Arguably the best known Nazisploitation film (though Love Camp 7 (1969) is usually cited as the first), Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS was a US-Canadian production (and shot on the old exterior sets for Hogan’s Heroes, according to one source). It starred Dyanne Thorne as the titular concentration camp commandant, impeccably crisp in a black, white and red SS uniform.
The women sent to Ilsa’s camp are divided into two groups. One gets sent to “work details” of serving the men in the guard house. The other gets beaten, electrocuted, boiled, suffocated and more in “experiments” overseen by Ilsa and her female assistants. Ilsa’s ostensible reason for all of this is to demonstrate that women can withstand as much pain as men, and therefore prove that women can serve the Reich by fighting on the front line.
The male prisoners each get one night with Ilsa, after which they’re castrated.
This changes with the arrival of the prisoner Wolfe, a German-born American with blond hair, blue eyes and the ability to withhold ejaculation indefinitely. Ilsa is so taken with Wolfe’s indefatigable dong that he alone survives a night with her intact.
Whereas Wolfe represents ideal masculinity, the General who oversees Ilsa’s camp is a masochistic freak, who tops Ilsa from the bottom by demanding that she strip down to just her uniform tunic and stockings, then urinate on her while he lies on the floor beneath her. The camera focuses on Ilsa’s face grimacing in disgust and humiliation as she complies with his command. (This is the trope of the sexually-deviant fascist, about which more in other posts.)
Thus, instead of being an agent of Naziism, Ilsa is actually a feminist of sorts, exploited and confined by the male-dominated Nazi hierarchy she pledges allegiance to. She and her female subordinates function as a feminist insurgency within Naziism, usurping male prerogatives like authority, violence and sexual service. (Admittedly, Ilsa’s brand of feminism involves having other women tortured, raped and killed.)
At the climax of the film, Wolfe seduces Ilsa into letting him tie her to her bed. Wolfe then goes to lead the prisoners in revolt and escape. One of Ilsa’s bloody female victims crawls into the room and tries to stab Ilsa to death, but passes out or dies before she can finish the job. After the prisoners escape, German forces arrive, and an officer kills Ilsa, on orders from the general, and then burns the camp down so there is no evidence.
The last shot is of Wolfe and one of the female prisoners standing together, watching the fire; normal sexual and gender roles are restored by the death of Ilsa. The struggle of democracy versus fascism is displaced onto the struggle of patriarchal society against insurgent femininity. The scenario is “men saving good women from bad women, with (bad) men doing the dirty work.” It’s as if one deviant woman is somehow more evil than the entire Nazi hierarchy. Compare this to the legend of slave keeper Delphine LaLaurie in antebellum New Orleans; the deviant woman becomes the scapegoat for a deviant society.
Of course, Ilsa somehow rises again to star in Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (the only authorized sequel) and two others. You can’t keep an evil dominatrix down. Ilsa is kind of an auteur of sadism, and will attach herself to any political regime that will allow her to do her thing: Nazis, Middle Eastern oil states, Latin American dictatorships or Stalinist gulags.
The character of Ilsa is very loosely based on a real-life woman, the wife of a concentration camp commandant,