Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS screens at Toronto Underground Cinema on Saturday November 18th at 9:00pm.
I am of three minds when it comes to considering the women in prison Nazisploitation flick Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. First up, and probably most importantly, Ilsa is cheesy exploitation fare in the poorest taste possible. Second, despite all this, the film is still far from the most insidious thing you have ever seen both on an exploitation level and on a level of sensible taste. And finally, and perhaps most shockingly, there are actually some moments of feminist brilliance that have somehow snuck its way into a T&A heavy gore flick.
Trailer here and VERY NSFW. But still a pretty awesome trailer.
The plot surrounds a prison camp, mostly for women, in Nazi Germany headed by the dreaded Ilsa. This is a woman who's methods scare even the most hardened of SS members. Ilsa sees the future of espionage being the use of women. Her experiments in torture are designed to show her male superiors that women have incredibly high thresholds of pain. The tortures she puts the poor women through make it seem like the few men in the camp get off lightly. Ilsa simply emasculates them, beds them, and then castrates them. That is, unless like most men, they are surgically sterilized upon their arrival at the camp.
Dyanne Thorne stars as Ilsa, and it is a role that has not only become iconic to the grindhouse and raincoat set, but also oddly enough to the film nerd and university crowd (the script, credited to the fictional John Saxton, was actually penned by Jonah Royston, a tenured professor who used to teach at the University of Toronto). Thorne creates a vision of an unironic killer in what could have easily been a much sillier film that it already is. Ilsa predates the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Vorhees in terms of creating a character that dies in every entry of a franchise only to come back in the next film. It is also the only major female heavy in the history of gore flicks. Her performance alone pretty much contributed to Ilsa becoming the Blair Witch Project of the 1970s.
As for that feminist subtext I was talking about, you don't have to look much further that Ilsa herself. When she has sex, she is always on top until her eventual downfall, and she is always in control. The fact that she is a sexually liberated (but evil) woman, in no way detracts from the fact that she is damn good at her job. On the other hand, the women in the camp are also strong and constantly searching for an escape. The know they can't always rely on the horribly ineffectual men that find themselves at the camp. Ilsa is really onto something when she says that women can withstand a lot of pain, and the women on screen adequately convey that pain and anger to revolt against their aggressors.
Still, for all the good things I can say about the movie, it is all still pretty laughable, and that is pretty much the point. What can you say about a skin flick that was shot on the abandoned set of Hogan's Heroes? But this is the rare case of a film that can be deemed laughable and offensive and still make you think about what went into it. Plus, it really is a piss take against modern day neo-Nazis. When the film premiered in Boston a theatre had a woman dressed as Ilsa along two captives to promote the film. The only incident that came as a result of this was that the woman playing Ilsa was shot at by a Nazi sympathizer who did so because he felt the movie belittles their cause (which it does very well). In fact, the only backlash producer David Freeman ever saw was from actual Nazis that got pissed off about the film.
So there you have it. Go see Ilsa. Piss off some Nazis.