“Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS” (1975)
If history doesn’t present us with enough examples of inhuman atrocity, leave it to the movie industry to feel compelled to invent a peculiar hybrid combining the attractions of sex and a form of domination and sadism which treads far beyond the questionable behavior favored in the average “roughie” vehicle.
Constantly in search of the latest exploitable trend whose only purpose was to separate the public from the contents of its wallet, the Nazisploitation film was born; a degrading genre dependent on combining the lure of the skin flick with a brutality based upon the most lurid aspects of the Third Reich, but susceptible to expansion and reinvention by a cadre of filmmakers for whom the actions of those who brought about the death of millions clearly didn’t go far enough. The eternal debate as to why a predominance of violence in film is deemed acceptable to moral cultural watchdogs while sexual content is condemnable is rendered largely irrelevant by the Nazisploitation film which uses fairly recent examples of state sanctioned butchery as a jumping off point in the advancement of endurance tests of savagery and proudly immersed in a level of tastelessness that is nothing short of contemptible.
To avoid confusion that the filmmakers are only motivated by any but the purest of motives, “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS” begins with a mission statement of sorts, assuring the audience that the film is based upon historical fact and concludes with a rather disingenuous caveat that such global offenses should never happen again; except of course, in enthusiastic representation on movie screens everywhere. As a rule of thumb, it is generally a sound policy to approach with suspicion when a film features such a self-serving pronouncement as this; a fair indicator that the producers are trying to deflect accusations of pandering to the audience’s more base misogynistic proclivities; especially since the film undeniably leans heavily toward the gratuitously detailed and graphic torturing (including death by decompression chamber, gang rape, the use of electrically enhanced cavity probes and being boiled alive) of primarily young, nubile and buxom women. Just whose fantasies are being satisfied here anyway?
The film is set in a Nazi death camp which specializes in medical experimentation à la Josef Mengele, though in this case the Kommandant is none other than the eponymous Ilsa, who ventures outside the realm of the proscribed SS program of experimental torture by advancing her theory that women are able to withstand a greater level of pain than men, thus (for some unexplained reason) allowing the Reich to recruit females to fill positions in battle vacated by the sudden shortage of breathing German men. (Though, consistent with all World War II films, there never seems to be a shortage of personnel to guard every door and hallway in the realm.) This flimsy theoretical foundation is used as an excuse to strip down and torture every member of the non-Aryan female cast, though the abuse is so randomly inserted it’s almost impossible to identify which actress is being used in the pursuit of visualized violence. Which is, of course, the point. The savaged women do not represent characters but simply utilitarian fragile flesh which the filmmakers use to humiliating effect in first stripping them down as objects of abusable sexualization and then as subjects of being literally stripped of flesh; with the level of sadism with which the tortures are applied- the camera often lingering on the most obscene detailing of the destruction of human tissue -nothing less than unconscionable as they are unnecessary except as horrific attractions in the theater of cruel and heartless amusement. The makers of “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS” may find that their only achievement is to count on the attraction of an unrelieved level of inhumanity to its audience. The film’s sole reason for existing seems to be to lower the bar in rationalizing violence as an extension in the representation of acceptable human sexual behavior in the cinema; a tragic justification whose irony seem lost on its creators.
The filmmakers’ intention to proffer a sexualization of cruelty is no more explicitly expressed than in the characters of Ilsa herself. As portrayed by Dyanne Thorne, she is a glacial cold Nazi sadist who finds every opportunity to expose her ample breasts to the few male prisoners while attempting to reach sexual satisfaction (those prisoners who climax before her are summarily castrated), a ritual which is exploited by a newly arrived German-born American prisoner named Wolfe (Gregory Knoph), whose convenient ability to withhold his own orgasms causes the insatiable Nazi to become his virtual slave, as illustrated in lengthy sessions of strained bedroom banter between the “lovers” which is meant to both clever and amusing, but this is not Nick and Nora Charles, but foreplay between a death camp inmate and his jailer, who just happens to be an oversexed psychotic killer. These what-pass-for-tender-moments-in-a-brothel-from-Hell moments occur, of course, during those few precious recreational moments when Ilsa is not preoccupied with inventing new methods of rearranging the anatomies of her unfortunate female charges. As if turning Ilsa into a conveniently compliant sex doll (which would have the unintended consequence of momentarily humanizing her character) whenever the film needs fleshy distraction not involving bloodletting, there is also the questionable matter of Ilsa’s favorite pair of henchwomen, a shapely (naturally) Teutonic duo who exercise their official duties of administering cruelty either in a state of topless exposure or with their dress tunics unceremoniously flapping open in the wind. This confused orgiastic buffoonery is inconsistent with the ministrations of hardcore brutality. So. when they, with Ilsa’s tactic approval, enjoy a threesome and become subject to Wolfe’s unflappable machine-like stamina, the situation merits revisiting a relevant interrogatory: just whose fantasies are being satisfied here?
In fact, the pronounced sex drives of the Germans are both celebrated (delivering the required amount of skin to satisfy audience expectations) and ridiculed (Ilsa’s appetites are deemed an exploitable “weakness”), a contradiction in which the filmmakers may callously pretend to some sort of a disapproving high road while reveling in the mire they’ve constructed. (Note that any fleeting pretense of disapproval of behavior is limited toward personal sexual interplay rather than toward either the copious physical brutality or the merging of sex and sadism; proving that even among scoundrels there still exists the closet middlebrow prude.) However, the most revealing scene in the film is a dinner party for a visiting general in which the table centerpiece is a naked woman hanging by her neck, tenuously balanced on a block of ice; an inhuman tableau that thrills the guest of honor. But as the scene with progresses and the ice slowly melts, the increasingly desperate trembling of the unfortunate woman is barely registered by the revelers. It is clear at this point that her every moment of terror is not for the benefit of the onscreen Nazis, but to satiate the whims of the audience. The sequence concludes with Ilsa assuming an excited sexual coupling with her superior, who merely takes the occasion to urinate on her. Are we supposed to accept that this act of perverse humiliation sufficiently compensates for the torturous horror that has been presented as ceremonious dinnertime entertainment? Or is this merely the scenarist’s idea of humor? Were these gratuitous sexual set pieces devoid of the particularly noxious context they could be viewed as the usual grist for the softcore mill, but given that the film exploits the memory of Holocaust atrocities as its foundation, the film unashamedly utilizes the cruelest extremes of Nazi philosophy to present an “entertainment”; where the reenactment and enjoyment of the basest chasm of human nature is rendered acceptable and becomes not notorious, but commonplace.
