After probably decades of waiting, I have finally seen Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. I can’t say exactly how I knew to be looking for it, but the mostly likely candidate is Joe Bob Briggs, who I’ve certainly mentioned before. Odds are good you’ve never heard of this movie, so: Ilsa is the warden of a German prison camp / medical facility during World War II. She regularly receives shipments of prisoners, mostly women, most of whom she uses in experiments designed to prove that the pain tolerances of women far outstrip that of men. The goal of these experiments is to show the German high command that women should be allowed on the front lines.
Which is in its way a shockingly progressive topic to be bandied about in a ’70s prison exploitation flick. And that right there is the heart of the film: the dichotomy between a highly feminist script in which there are (nearly) more Bechdel moments than breasts, and the sheer number of exploited breasts in said script. Not to mention tortured, murdered naked bodies, prisoner rape scenes, and the ongoing subplot in which Ilsa takes the male prisoners into her bed and then castrates them for not satisfying her fully. Everyone is exploited every which way, in ways that it was once or twice even hard for jaded old me to watch, and yet… it’s hard to explain. It’s not a good movie, nor I suspect would NOW find it particularly laudable despite the merits I have described, but it’s powerful, and not simply for having a number of very strong, fully-realized characters in situations that are very probably not particularly sensationalized, much as I could wish it were otherwise. There’s the core of a really amazing story there, buried under layers of schlock, titillation, and graphic violence.
It’s just as well that the two or three sequels are much harder to find than even this was, as I suspect all pretense of exceeding the the grasp vanished, as with most sequels of powerful ’70s exploitation films. But I’ll still watch them if I can find them, because… well, it’s a compulsion, really.