Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS is perhaps the definition of an exploitation film. It is a gory, violently sexual made expressly for the purpose of giving the audience a cheap and shocking thrill, yet still attempting to drape itself in the paper thin masquerade of being a serious expose of the atrocities of the past.
You can see this right at the beginning of the picture when a message from Herman Traeger, the film’s producer: The film you are about to see is based on documented fact. The atrocities shown were conducted as ‘medical experiments’ in special concentration camps throughout Hitler’s Third Reich. Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites of notorious Nazi personalities; and the events portrayed have been reduced into one locality for dramatic purposes. Because of its shocking subject matter, this film is restricted to adult audiences only. We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again.
Directly after this high minded statement, we move into a sex scene where the incredibly buxom Ilsa is grinding away on a male prisoner whom she then orders to be castrated as punishment for not being able to satiate her nymphomaniac appetite.
Ilsa is the warden of Special Camp 9. Her goal, apart from some other sadistic games, is to prove that women can withstand more pain and suffering than men and therefore should be allowed to fight on the front lines. The movie includes the standard exploitation elements of sadism, degradation, whipping, sexual slavery, graphic torture, and a bloody finale with Ilsa shot dead and the camp set ablaze. I could more into detail on the plot, but I’m sure you get the general idea and by this time you are either interested or you are not.
It was shot in nine days on the set of Hogan's Heroes TV show- a much different take on the Nazi camps. The series had been cancelled, and, on learning that the movie had the camp being burned down at the end, the set was given over to save the cost of demolition. It also included amongst the women prisoners many porn actresses of the early 1970s, whose cleavage they never failed to flaunt.
The film was a surprise hit on the drive-in theater and grindhouse circuit. Ilsa was resurrected for three profitable sequels that ignored her Nazi origins and her death. As a freelance mistress-for-hire, she became Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976), commander of a 1953 gulag in Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia (1977), and the warden of a corrupt Latin-American prison in Ilsa, the Wicked Warden (1977). The last one was originally not meant to be an Ilsa sequel, but it was changed post production.
The character of Ilsa, played by the lovely Dyanne Throne, was loosely based on Ilse Koch "The Bitch of Buchenwald". She was the wife of Karl-Otto Koch, commandant of Buchenwald and later on Majdanek. In 1947, she became one of the first prominent Nazis to be tried by the U.S. military. She was well known for being promiscuous with many of the SS officers at the camp and involved in embezzling confiscated materials from the prisoners. Additionally she was accused of marking prisoners with tattoos for death so she could harvest the skin and make lampshades out of them. She was tried twice and garnered a life sentence, which she ironically protested about to the International Human Rights Commission. She committed suicide in prison in 1967.
Additionally, this film sports Richard Kennedy (whom we covered before in the wonderful film The Love Butcher). Here he plays a Nazi General inspecting the camp and becomes enthralled with Ilsa, whom he sees as the ideal Aryan woman, a Goddess made manifest. And as such, wants her to urinate all over his face for his sexual gratification. He had appeared in episodes of a number of TV show, most notably, Happy Days, Beretta, and Little House on the Prairie, and handful of other bad films- Henry Kissinger in Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, and a hillbilly in Invasion of the Blood Farmers. His career continued on into the 80s where he died in 1985 at the age of 78.
She Wolf of the SS pioneered the subgenre of Nazisploitation. Usually they were a retread of the women-in-prison formula simply relocated to a concentration camp. The genre eventually died out as none of these films were very successful. Due, I believe, to a lack of campiness that the Ilsa films generated, despite the sex and gore. A few others, for those who are interested, are : The Beast in Heat, SS Hell Camp, Last Orgy of the Third Reich, Helltrain, Germany Year Zero, SS Experiment Love Camp, SS Special Section Women, Red Nights of the Gestapo, Nazi Love Camp 2, Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg, Fraulein Devil, and Nathalie: Escape from Hell- and so on and so on.
And surprisingly the genre has inspired actual critically acclaimed art house films. Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter , Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (which we also have covered here), and Tinto Brass's Salon Kitty all are due in some part to Ilsa trail blazing brutality and demonstrating what can actually be gotten away in film.
For an exploitation Ilsa has tremendous staying power. It is campy and profane, sexual and sadistic. For those who like such things, it is a must see.
The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor!