Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS

Directed by: Don Edmonds 

Starring:  Dyanne Thorne,
Gregory Knoph,
Tony Mumolo,
Maria Marx,
Nicolle Riddell,
Jo Jo Deville,
Richard Kennedy  

Released: 1975 

Language: English 

Length: 96 minutes

In the movie (and later the play) “The Producers”, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom have the crazy idea of producing the worse Broadway show in history so they can get rich by overselling interests in a show that closes after one night. They scour through scores of plays in search for the worse play ever written. They finally settle on a play that they’re convinced will be so offensive and so tasteless that the audience and critics will be repulsed, insuring the shows closure. The play they choose is titled “Springtime for Hitler”. 
Those that saw “The Producers”, be it the Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder 1968 film or the Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick musical, know that the plan failed when the performance by the actor playing Hitler is so campy and outrageous, the audience mistakes it for satire and the show becomes a hit. 
I mention “The Producers” because if movie producers were searching for the most offensive and disturbing movie script ever written, they might choose “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS”. The fact that this movie got made is amazing in itself. The fact that it was financially successful and became a cult-classic is even more astounding.  
I once saw an interview where the interviewer asked a high-profile movie critic how he was able to sit through “bad” movies. By using the word “bad”, the interviewer was referring to films with little or no artistic value. When most people would walk out on a film or hit the stop button on their DVD player or change the channel on their television; the film critic must endure the “bad” movie, the “tasteless” film and the “offensive” motion picture.  
When asked this question, the movie critic explained that he did his job by looking for some artistic value, even when none was apparent. He reminded himself that someone, be it the writer, the producer or the director, found enough merit in the story to pursue making the film. That doesn’t mean the critic will recommend the movie but it allows him or her to remain objective enough to give the movie a chance, no matter how offensive or tasteless the film may seem to the masses.  
I’ve watched my share of horror films and gory movies, and while I’m not a fan of “slasher” films or “splatter” films (a horror film that deliberately focuses on graphic portrayals of excessive blood and guts), I can’t recall ever being more “turned-off” by a film as much as I was by “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS”. Yet, like the movie critic I mentioned above, I suffered through the gruesome and gory scenes in the movie in order to try to understand why this film became a so-called cult classic.  
In 1974, Cinepix of Canada wanted a prison camp film and they hired two men to write “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS”. Next, soft porn and exploitation film king Dave Friedman was hired to produce it and Don Edmonds was hired to direct (Don was part of the production team that helped Quentin Tarantino get his early professional filmmaking career off and running). Friedman and Edmonds searched for the lead female character, Ilsa, and hired Las Vegas showgirl and small time actress Dyanne Thorne. They did the film in 9 days and the rest, as they say, is cinema history.  
The audience's were truly shocked when they saw the film, not only in the USA but all over the world. Ilsa radically changed Dyanne Thorne’s life, first negatively but then positively. Ilsa gave her an image that she's had for over 30 years and still has to this day. Dyanne Thorne remains a favorite at many cult-film conventions.
We throw around the term “cult classic” more than we probably should. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (ironically released the same year as “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS”) had and still has a true cult-like following. “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS” is more infamous than a cult classic, in my opinion. It is infamous for two reasons. One, the shocking content of the film and two, the female character Ilsa has become a kind of fictional FemDom icon over the years, especially when it comes to representing female sadism. I wonder how many professional Mistresses, who role-play some form of the Ilsa fantasy with their male clients, have ever seen the film? I dare say not many.  
In 1975, “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS” actually made it into the top 50 grossing movies of the year, thanks to 42nd street and a plethora of drive-in movie theaters that specialized in low-budget films. “Sexploitation” and “Gore” films found a niche in the drive-in theater market of the 1970’s.  
As I watched this movie, I kept reminding myself that I was reviewing “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS” for an e-zine dedicated to Female Domination. I tried to take the advice of the high-profile movie critic and search for some artistic value or at least the motivation behind making this film.  
The movie begins with a scene of the mature (Dyanne Thorne was 42 when this movie came out) and busty Ilsa having sex with a good looking man. Ilsa is on top and she is encouraging her “lover” to withhold from orgasm so she can achieve one herself. He fails and climaxes. Disappointed and frustrated, Ilsa retires to her shower where she masturbates. Next, we see Ilsa dressing for work. She puts on her Nazi SS uniform.  
Her lover/boy-toy is dragged from Ilsa’s bed by her two blonde female guards, known as her “black widows”.
He is taken to some sort of medical room and bound to a table. There he will meet the same fate as all of Ilsa’s male sex slaves. He will be castrated. The two blonde guards begin the procedure, and we see blood running into a drain that surrounds the table, but Ilsa herself will do the honors of actually removing his genitals, mocking the screaming prisoner, telling him how his privates will be preserved in a jar and given as a gift to one of her superior officers as further proof of the inferiority of both the prisoner’s race and gender.
