by Steve Habrat
If you’re a grindhouse fan and you’ve had your fill of spaghetti westerns, ziti zombie trash, shoddy kung-fu throwaways, gritty revenge outings, and jungle cannibal gross-outs, perhaps you should jump into the women in prison subgenre. Heavy on the sexual content and graphic torture sequences, this sleazy subgenre was born out of producer David F. Friedman and director Lee Frost’s 1969 Nazi exploitation film Love Camp 7, which was the first of the Nazi exploitation films. With Love Camp 7 being a massive hit, Friedman developed 1975’s Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, which has become the bloody face of the women in prison subgenre. Directed by Don Edmonds and penned by Jonah Royston and John C.W. Saxon, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is ranked among the most shocking exploitation films to ever grace a movie screen. Certainly living up to its reputation, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is loaded with eyebrow-rising sex scenes and queasy torture sequences which make it a chore to get through, but would you believe that the film is actually good? That’s right, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is actually a pretty good movie. For those who can take it, this nasty little film is actually morbidly entertaining and strongly acted, with special credit going to the sadistic Dyanne Thorne, who is game for pretty much anything. Believe me, there is a good reason why Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS has stood the test of time.
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS takes us inside a concentration Camp 9 run by Commandant Ilsa (Played by Thorne), a big-breasted SS officer who is out to prove to Hitler that women are capable of withstanding more pain than men and should be allowed to serve in the army. By day, she performs her macabre experiments with the help of her two blonde sidekicks and by night, she selects male prisoners to pleasure her for the evening. Disgusted that no man can pleasure her all night, Ilsa punishes the unlucky chaps by castrating them and sometimes killing them. Ilsa soon meets her match when her forces capture Wolfe (Played by Gregory Knoph), an American who is capable of pleasuring a woman all night long. As Ilsa’s experiments grow more and more horrific with each passing day, the prisoners begin to plot their escape and revenge on Ilsa. Their plan is further complicated when an equally psychotic Nazi general drops in to evaluate Ilsa’s work.
Probably the furthest thing from high art, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is certainly a grim and gruesome affair. In fact, Ilsa is so extreme that even Friedman changed his name on the credits and has admitted disgust that he is even attached to the film. Yet despite having a flimsy D-grade plot and lingering a bit too long on the countless nude women in the film, it is actually played shockingly straight which makes it weirdly likable. It never seems to laugh at itself, even when Wolfe delivers lines like, “When I reached puberty, I discovered something about myself that set me apart from all the rest of the guys.” The torture sequences are just as stomach churning as you would expect, one even involving a giant dildo capable of dishing out a whole lot of anguish. Another jaw-dropping moment comes during a dinner party sequence, with a nude female prisoner standing on a block of ice and a noose tied firmly around her throat. It really makes you squirm, especially as the perverted Nazi general and Ilsa laugh heartily in her face. Much has been made out of the idea that the gore is vaguely erotic but I have to disagree. It sets out to repulse and it certainly does, especially when we get close ups of third degree burns, cuts infected with gangrene, and severe lashings. Credit should go to Joe Blasco, who is responsible for the gore effects and is responsible for making us want to loose our lunch. The film also features a climatic gunfight that will have you cheering on the prisoners who are out to exact revenge on the depraved psychos who get off on disfiguring them.
In the end, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS belongs to Thorne, who plays Ilsa as menacing as she possibly can. Loosely based on real-life Nazi Ilse Koch, Ilsa is surprisingly terrifying as she stomps around in her thigh-high boots and blood stained medical coat. She will make your skin crawl as she stares down her nose at a quivering Nazi general who begs Ilsa to remove her britches and pee on him. Needless to say, you’ll fear for the men that are forced to ravish her all night, especially with the knowledge that they will surely be tied to an operating table and have their manhood removed as Ilsa’s henchmen giggle with delight. It is obvious that Thorne is hamming it up for the camera and that she enjoys showing off her curvy body and you honestly can’t blame her. One can’t help but wonder what Thorne could have done with a real script and a character that wasn’t designed to simply shed her clothing. Knoph is stone faced as the self-described “machine” that can “do it” all night. I suppose his heart is in the right place as he sacrifices himself and shares a bed with the devil. Tony Mumolo also has a bit part as prisoner Mario, who has been robbed of his manhood by Ilsa but is patiently plotting his revenge.
Despite being made on the cheap and shot on the leftover sets of Hogan’s Heroes, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is still an insanely efficient film. It is gross and it is graphic with the gratuitous sex sequences but it is damn near impossible to pull away simply because you want to see the devil get what is coming to her. I wanted Ilsa to suffer and I wanted the prisoners to get far, far away from Camp 9. Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS also managed to earn a nod in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 2007 ode-to-all-things-sleazy Grindhouse, which featured a fake trailer called Werewolf Women of the SS, directed by Rob Zombie. That fake trailer featured a few topless blondes who looked suspiciously similar to Ilsa and her bloodthirsty sidekicks. For those looking to jump into the exploitation arena, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS would be one of the films to start with. It has the thrills, the chills, the gore, and the sleaze that would really cut the viewers teeth on exploitation cinema. Plus, it is worth seeing for Thorne’s priceless performance. Overall, people may think me crazy for saying it but I actually really like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. It has some strong performances despite goofy dialogue, the make-up effects will drive horror fans crazy, and the premise is just ridiculous enough to work. Just make sure you wait a half hour after eating before watching.
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is available on DVD. However, it is extremely hard to find and if you own a copy, it is worth a hefty sum of cash.