Nazisploitation

ilsa

Nazisploitation is a subgenre of exploitation film and sexploitation film that involves villainous Nazis committing criminal acts of a sexual nature often as camp or prison overseers in World War II settings. Most follow the standard women in prison formula, only relocated to a death camp or Nazi brothel, with an added emphasis on sadism, gore, and degradation.

The most infamous and influential title (and the one that set the standards of the genre) is perhaps ‘Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS’ (1974), a Canadian production. Its surprise success and sequels led European film makers, mostly in Italy, to produce dozens of similar films depicting Nazi atrocities. While the Ilsa series and Salon Kitty were profitable, the other films were mostly box-office flops and the genre all but vanished by the mid 1980s.

In Italy, these films are known as part of the ‘il sadiconazista’ cycle which is largely inspired by the art-house films ‘Salon Kitty’ by Tinto Brass, Liliana Cavani’s ‘The Night Porter,’ and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ‘Salò.’

A blend of sexual imagery and Nazi themes was pioneered by Italian directors and can be found as early as 1945 in ‘Rome, Open City’ by Roberto Rossellini. Another Rossellini film, ‘Germany Year Zero’ (1948), connects Nazism with homosexuality and pedophilia. A major influence on the genre was the controversial arthouse production ‘The Damned’ (1969), directed by Luchino Visconti, about the rise and fall of a German industrialist family in the Third Reich. The film featured an orgy of homosexual stormtroopers, and depicted one of the main characters who eventually joins the SS as a troubled multiple pervert, posing in a transvestite outfit, molesting little girls and finally committing incest with his own mother.

The 1964 film ‘The Pawnbroker’ includes a flashback scene showing nude women kept in a concentration camp brothel. But the earliest sexploitation film set in a Nazi camp was ‘Love Camp 7’ (1969). It was also the vanguard of the modern women in prison genre that emerged in the early 1970s, and established the pattern for the many films that followed. The story resembles a pulp yarn from a men’s pin-up magazine of the period. In order to rescue a Jewish scientist, two female agents infiltrate a Nazi ‘Joy Division’ camp where prisoners are kept as sex slaves for German officers. There are scenes of boot-licking humiliation, whipping, torture, lesbianism, and near-rape, culminating in a violent and bloody escape. The stock characters include a cruel and perverse commandant, a lesbian doctor, sadistic guards who freely abuse the prisoners, and a sympathetic German who tries to help them.

Producer David F. Friedman had a small acting role in ‘Love Camp 7.’ He went on to produce ‘Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS’ in 1974. Ilsa was unique in that the camp commandant was a sexy (and sex-crazed) woman played by the busty, and frequently nude, Dyanne Thorne. Between sex scenes, Ilsa subjects her male and female inmates to horrific scientific tests, much like Josef Mengele’s notorious Nazi human experimentation at Auschwitz. Some of the tests on hypothermia and pressure chamber endurance were factual, while others were pure fantasy. For example, Ilsa has a male and female prisoner flogged to death to prove her theory that women can endure more pain than men.

The character is also loosely based on ‘The Witch of Buchenwald,’ Ilse Koch, wife of the commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Koch was known for having perverse sexual dalliances with the prisoners and was rumored to have had lampshades made from human skin. Ilsa includes the standard elements of sadism, degradation, whipping, sexual slavery, graphic torture, and a bloody finale with Ilsa shot dead and the camp set ablaze. This was a surprise hit on the drive-in and grindhouse circuit.

In 2007, as part of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s tribute to exploitation cinema, Grindhouse, director Rob Zombie created a trailer for a fake film called ‘Werewolf Women of the SS,’ starring Nicolas Cage and Udo Kier. According to Zombie, ‘Basically, I had two ideas. It was either going to be a Nazi movie or a women-in-prison film, and I went with the Nazis. There’s all those movies like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS; Fräulein Devil; and Love Camp 7—I’ve always found that to be the most bizarre genre.’

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