Not a bad opening scene for submissive men that harbor fantasies of cruel, sadistic women who like to use and abuse men. Based on this opening scene, I thought the FemDom appeal of Ilsa was rather straightforward. She believes in the superiority of women, she is a Sadist and she uses men for her pleasure and then discards them.  
There is a scene where two male prisoners discuss why Ilsa castrates her male lovers. Mario (Tony Mumolo), who has been castrated by Ilsa, replies, "Perhaps it is her way of punishing a man who makes her feel like a woman, yet fails to satisfy her cravings for more." Sounds like a good enough reason to me.  
Later in the movie, we see another scene that I would classify as “FemDom worthy”. Ilsa’s commanding officer, a Nazi General who is also a sadist, a butcher and a murder, pays Ilsa a visit to evaluate her controversial medical experiments. After witnessing her gruesome and atrocious methods, the two find themselves alone. The General is obviously attracted to the blonde female Commandant, and she has already accepted the fact that she will have to sleep with the General in order to secure his favor. As she begins to undress, the General requests that she only undresses from the waist down, leaving on her white shirt, black tie and her Nazi SS uniform jacket. Once Ilsa is naked from the waist down, the General begs her to put her boots back on. The General obviously has a boot fetish and/or an SS uniform fetish.  
The General, Ilsa’s superior officer, then lies on his back in a submissive position, and he tells Ilsa that she is superior to him. The General calls Ilsa “a blonde Goddess”. The General grovels before Ilsa and begs her to urinate on him. Ilsa reluctantly obliges (we hear the sound of her pissing on the General as the camera shows a close-up of Ilsa’s cruel face). 
Psychologically, this scene might make sense. The General is in-charge of lots of soldiers, he has committed many crimes against humanity, and one can almost understand how the General might seek to relinquish power and relieve some of his guilt by being degraded and humiliated by Commandant Ilsa. However, by the time I got to this scene, I was way past the point of trying to psychoanalyze the characters and their motives. All the Nazis in the movie, male and female, were pure evil, and I could not muster any sympathy for Ilsa, even if she were motivated to prove to her male army superiors the natural supremacy of women.  
Had the film struck a lighter note, had it been less gruesome, if all the prisoners who were abused were men at the hands of sadistic females, had it emphasized the sex and deemphasized the gore, I might have been able to understand the appeal of Ilsa. Perhaps submissive men who watch this film grasp onto the castration scene and the golden shower scene. Perhaps when Ilsa’s female guards simultaneously whip a man and a woman (the busty “black widow” guards being topless as they literally whip the prisoners to death) the male audience focuses only on the male being whipped by the attractive women. Perhaps the submissive nature in man allows him to block out the horrors that are done to women in this movie and focus only on the horrors done to the men. Perhaps the imagery of a sadistic woman like Ilsa permeates the male submissive nature to the point that stirs him to sexual arousal. I don’t know and I am incapable of writing this review from the male perspective.  
From my perspective, I could not stomach the intense and grotesque torture of women depicted in the film, and unfortunately that is the main plot of “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS”. Ilsa runs Nazi medical camp #9 and in addition to her normal medical experiments she performs on prisoners at the direction of the Third Reich, Ilsa also conducts her own private experiments in order to prove that women are physically superior to men. She subjects the unfortunate female prisoners to sadistic and painful tortures so she can prove her theory that women would make better soldiers than men. Somehow this is supposed to help the Nazi war effort.  
Although the women prisoners are naked and while Ilsa and her black widow guards are attractive females, there is nothing sexual or erotic about these scenes. The medical experiments are not for the squeamish. We witness tortures by an electrified dildo, boiling women in hot water, acid being poured on bodies, biological tests where women are injected with diseases, operations with no anaesthesia and no sterilization, both public and private hangings, and various other forms of debauchery.
I am no prude and I am fully aware of the subgenre of the exploitation film known as “Women in prison” films that began in the late 1960s and continues to the present day. These stories feature imprisoned women who are subjected to sexual and physical abuse, typically by sadistic female prison wardens and guards. The genre also features many films in which imprisoned women engage in lesbian sex. These films are pure male fantasy intended only to titillate the audience with a lurid mix of sex and violence. The flexible format, and the loosening of censorship laws, allowed filmmakers to choose from an extensive menu of misogynistic taboos. From voyeurism (strip searches, group shower scenes, cat-fights) to sexual fantasies (lesbianism, rape, sexual slavery), to fetishism (bondage, whipping, degradation), and outright sadism (beatings, torture, cruelty). 
Be that as it may, did Friedman really believe there was some way a soft-core exploitation picture set in a Nazi slave labor camp could ever have been either erotic or tasteful? I think what disturbed me so much about “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS” is that such atrocities really occurred in Nazi Germany. In the beginning, the director puts forth a dedication to the victims of the Holocaust with the moral message that the purpose of the film is to shine a light on them that they never occur again. And if you buy that one, I have some magic beans I’d like to sell you. This was not “Schindler’s List”.  
