Greta the Mad Butcher / Greta the Torturer / Greta the Sadist / Wanda the Wicked Warden / Ilsa the Wicked Warden / Isla: Absolute Power / Greta: Haus ohne Männer (1977) -***
It doesn’t happen very often— at least not to most of us— but there occasionally comes a time in the life of an exploitation movie lover when Joe D’Amato just isn’t quite sleazy enough. The gods understand this, fortunately, and in their vast wisdom and benevolence, they have provided us with someone to whom we can turn when that time comes: Jesus Franco. (And when even Franco doesn’t do it for you, I suppose there’s always Jorg Buttgereit... but I digress.) The man has been bringing us the very finest in awful Euro-smut for more than 35 years now, and he shows no sign of stopping, or even slowing down appreciably! Since making his debut with We Are 18 Years Old in the early 60’s, he’s been at exploitation’s cutting edge, out-scuzzing the competition no matter how high the sleaze-bar might rise. The movie to which I now turn your attention is especially filthy, even by Franco’s standards. Greta the Mad Butcher arguably marks the climax of Franco’s ongoing involvement in the women’s prison genre (though I suppose it’s really more of a women’s mental hospital movie— not that there’s much of a difference), and though there are indeed even worse things lurking in the depths of the concentration camp-porno subgenre, you really do have to sink that low to find anything slimier.
Somewhere in the countryside of an unnamed South American banana republic lies the Las Palomas clinic for female sexual dysfunction. Our introduction to this peculiarly Franconian institution comes when one of the inmates provokes a brawl in the shower room (twenty seconds into the movie, and we’ve already seen about a dozen soaking wet, naked girls!) and uses the ensuing chaos as cover for her escape. The guards are after her the moment she leaves the building, chasing her through the jungle with rifles blazing. The girl kills one of her pursuers, but she is grazed by two bullets before she loses the others. Though seriously wounded, she manages to reach the front porch of a country villa, which, fortunately for her, belongs to a physician by the name of Milton Arcos (Jesus Franco, pulling a Hitchcock again). Arcos takes her in and patches her up as best he can, and while he does so, he notices that her body is absolutely covered with the scars of earlier injuries. And when he starts paying attention to the girl’s delirious ravings, he learns how she came to have those scars— apparently the doctors at the Las Palomas clinic believe that brutal torture is the best treatment for lesbianism and nymphomania. Arcos has just picked up the phone to call the police when a small group of armed men arrive at his door. With them is a woman— Dr. Greta Lupino (Dyanne Thorne, from Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS and Hell Hole), director of the Las Palomas clinic. Over Arcos’s strenuous objections, Lupino’s goons scoop the escaped girl up and haul her back to the clinic. A few days later, Arcos hears that she has died of septicemia.
So the doctor does the sensible thing, and reports Las Palomas to the authorities. After hearing Arcos’s evidence, the government agents to whom he makes his report promise to look into the matter. But Arcos’s involvement with Las Palomas isn’t over yet. When he gets into his car after his meeting with the G-men, he finds Abbie Phillips (Tania Busselier of The Perverse Countess) waiting for him with a gun. It turns out that the girl Arcos treated was Abbie’s older sister, and Abbie wants to know everything Arcos does about Las Palomas. When the doctor proves unable to satisfy her curiosity, Abbie comes up with what must surely be the stupidest idea of her entire life. She wants Arcos to commit her to Las Palomas under an assumed name, allow her six weeks to figure out what happened to her sister, and then pretend to have discovered that there was some kind of mix-up whereby Abbie was committed erroneously, so as to secure her release.
We all know how this is going to work. Conditions in Las Palomas are, of course, far worse than Abbie could ever have imagined, and she’s going to be lucky to survive her six weeks. The clinic is run more like a prison than any kind of medical establishment, and a particularly inhumane prison at that. The guards are the usual sadistic lesbians. So, for that matter, is Greta Lupino. Everyone in a position of power there delights in exploiting and abusing the inmates, and not just by torturing them for fun (although they certainly do a lot of that!). Lupino and one of her assistants are actually such creeps as to film the indignities they inflict on their charges, selling the footage on the snuff-film market to supplement their income! Meanwhile, the patients are further terrorized by Juana (Lina Romay, from The Bare-Breasted Countess and Barbed Wire Dolls), Dr. Lupino’s pet inmate.
