Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS
|Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS|
US theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Don Edmonds|
|Edited by||Kurt Schnit|
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is a 1975 Canadian exploitation film about a sadistic and sexually-voracious Nazi prison camp commandant. The film is directed by American filmmaker Don Edmonds and produced by David F. Friedman for Cinépix Film Properties in Montreal. The film stars Dyanne Thorne in the titular role, who is loosely based on Ilse Koch, the wife of a real-life commandant at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Upon its release in early 1975, the film was immediately met with widespread controversy and critical derision, with Gene Siskel calling it "the most degenerate picture I have seen to play downtown". Particular criticism was directed at the film's graphic violence; which includes depictions of castration, flogging, human experimentation, and many other forms of torture. Word-of-mouth quickly spread, and the film was a considerable financial success, becoming a staple of grindhouse and drive-in theatres.
The popularity of the film led to the creation of three sequels, each of which saw Thorne reprise her role. The film's infamy eventually evolved into a considerable cult following, with the character of Ilsa becoming a pop cultural icon ubiquitous with “strong, aggressive” female authority. The film is considered one of the prominent entries of the Nazisploitation sub-genre, and to a lesser degree the sexploitation sub-genre.
Europe, 1945. Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne) is Kommandant of a Nazi prison camp, who conducts sadistic scientific experiments designed to demonstrate that women are more capable of enduring pain than men are, and therefore should be allowed to fight in the ever-depleting German armed forces. A sadistic authoritarian, Ilsa has a voracious sexual appetite for men, choosing a new male prisoner each night to copulate with. However, owing to her hypersexuality, she is disappointed when her victims inevitably ejaculate, and promptly has them castrated and put to death.
After dispatching her latest conquest, Ilsa oversees the arrival of a new batch of both male and female prisoners. Though largely dismissive and dehumanizing of the majority of her wards, she becomes enamoured by the presence of Wolfe (Gregory Knoph); a blond-haired and blue-eyed prisoner who, unlike his compatriots, resembles the Nazi Aryan ideal. Wolfe, a German-American student who had been studying in Berlin before the war broke out, tells his cellmate Mario (Tony Mumolo), one of Ilsa's former victims, that he has the ability to ejaculate at will, allowing him to have sex with incredible endurance and skill. Wolfe demonstrates this when, called to Ilsa's bedroom at night, he manages to bring her to orgasm, becoming her first repeat partner whom she willingly spares.
Having entered into Ilsa's confidence, Wolfe begins plotting revolt with Mario and a group of female prisoners who have borne the brunt of Ilsa's tortures. Meanwhile, Ilsa becomes gradually more and more anxious by news of Allied forces breaking through German defenses and ever-encroaching. Believing that the enlistment of women into the German military will help stem the tide, Ilsa attempts to convince a visiting General of her theories of female supremacy by showing him the various inhumane experiments she has subjected her female prisoners to. The General is roundly impressed and awards Ilsa the Iron Cross for her efforts, while forcing her to fulfill his nascent urolagnia by giving him a golden shower.
With the Germans in retreat, the prisoners finally revolt, managing to kill most of the guards and rounding up the surviving staff. Ilsa is tied to her bed with her stockings by Wolfe during a sex game, before he steals her gun and helps his comrades. Wolfe pleads with the other prisoners to leave the Nazis to be captured and tried by the Allies, but they insist that they'll escape punishment, and summarily execute them. With retreating Nazi forces fast approaching, Wolfe and a lone female prisoner escape into the nearby hills as the remaining prisoners, including Mario, resolve to fight to the death. They're quickly outgunned by a Waffen-SS tank troupe, who promptly wipes out the small resistance.
The Commander disembarks and begins investigating the camp. Upon finding Ilsa tied up helplessly, he coldly shoots her in the head and kills her, before ordering the razing of the camp to destroy any evidence of their atrocities. As he brags that the Allies will never know what happened, Wolfe and his fellow escapee watch from atop a nearby hill, the sole survivors of Ilsa's death camp.
- Dyanne Thorne as Ilsa
- Gregory Knoph as Wolfe
- Tony Mumolo as Mario
- George Buck Flower as Binz (as C.D. Lafleuer)
- Maria Marx as Anna
- Nicolle Riddell as Kata
- Jo Jo Deville as Ingrid
- Sandy Richman as Maigret
- Rodina Keeler as Gretchen
- Richard Kennedy as The General (as Wolfgang Roehm)
- Lance Marshall as Richter
- Jacqueline Giroux as Rosette
- Uschi Digard as Pressurized chamber prisoner (uncredited)
- Colleen Brennan as Redheaded prisoner (uncredited)
- Sandy Dempsey as Prisoner (uncredited)
Ilsa is Nazisploitation film, a sub-genre of exploitation and sexploitation film that emphasizes Nazis committing sex crimes, often as camp or prison overseers during World War II. Like many of its counterparts, Ilsa follows a women-in-prison formula, but subverts it by having a female authority figure dominating male submissives.