Ilsa and her female guards are the creations of male fantasy. Some said the character Ilsa was loosely based on convicted Nazi war criminal Ilse Koch. ‘Loosely’ would be the key word because Ilse Koch did not look like Dyanne Thorne. Thorne is the embodiment of the male fantasy of a sadistic female. Dyanne Thorne and the two women who play her black widow guards are attractive, busty blondes. When she is not topless, Thorne is showing off her impressive cleavage by making sure her top buttons on her white shirt are undone.
It is obvious that Friedman and the makers of this movie exploited the real horrors of what men and women had to endure in the Nazi Stalag camps. To try to sugarcoat it with a lukewarm dedication to Holocaust victims is more offensive than the movie itself.  
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I have no problems with men who have the Ilsa fantasy. Heck, I myself enjoy interrogation role-playing scenes (see my SS style hat in picture in the heading of my blog). The wonderful thing about role-play is that men and women can explore taboo fantasies within a safe and sane environment. You might recall one of the first films I reviewed back in 2005 was Nick Broomfield's documentary “Fetishes”. One of the clients that frequented Pandora’s Box was a Jewish man who wanted his Dominatrix to dress up as a Nazi SS officer and interrogate him. The documentary surmised that such role-play can take something horrifying and change into something pleasurable.  
I make no judgements on why certain men have these fantasies and feel a need to act them out. However, I do have a problem with a film that exploits the torture of women in order to give some men a cheap sexual thrill. One could make the argument that the heroines of the film “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS” were the women who fought back. One woman was literally tortured to death yet she refused to submit to Ilsa. She almost got revenge in the end but died just short of being able to extract her retribution. Yet, even that plot line was overshadowed by a male domination theme.  
The hero of “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS” is a man. Wolfe (George Knoph) is a German born American prisoner who becomes one of Ilsa’s boy-toys. He has a ‘special ability’. Wolfe can hold back climaxing as long as he wants, thus he becomes the first man who is able to truly satisfy Ilsa sexually. Naturally, he is not castrated and because of his manhood he is spared and he becomes a nightly visitor to Ilsa's private quarters. By the end of the film, Ilsa submits to him because she has been sexually conquered by a “real man”. Wolfe uses his sexual power over Ilsa to instigate a prisoner uprising. The female prisoners get revenge on Ilsa’s black widow guards but Nazi reinforcements arrive to put down the revolt, although Wolfe and one of the female prisoners do manage to escape.  
The Nazi reinforcements, under the order of the same General who called Ilsa a “blonde Goddess” and begged her for a golden shower, kill Ilsa and shut down the camp. Apparently Ilsa’s medical experiments were too gruesome even for the Nazis, or maybe they were offended by her theory on the natural superiority of women. 
One interesting side note I learned when researching the film was that the movie sets came from the television show "Hogan's Heroes". Given Bob Crane’s own kinky personal life, the filming location seems strangely appropriate. But you won't see Hogan, Sergeant Schultz, or Colonel Klink in this movie. The movie was shot on the leftover set before it was torn down.
"Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS" is a disturbing film that should repulse more than it titillates, even if you are a hardcore masochist. I realize those who enjoyed this movie will argue that its critics take it far too serious and that the blood and gore is notably fake (the blood looks like red paint). But no matter how you dissect it, even if you ignore the cruel treatment of the women prisoners and if you judge the film purely from a FemDom perspective, the fact that it took a “real man” to bring about Ilsa’s downfall is another mark against it in my book. Not only is the male character Wolfe able to sexually satisfy Ilsa, he is able to sexually satisfy both of her black widow guards, at the same time of course. Talk about male fantasy.  
Which brings me back to the question, why did this film have a popular following? I dare say it wasn’t the male character Wolfe and his sexual ability. No there is another reason. Perhaps the answer to this question is written on the back of the DVD case. “Never in the history of cinema has there been a female villain like Ilsa.” There you have it. Ilsa was and is a popular character because some men are captivated by the mere thought of an attractive sadistic woman.
How popular is Ilsa? In doing research for this review, I uncovered all kinds of Ilsa memorabilia. There are Ilsa dolls and Ilsa statues and Ilsa models.
There are Ilsa conventions where people dress up like the characters in the film. There are Ilsa parties where women wear SS uniforms.
Thus on closer examination, perhaps "Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS" does qualify as a cult classic. That still doesn’t change the fact that this was one of the most offensive and tasteless films ever made.  
If the character of Ilsa turns you on because she is attractive and sadistic and you have a thing for women in uniform, more power to you. The character of Ilsa will remain a fictitious FemDom icon that is the inspiration for many role-playing scenarios between submissive men and Dominant women. Be that as it may, in my opinion, the movie "Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS" is one sick flick. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go interrogate my husband.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. I was a young sub when I saw this film in th 70s but I recall it fondly.