I shouldn’t really be reviewing Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) in a European Apocalypse article. The European Apocalypse label is supposed to be reserved exclusively for Euro exploitation. Ilsa is an American film, produced by the infamous David F. Friedman, and shot on the leftover sets of Hogan’s Heroes. You don’t get much more American than Hogan’s Heroes. But Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS has a sprinkle of Euro in its production history, apparently it’s a United States/West Germany co-production – although I don’t know why Germany would want anything to do with this film. Ilsa may not be a purely European film, but the Naziploitation genre is one that the Europeans – especially the Italians – came to claim. Now it’s confession time. Up until last night, I had not seen Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Yes, I know. I’m not sure how I managed to avoid it for so long. It certainly wasn’t deliberate. I watched Ilsa with a certain amount of wariness. I’d heard a lot of fellow horror and exploitation fans claiming it was overrated and dull. I don’t know what they were watching, because Ilsa is near-perfect sleaze!
ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS
USA/West Germany, 1975, Don Edmonds
Wow. Naziploitation, huh? What an absurd sub-genre. World War II is a period of history that the exploitation gods love to morph into fantasies of the most outrageous variety. Watching Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, I was instantly shaking my head at the offensiveness of the film’s concept. The sexy-woman-running-a-death-camp is almost a sub-genre of the sub-genre of Naziploitation, and a truly insane one at that. As much as I enjoyed Ilsa, I couldn’t help but ask, “what would a survivor of an actual World War II prison camp make of this?” I know that’s kind of a stupid question, but there is no other part of modern history that gets treated the way World War II does. Vietnam has received its share of exploitation films, but none come close to the madness of Naziploitation. Perhaps it’s that filmmakers have essentially been handed the ultimate ridiculous villain in the Nazi. Nazis – both in film and in history, and especially the SS – are universally recognised as evil incarnate. And Don Edwards and David F. Friedman very much take advantage of the villainous Nazi image in Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS creating a handful of scenery chewing antagonists.
Ilsa is not merely offensive in concept alone (like many lesser entries in the Naziploitation genre). No, Ilsa has the sex and gore to go with its obnoxious take on history. I’ve read reviews that claim the gore in Ilsa lacks punch. Honestly, I don’t know what movie these reviewers were watching, because things get pretty gnarly in Ilsa. The tortures delivered by Ilsa are quite shocking from the bloodied whipping of Colleen Brennan (or Sharon Kelly as she was known in her pre-hardcore acting career) to the gruesome scene of toe mutilation. But the most disturbing scenes involve Ilsa’s obsession with inserting things inside women. In one scene, women queue up to have an electrified dildo inserted inside them. But worst of all is Ilsa’s treatment of a strong female prisoner, which climaxes in a burning object being forced into her and ends with her a bloodied mess. It’s not only the violence that makes Ilsa offensive. Its the unadulterated madness of it all. Ilsa’s female sidekicks often deliver Ilsa’s punishments topless and clearly receive sexual pleasure from their sadism. Another moment of pure insanity involves Ilsa awkwardly urinating on a German general (Richard Kennedy), who squeals and cries with simultaneous joy and shame – a shame that Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS most definitely does not possess.
Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS may just sound like slightly above average trash at this point. But there is one attribute that elevates Ilsa above all other Naziploitation films, and that is the fantastic lead performance from Dyanne Thorne. I’ve only seen Thorne in one other film – the excellent Sin in the Suburbs – and it’s hard to picture her as anyone but Ilsa. Thorne manages the impossible by appearing both sexy and terrifying as Ilsa. Ilsa is about as nasty as villains come, but Thorne manages to make the character so entertaining that I genuinely did not want to see her get her (very much deserved) comeuppance. With Ilsa, Dyanne Thorne creates an iconic character of the exploitation genre. Ilsa is a character that has been imitated and parodied throughout the years, but none come close to the original.
I’m really ashamed of myself that it took this long to see Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Unlike many films that are built up over the years, this one delivers what its reputation promises. If you are a fan of horror and exploitation and have not yet seen Ilsa, don’t do what I did. Go out and buy the newly released UK DVD set!