After Lee Frost and David F. Friedman's Love Camp 7 (1969) became successful in Canada, André Link and John Dunning of Cinepix Film Properties sought to capitalize by producing their own Nazi-themed exploitation film. Dunning was inspired by historical records of wartime medical experiments on unwilling human subjects, but also sought to add a female villain.
Dunning worked on the screenplay with writer John C.W. Saxton, drawing inspiration from Ilse Koch, wife of the commandant of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and, later, Buchenwald. Nicknamed “The Bitch of Buchenwald”, Koch engaged in several war crimes, including an experiment in which she had the skin of tattooed prisoners removed to make furniture. The film's central premise of Ilsa torturing women to test their endurance for pain was based on a wartime medical theory that women could take pain and punishment better than men, because they were better equipped as a result of the birthing ordeal.
Link and Dunning approached Love Camp 7 producer David F. Friedman to produce, an offer he promptly accepted. Friedman was a veteran exploitation filmmaker, having produced numerous “roughie” sexploitation films, as well as Herschell Gordon Lewis’ seminal Blood Feast. The director was Don Edmonds, an actor who’d begun directing sexploitation films earlier in the decade. Ilsa would be his third film as director, following Wild Honey and Tender Loving Care.
Friedman’s first choice of casting for the lead role was Phyllis Davis. When she proved unviable, he sought out Dyanne Thorne to play the eponymous character. Thorne was a longtime Las Vegas showgirl who had studied under Stella Adler, who at the time was working as a chauffeur. Thorne referred to the script as “awful”, but took the role after a friend recommended Edmonds personally.
The role of Dr. Binz, Ilsa's diminutive male assistant, Edmonds cast his previous collaborator George Buck Flower, who had also worked with Thorne and Friedman in various capacities as an assistant director, casting director, set decorator, and grip. Flower also served as an uncredited assistant director. Binz's appearance is based on that of Magnus Hirschfeld, a pioneering German sexologist (though the real Hirschfeld was fervently anti-Nazi and anti-fascist).
The film was shot in nine days. It used the Culver City, California set of the TV series Hogan's Heroes. The series had already been cancelled and the show's producers let the film be made on it once they learned that a scene called for it to be burned down, thus saving them the cost of having it demolished.
Because the film was shot in the United States, it could not legally qualify for the Canadian Film Development Corporation’s “Capital Gains Allowance”. Link and Dunning chose to both go uncredited in their capacities as executive producers.
During editing, David Friedman decided to place a notice before the film's opening credits in order to add an air of legitimacy and hopefully tide potential criticism. It reads: "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 condensed 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 happen again."
Use of pseudonyms
Several key members of the cast and crew were credited under pseudonyms. David F. Friedman is credited as “Herman Traeger”, screenwriter John C.W. Saxton as “Jonah Royston”, and actors George Buck Flower as “C.D. Lafleuer” and Richard Kennedy as “Wolfgang Roehm”. The credited editor, Kurt Schnit, was likely also a pseudonym, as no such film editor of the time is known to have existed, and does not hold any other credits of any kind.
Ilsa was rejected by the British Board of Film Censors in 1975 and remains unreleased in the country. It was banned in Australia, Germany, and Norway. In the United States, the film was released mostly to urban and grindhouse theatres, as was standard practice for many exploitation films of the time.
The Independent Film Journal wrote, "Only the most dangerously sadistic mentalities will manage to sit voluntarily through more than ten minutes of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, a graphic, stomach-churning catalogue of Nazi medical atrocities that makes Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like a Sunday picnic ... Theatres catering to the lowest possible grade of audience could make a bundle of dirty money. Others would be wise to forget it."
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film zero stars out of four and called it "the most degenerate picture I have seen to play downtown ... Ilsa plays like a textbook for rapists and mutilation freaks." He identified the distributors of the film and advised them to "see it, because I'm certain they would then remove it." Vincent Canby of The New York Times reported walking out on the film and wrote that it "could possibly be the worst soft-core sex-and-violence film of the decade—and the funniest. It's set in a World War II Nazi concentration camp built in a meadow that looks very southern California. You can almost hear the freeway traffic on the other side of the hill." Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader described the film as "self-conscious Canadian-made camp", which "wasn't notorious until it was fiercely denounced in the high-profile media".
The film's director Don Edmonds described the screenplay as "the worst piece of shit I ever read".
Despite being almost-universally critically derided, the film has gained a significant cult following, in large part due to the endurance of the lead character and Thorne's camp performance. Film scholar Rikki Schubert appraises the character as feminist, writing in her book Super Bitches and Action Babes: The Female Hero in Popular Cinema, 1970–2006 “she is not a female hero in any ordinary sense, yet she is a strong, active and aggressive protagonist who has become mythical in Western culture.”
The character is considered a quintessential pop cultural depiction of sadomasochism and hypersexuality, with Schubert writing that “The uniform, the beautiful and harsh appearance, the fierce pride and the cold cruelty are all features of the dominatrix, who is here, quite literally, a ‘castrating bitch.’ She is a hypersexual creature, fully devoted to her job, and always in search of satisfaction.”
- Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) - the only sequel to be directed by Don Edmonds. The film is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern kingdom in modern times, with Ilsa as the overseer of a wealthy Sheikh’s harem.
- Ilsa, the Wicked Warden (1977) - directed by Jesús Franco. Wicked Warden was not originally an official entry in the series, instead being an unrelated European film starring Dyanne Thorne as a similar warden character named ‘Wanda’. When released in North America, the rights were purchased by the official Ilsa rights holders, who redubbed the film to rename the main character Ilsa and incorporate it as an official entry in the series. It is the only entry in the series to be produced in Germany.
- Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia (also 1977) - directed by Jean LaFleur. It is the fourth and final entry, and the only entry to be shot on-location in Canada. It is unique among the series for its “two-act” structure, the first half depicting Ilsa as the commandant of a Siberian gulag in the Soviet Union, while the second half flashes-forward 20 years later to modern-day Montreal, where Ilsa is now the proprietor of a brothel on the run from Soviet authorities. This entry was produced by Ivan Reitman and Roger Corman under the shared alias “Julius Parnell”.
Despite her character being killed off at the end of the first film, Thorne reprised her role in three follow-ups, continuing to depict Ilsa as a sadomasochistic authority figure with an exaggerated German accent. None of these sequels have any story continuity with one another, depicting Ilsa in wildly differing locations and time period and often ending in her death or incapacitation.
In popular culture
- In Jörg Buttgereit's 1989 horror film Der Todesking, a character rents a Nazisploitation movie called Vera - Todesengel der Gestapo (Vera, the Death-Angel of the Gestapo), which depicts a concentration camp prisoner being castrated by an Ilsa-like prison guard.
- The 2007 film Grindhouse features a faux-trailer for a film called Werewolf Women of the S.S. by Rob Zombie, whose characters have been referred to as resembling Ilsa. The lead female officer, Eva Krupp (played by Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon), can also be seen as an Ilsa-like character.
- The New York hardcore band Murphy's Law wrote the song "Ilsa" which was inspired by the movie.
- Rob Zombie also used audio clips in the track "House of 1000 Corpses" in his second solo album The Sinister Urge.
- Rizov, Vadim (April 7, 2016). "One of the sickest exploitation films ever somehow spawned three sequels". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on November 6, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Colburn, Randall (August 24, 2017). "Read This: The ongoing controversy of Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on February 26, 2020. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Beel, Philip (September 1, 2012). "Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia". Canuxploitation. Archived from the original on February 26, 2020. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Genzlinger, Neil (February 13, 2020). "Dyanne Thorne, 83, Star of Scandalous 'Ilsa' Films, Is Dead". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 21, 2020. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Sarracino, Carmine; Scott, Kevin M. (2008). The Porning Of America: The Rise Of Porn Culture, What It Means, And Where We Go From Here. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-8070-6153-4.
- "ILSA - SHE WOLF OF THE SS (N/A)". British Board of Film Classification. June 9, 1975. Archived from the original on November 15, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Grierson, Tim (August 24, 2017). "The Strange History and Surprising Resilience of the 1970s' Most Notorious Nazi Sexploitation Film". MEL. Archived from the original on February 14, 2020. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS at Rotten Tomatoes
- "Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS". The Independent Film Journal. 76 (6). August 20, 1975.
- Siskel, Gene (August 14, 1975). "Two 'shlockers' a waste of time". Chicago Tribune. p. 32. Archived from the original on March 1, 2020. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Canby, Vincent (November 30, 1975). "Now for a Look At Some Really Bad Movies". The New York Times. p. D13. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
- Kehr, David (May 9, 2009). "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on March 1, 2020. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- "Past Winners: 1985". AVN Awards. Archived from the original on December 5, 2013.
- Evers, Florian (2011). Vexierbilder des Holocaust (in German). Münster: LIT Verlag. p. 55. ISBN 978-3-643-11190-6.