Tuesday, December 30, 2008

SS HELL PACK TRIPLE FEATURE: Lest we forget the horrors of Nazi Germa -- hey, nice rack!


Three tedious Nazisploitation efforts, each largely indistinguishable from the vast majority of pictures in this genre.

SS GIRLS (1977), a SALON KITTY knockoff from the feeble mind of Bruno Mattei, is set in a secluded mansion wherein a crazy and debauched Nazi commander (Gabriele Carrara) employs prostitutes--each highly trained in ballet, weightlifting, fencing, gunplay and schtupping the spectrum of physically disgusting men--to lure unsuspecting Nazi traitors to their doom. The nudity quotient is high but the sex scenes, not unlike most of the male participants involved in them, are flabby, unrealistic and repetitive. And then there's some unpleasant business between a whore and a severely deformed man that, had this not been directed by one of the worst Italian directors of all time, would surely have engendered ill will. But with Mattei, it's tough not to have anything BUT ill will toward virtually everything he's ever done, so I suppose exploitation of the diseased should come as no surprise. The film is by design rather low on the torture and "cruelty" one associates with this genre, with even the mass suicide ending--which at last releases us from the company of these ridiculously smarmy actors--almost completely devoid of blood. In an interview included on the disc, Mattei reveals that he hates watching nearly all of his own films because he always sees many things he could have done better with more time and money. One would think that a director who worked extensively (and repeatedly) on low budgets and tight schedules would certainly not hurt for ingenuity, or style, as often as Mattei has, but such was not the case, if his long, depressing trail of visually ugly and sloppily plotted exploitationers is any indication.

Moving up a rung on the ladder of quality--arguably a lateral step, really, as the production value isn't much better--is Sergio Garrone's SS EXPERIMENT LOVE CAMP (1976), a once-notorious "video nasty" in England which features more full frontal nudity and butcher-meat-laced cruelty than the Mattei picture, though the romantic couplings are again rather uninvolving despite their showcasing far more attractive performers of both sexes. In this camp, ladies not chosen to improve the German race through ridiculous sex experiments are instead deemed fit for ridiculous medical experiments. (Garrone was known to do research for his films, so in all likelihood his onscreen experiments also happened in real life, and were equally as pointless) The film's key plot device--and arguably it's wildest asset--involves the camp commandant's desire for a new pair of testicles with which he can get a proper leg over for Der Fuhrer's greater glory, items duly (and seemingly unwittingly) removed from one of his officers. When good guy Helmut discovers he's a nut-free by-product of the Nazi machine just before mounting his love camp lovely, he races naked throughout the compound until he finds the duplicitous Colonel von Kleiben (Giorgio Cerioni, who looks very much like one of the puppets on Gerry Anderson's THUNDERBIRDS), furiously demanding to know "what have you been doing with my balls!?!" before inciting an all-out riot. Still, it's decidedly a case of parts surpassing the whole, as it tends to be with Nazi pictures that don't star Dyanne Thorne in a lead role.

The set concludes with Sergio Garrone's SS CAMP: WOMEN'S HELL, actually known as (and ID'd onscreen as) SS CAMP 5: WOMEN'S HELL. Exploitation Digital's sleeve for this dates it to 1977, though it's obvious Garrone shot it at the same time as SS EXPERIMENT LOVE CAMP using the same locations and most of the same cast in different roles. Garrone admits as much in the accompanying interview, and the comparatively stronger plotting, acting and action elements on offer suggest this was actually the first of the two pictures completed. Thanks to its meatier scenes of torture and medical experimentation, WOMEN'S HELL ventures closer to being a "video nasty" than LOVE CAMP, but then as now, it's tame stuff, notable mainly for introducing a Pam Grier blaxploitation vibe in the form of Rita Manna as the cunning Jamaican whore Alina, who takes advantage of besotted camp commandant Col. Strasser (Giorgio Cerioni, again sporting a THUNDERBIRDS coiffure and the plastic complexion to match) to plot the bullet-riddled liberation of her fellow prostitutes. Again, Garrone's superficial research informs the film's scenes of cruelty and degradation--including a cheap-but-effective optical that allows dead bodies to jerk and twitch in the camp's ovens (a trick used several times in LOVE CAMP as well)--but the vintage newsreel footage of actual Jews being stripped of their belongings and their lives sits uncomfortably amidst all the gratuitous boobs and beaver on display. But this was Italy in the 70's: "anything goes" was the cinematic order of the day, but cheap moralizing in a film such as this is offensive.

Thankfully, this thematically-challenged genre wasted away on the merits of films such as those included in this set. They're worth watching if you're new to the genre and want to see three average examples at a budget price rather than getting burned on the individual releases (which each cost nearly as much as this triple feature), but there are better examples out there, most notably ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS. Extras on each disc include an interview with the respective director (running 10-15 minutes), meager still galleries, and selections of trailers, including some for other Nazisploitation titles.

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