It is interesting to note that during the film’s finale, in which virtually the entire cast of the film is subject to nihilistic massacre, that the deaths of the Nazi antagonists are treated with an almost bloodless brevity; a vast distinction from the extended gore which characterized the fate of their victims throughout the picture. “Ilsa” director Don Edmonds reportedly commented that the script of the film was “the worst piece of shit I ever read” (which did not prevent him from directing the sequel), a courageous retrospective stance which is not unlike a war criminal explaining that he was “just following orders.”
Slab Happy: “El cadáver de Anna Fritz” (2015)
One need only glance at the sorry offerings on the local multiplex marquee to see that the commercial cinema is in a state of crisis. It is not the lack of proficiency of technique or craftsmanship which is at issue- there seems to be a oversaturated preponderance of of filmmakers acquainted with the most rudimentary skills necessary in cobbling together a presentable mixture of editorial structure and mise-en-scene -but to what end are these elemental skill sets employed if there is no vision behind them?
Hèctor Hernández Vicens’ Spanish thriller “El cadáver de Anna Fritz” might be more accurately described as a horror film, if that designation, at this point in the sorry history of commercial cinema, may extend beyond serialized depictions of spook house jump cut scares and supernaturally enhanced mass killers, and more properly aligns itself with the conscious abandonment of all civilized moral codes of conduct and a willing descent into base savagery; true modern Kurtzian “horror”. However, a film that unashamedly trades in necrophilic rape as an alternative to a casual evening’s nightclub trolling is unlikely to emerge as a source of a reliably comforting social message.
International film star Anna Fritz (Alba Hidras) is found mysteriously dead in her bathroom, her body secreted to an unnamed hospital, to avoid the attention of her fans and the press, with her body scheduled to undergo an autopsy the next morning. Pau (Albert Carbó), a hospital orderly sends a photo of the deceased actress to his friends Ivan (Cristian Valencia) and Javi (Bernat Saumell), who then arrive at the hospital for the chance of getting more than a camera’s eye full. Upon (literally) exposing the actress to view, prurient attention quickly escalates to fondling and then to more transgressive violations, during which the circumstances veer wildly- and unexpectedly -out of control; with the film shifting from an excessively casual exercise in the misogynistic view of a woman reduced to being a literal sex vessel, to a locked room suspense drama driven primarily by the desire to elude discovery and escape responsibility for their actions.
This abrupt shift of emphasis, rather than merely advancing a morally questionable narrative, further demeans and demoralizes the treatment of Anna and women in general. The repulsiveness of the film is in its denial of a moral equivalence between the three perpetrators. Javi is portrayed as the conscience of the group, the moral compass for whom accountability for his own participation (viewing and fondling the actress with a minimum of prodding) is never considered a possibility by any of the film’s principles; the bar of persecution clearly lowered to excuse any trangressive behavior short of penetrative acts. This shift of thematic emphasis also invites the audience to empathize with characters who. in the context of the opening twenty five minutes, would be considered as nothing less than heinous sexual offenders. This shifting of empathetic emphasis creates a moral quagmire from which the remainder of the film cannot extricate itself. Are the mechanics of suspense (which presumes a degree of sympathy toward the characters) legitimately employed when the subjects in peril merit capture, and if so, is the victimization of Anna Fritz trumped by the self-created plight which the three men find themselves by victimizing her? The shameless manipulation of the material in creating this moral tail chasing is suggestive of a complexity that the film simply does not possess, especially when the film ups the ante to he inclusion of murder (both in the form of a literal act against Javi and in another tortuously prolonged threat). Little concern in the form of conscience is ever expressed by Pau or (especially) Ivan for their unrepentant actions; only that the authorities might not be as forgiving as they are to themselves, and that their parents and friends may find out about what they have done. In the ethical quagmire that is “El cadáver de Anna Fritz”, innocence is not defined by an absence of guilt but by the absence of the discovery of guilt.
During their pre-rape discussion as to whether indulge in the unfortunate Ms. Fritz’ favors, not only are Ivan’s chauvinist views vehemently expressed, but Pau confesses that he has experienced a prior violation of a dead “hot girl”; utterances which carry an unmistakable stink of misogyny. Unfortunately with scenarists Vincens and Isaac P. Creus, contempt for humanity is not reserved against the fairer sex alone, but with the all-compassing disparagement of men who are depicted with varying degrees of venality and corruption. Nowhere in the film does humankind emerge in a favorable light.
As Anna Fritz, the eponymous body behind all of the fuss, Hidras suffices with the type of performance which is usually ignominiously misinterpreted as being “brave” rather than what it is: a painful, masochistic endurance test. The three interlopers seem cast based upon their bringing a certain physiognomy representative of their individual depths of moral ignominy, with the prominent brow ridge of the brutal Ivan being a merciless reminder of evolutionary primitivism. Despite the appreciable level of technical proficiency with which the film has been produced, the most suitable audience would seem to be like-minded cave dwellers.