But all this pales in comparison to the worst thing about Las Palomas. As Abbie eventually learns, the clinic is really just a front for a political gulag that Lupino runs for her boyfriend, El Presidente! Abbie’s sister turns out to have been active in some sort of revolutionary movement, and that was the reason for her confinement to Las Palomas. Not only that, the girl did not die of septicemia as advertised. In fact, she’s very much alive, though I hesitate to describe her as “well.” And when word reaches Lupino’s ears that Abbie is snooping around for information about her sister, the warden arranges a little reunion between the Phillips girls. Nevermind that Abbie never even knew about her sister’s political activities. Guilt by association is good enough for Greta the Mad Butcher.
Once the older Phillips girl realizes Abbie is imprisoned with her, Lupino has something new to hold over her head. By threatening Abbie, Lupino is finally able to pry out of her prisoner the information that untold months of relentless torture could not extract: the name of the revolutionaries’ leader. Would you believe it’s Dr. Arcos? Sure you would. And that means that Abbie is now officially 31 flavors of fucked. Lupino’s thugs kill Arcos, leaving Abbie with no hope of escape unless that government probe of Las Palomas actually occurs.
While all this is going on, a very important subplot involving Lupino, Abbie, and Juana is unfolding. Juana took a liking to Abbie the moment she set eyes on the new girl. For this reason, Juana spends most of the movie trying to protect Abbie from the worst of Lupino’s abuse— after all, Juana has no idea the clinic is really a political prison. (I should point out, though, that Juana’s affection for Abbie doesn’t do anything to stop her from mistreating the girl herself.) The upshot of all this is that, when Lupino starts giving Abbie the full Lavrenty Beria treatment, Juana feels like she has been betrayed. And as any women’s prison movie warden could tell you, it doesn’t pay to cross the prison bad girl. When Lupino finally gets hers, it’ll be Juana giving it to her, in a scene that sets new standards for grotesquery in the field of climactic evildoer comeuppance.
Of course, just about everything in this movie sets new standards for grotesquery in its field. Sure, the authority figures in these movies are always corrupt and disgusting, but how many times can you recall having seen a warden who makes snuff films on the side? Sure, having the guards insist that the inmates answer to their numbers and not their names is old hat, but how often have you seen the guards brand those numbers onto the left breasts of those forgetful girls who can’t seem to remember that their names are now 41 or 27 or 16? And what about the scene in which Lupino douches Abbie with acid? Or the one in which she sticks pins into Juana’s breasts and belly before fucking her? Then there’s this amazing vignette: Abbie is looking for information about her sister, and she has heard that Juana might have some. When another inmate takes Abbie to Juana, they find the latter girl sitting on the toilet complaining of diarrhea. Uh oh. So what sort of service do you think Juana might demand of Abbie in exchange for the information she seeks, hmmm? Damn straight. Could anything be sleazier than that?
You may have noticed that two of this movie’s many titles bill it as a sequel to Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. It isn’t. But in 1987, the company that owned the video rights to the Ilsa series noticed that Dyanne Thorne, who played Ilsa in all three of those films, was also in Greta the Mad Butcher, and that there were certain thematic similarities between it and the Ilsa flicks. So after buying the video rights to this movie as well, they did what video distro companies usually do when faced with such a situation, and retitled it, figuring that the Ilsa name would make Greta a more profitable property for them. They dealt with the name-change of the title character in the most economical way possible— they simply dubbed silence over every instance in which one of the characters calls Greta Lupino by her first name! (And even then, they missed a couple...) And so it was that the Ilsa series grew a fourth entry, ten years after new Ilsa movies stopped being made, and one of Jesus Franco’s nastiest films (which was all but forgotten by the mid-80’s) got a new lease on life, and a chance to amuse and appall a new generation of fans.