatric institution, which was repackaged and sold as Ilsa: Absolute Power. Dyanne Thorne reprised her role in all three of these. The film and its influence is discussed, while Dyanne Thorne is also interviewed, in the documentary Fascism on a Thread: The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema (2019).