Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg

In 1975, the popular Women in Prison (or WIP) genre of grindhouse cinema was injected with a dose of World War Two and came up with Don Edmond’s notorious sleaze, sex and violence classic Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, a film which effectively created the template for what has since become known as Naziploitation, a grotty type of movie that exaggerated – in unflinching details – the sordid sexual deviation, torture and medical experimentation that was conducted under Hitler’s Third Reich regime, usually taking place within the walls of prisoner of war or concentration camps (Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS was famously shot on the still-standing sets of the Hogan’s Heroes television sitcom.)

Though the seeds of the genre were first planted in Lee Frost’s 1969 American sickie Love Camp 7, most of the more well-known Naziploitation films originated out of 1970s Europe – Italy in particular – and include such titles as SS Experiment Camp (1976), The Beast in Heat (1977), The Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977) and Nazi Love Camp 27 (1977). Effectively, these movies brought to celluloid life the lurid stories and gaudy cover art that adorned American pulp and men’s adventure magazines of the 1950s and 60s (as documented in Adam Parfrey’s excellent tome It’s a Man’s World, published by Feral House in 2003).

Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg isn’t a Naziploitation film per se, since it takes place not in World War Two Germany but in some unnamed South American country during an undisclosed decade (though the hairstyles on display are firmly rooted in the 1970s), but it is clearly moulded in the Ilsa style and ticks all the boxes that its target audience would expect to see in such a movie. The Helga of the title (played by Italian actress Malisa Longo, perhaps best known for Lucio Fulci’s Cat in the Brain) is a propaganda minister who is sent by dictator General Gomez (Olivier Mathot) to oversee the running of the women’s work camp/prison castle in Stilberg, where she can live out her sadistic fantasies to her heart’s content, as well as trying to capture a local rebel named Vogel. There’s really not a whole lot more to the plot of the film that that, and in fact a lot of the scenes appear so similar that a couple of times I had to check to make sure I hadn’t accidentally hit the chapter repeat button on my remote! With barely a handful of females walking around behind the walls of Stilberg, it must be the most sparsely populated prison in history, especially for a country supposedly in the grip of a violent civil war. In fact the guards often seem to outnumber the prisoners, making it hard to believe that anyone would be able to slip away unnoticed.

There is no lack of nudity and sex in Helga – a lesbian bathing scene involving the title character occurs less than seven minutes into it, before she starts making it was a sweaty male less than five minutes later – but it is hardly an erotic or arousing film. And there is not the same level of degenerate sleaze as found in the more notorious Naziploitation movies, which leaves Helga as one of the more bland and unexciting entries in the genre. Unless you are a genre completist, or just an undemanding perv on the hunt for some fresh female nudity, there is not a whole lot here to recommend, though Malisa Longo certainly looks commanding and statuesque as Helga, strutting around in skin-tight leather pants, high heels, crimson satin top and brandishing a riding crop (which she unfortunately rarely puts to any effective use). Longo is beautiful and interesting to watch, but she lacks the stern menace and enthusiasm which made Dyanne Thorne so effective in the Ilsa movies. Director Patrice Rhomm (who used the pseudonym of Alain Garnier on this film) did much better work in the same genre with Elsa Fräulein SS (1977), which also starred Malisa Longo in the title role.

The US DVD of Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg, released on the MVD Visual label, features an anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen transfer that is fairly clean, if a little on the light side, and contains the odd scratch and splice mark to help it retain its vintage grindhouse feel. Amusingly, the print features no opening titles, though it begins with a long static shot of a sword resting on a piece of red velvet, where the titles were clearly meant to be placed, while some alternate takes of some nudity and whipping sequences, along with both a basic opening and closing title sequence, are tacked at the end of the movie (it seems to be more of an oversight with the master transfer than a deliberate addition). Audio options include the English dubbed and original French language track, though English subtitles are unfortunately not available if you choose to watch the French version. No trailer or any other extras are included.

Available on DVD from MVD Visual.

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