Next time you talk to your mother, tell her you heard about this great movie! On second thought, maybe not. If she's anything like my mother, she'll just frown and change the subject. Judge Harold Gervais, lover of all things perverse, rules in favor of the Mother of All 1970s Exploitation Movies.
The most dreaded Nazi of them all!
Shot for just $150,000 on the abandoned sets of the old "Hogan's Heroes" set over nine days in 1974, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS is a bona fide cult classic that is finally delivered in fine style by our friends at Anchor Bay Entertainment. One of the most notorious films very produced, this DVD features an anamorphic transfer that sparkles, but includes a commentary track that goes terribly wrong and ends up bringing the entire disc down.
Facts of the Case
As the Allied Forces advance into the heart of Germany, deep in the Fatherland there is a camp run by the most diabolical of all Nazis, a camp where the most painful and degrading medical experiments are run by a woman whose evil is only eclipsed by her insatiable lust. A lust that if not fulfilled also means a death sentence to the unfortunate ones unable to satisfy her dark needs. Yet within the camp there is a movement towards freedom that is helped in no small part by one poor prisoner and his very special gift to keep the carnal needs of the Nazi commandant satisfied. Will the revolt occur in time to save the remaining few, or will the blood lust of the most dreaded Nazi of all reign supreme? The lines are drawn—freedom, or the wrath of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS.
Right up front it should be stated that Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS is exploitative trash. It is, however, exploitative trash of the highest (or, depending on your own personal sensibilities, lowest) order. It is one of those movies that cheerfully offer something to offend everyone. Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS revels in its own tawdriness, yet it is its tawdriness that cause the movie to transcending itself. It is one of those movies that leaves you feeling somewhat dirty and ashamed after its viewing. As such, it is one of those flicks that are only spoken about in hushed embarrassment. It is the last title on earth that anyone would dare mention when the "seen any good movies lately?" question is asked at a party, or God forbid on a date.
Still, it is hard to deny the strange spell this movie casts. For starters the direction of Don Edmonds (Wild Honey, Terror on Tour) is the model of efficiency. His direction offers up the proceedings in a scale that can best be described as operatic. The films moves at a brisk clip, pausing just long enough to linger on the copious talents of its female actresses or to throw the movie's excessive and graphic violence (courtesy of make-up artist Joe Blasco) in the viewer's face a second or two longer than most mainstream movies would dare do. It is this almost gleeful revelry in the movie's excesses that gives the Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS that sense that it is the ultimate schoolboy prank. The film knows that it is being bad, and through that knowledge it chooses to be even worse.
The movie would be less than nothing if not for the performance of Dyanne Thorne (Wham, Bam, Thank You Spaceman, The Swinging Barmaids), in the central role. Thorne imbues the character with a dual sensibility: she is able to be both a mother to the camp, yet also act with total and complete malevolence. Plus, if you like your women tall and big busted, Thorne is the woman for you. It is, in many ways, a remarkable performance, one that Thorne notes ruined her career and made her a legend all at the same time. In the annals of exploitation cinema, the name of Dyanne Thorne is right up there with that of Pam Grier as queens of the genre.
Normally I would speak of more performances, but in the case of this movie, there are only so many ways of saying "and her breasts heaved mightily" or "he suffered well." Chalk it up to the less said the better.
Properly framed at 1.66:1 and given a brand spanking new anamorphic transfer, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS may shows signs of its age and limited funding, but I doubt it has ever looked better. Yes, there is film grain to be noticed, but for me it simply adds to the effect of the movie. The image can be occasionally soft but the overall level of detail and clarity present surprised me. Blacks are deep, with no sign of breakup or shimmer, and skin tones are both natural and lifelike. This is, on the whole, a beautiful job turned in by Anchor Bay.
Sound is of the mono variety and while it is certainly limited in its fidelity, it never detracts from the viewing experience. Free of annoying background noise like tape hiss and popping, dialogue is easy to understand and the film's forgettable score remains clearly so.
For this release (as with the other two Ilsa movies) Anchor Bay has provided audio commentaries and for this disc I will discus said commentary in the following section. Also included on the disc are some fairly extensive talent bios with everything being rounded out by the movie's theatrical trailer and it is a hoot and a holler.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you have read this far, you are either a sucker for punishment, which means this disc is probably for you, or you are looking for my caveat. It's true; the hardest part of writing this review was trying to not be too defensive about liking the movie. Still, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that perhaps "like" was too strong a word. This is not to back away from my recommendation of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, but I think that my interest and my ability to view this movie a couple of times is twofold. First off, I am reminded of being at a high school keg party and someone popping a tape into that new and cool toy called a VCR. The tape was called Faces of Death and if you were like me you watched with jaw-dropping perverse fascination. There really is an aspect of that in Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. The movie continually tries to outdo itself and sink even lower.
Secondly, I suppose I have a certain respect for the movie. I got the fact that this movie was bad, is supposed to be bad, and was never meant to be anything other than bad…and profitable. I respect the honestly of what is going on.
As for the disc, well, I already told you about how good it looks and sounds so if you like the movie, that is reason enough to own it. The bad part comes by way of the commentary track. A great opportunity to get everything you ever wanted to know about this cult classic was presented. Ilsa herself, Dyanne Thorne, is here as is director Don Edmonds and producer David F. Freidman. Yet Anchor Bay chose to have the proceedings moderated by "humorist" (my quotes) Martin Lewis. To call his work a disaster is too call the sinking of the Titanic a little boating accident. Completely unprepared and unfamiliar with the film, Lewis' humor comes off as flat, forced and insulting to the other people in the room. It's more the pity because Thorne, Edmonds and Freidman are all talkative, intelligent people who offer up little nuggets of information when not being cut off by Lewis. Nothing is sadder than wasted opportunity, and that is what this alternate track is.
Finally, it would hardly be a review of an Anchor Bay disc if I did not take them to task for choosing to not include subtitles or close captioning for the hearing impaired. Come on guys! I'm sure with the money you wasted on paying Martin Lewis you could have easily sprung for some subtitles. Get with the program, Anchor Bay.
This movie is not for everyone; in fact, it is not for most people. Yet it is hard to deny that there is an audience out there. The movie made tons of money in Europe (please keep all the Jerry Lewis cracks to yourself) and was so successful at one 42nd Street New York movie theater (in those glorious pre-Disney Times Square days) that it earned a spot in Variety's 50 top-grossing films listing.
If you have never seen Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS before, let this stand as a warning to you. If you are easily offended, stay away! No dirty letters, please! I warned you! If, however, you want to try a walk on the nasty side, give this disc a rent. If you get sucked in like I did, then the disc is certainly worth a purchase.
Anchor Bay is acquitted for putting the most diverse material on the market and is thanked for a beautiful transfer. This court would be remiss if it did not sentence "humorist" Martin Lewis to be tortured, in a fashion not unlike witnessed in Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Now that would be justice.
It's good to be back, and this courtroom is dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary with Star Dyanne Thorne, Director Don Edmonds, and Producer David F. Friedman. Moderated by Humorist Martin Lewis.
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