SS Hell Camp / The Beast In Heat / Horrifying Experiments of the SS Last Days / Nazi Holocaust / SS Experiment Camp Part 2 / La Bestia in Calore (1977) -****˝
It is widely agreed that for most of its existence, the British movie industry has labored under the most intrusive and unreasonable film-censorship regime to be found in any democratic state. Since 1912, when the British Board of Film Censors (now called the British Board of Film Classification— by all accounts, the name-change was purely cosmetic) was constituted to coordinate and standardize censorship and certification rules throughout the land, filmmakers in the UK have had so many hoops to jump through that broad categories of subject matter and even entire genres were often effectively off-limits, even to the most toothlessly innocuous treatment. But for all the hassles confronting native producers and directors, the importers of foreign films generally had it even worse, and nowhere was this more true than in the case of those who sought to import foreign horror films specifically. Where ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedly beasties and things that go bump in the night were concerned, the BBFC could almost always be counted upon to order extensive cuts, to impose absurdly onerous certifications, or even to ban the importation of particularly offensive movies altogether. Some of the censor board’s foreign-film rulings over the years were simply jaw-dropping. Return of the Fly, Dead Men Walk, and Captive Wild Woman were given adults-only ratings. The Mystery of the Wax Museum’s opening title card (identifying London as the setting for the initial scene) was ordered deleted. Island of Lost Souls, Bedlam, and even The Mad Monster were banned for years— decades in the case of the first two! So basically, the BBFC had more than earned its reputation as a bunch of sissies and killjoys by the early 1980’s, and nobody who lived in a country where such an organization was deemed necessary should have been surprised in the slightest by the Video Nasties panic.
There was a big difference, though, between the Video Nasties scare and, say, the ongoing controversy over movies about devil worshipers in the mid-to-late 1960’s. In the 80’s, the movies that had the professional bluenoses running through their supply of smelling salts at ten times the usual rate often really were as offensive as they were reputed to be. What’s more, the distributors were practically begging for a beatdown, using advertising displays and cover art calculated to draw the maximum possible attention to the most antisocial qualities of their merchandise. Now if it’s antisocial qualities we’re talking about, it really is hard to outdo a 1970’s Nazi atrocity movie. The bastard spawn of the previous decade’s roughies, the death-camp porno-violence flicks were just about the vilest things you could see on a commercial movie screen, and a strikingly disproportionate number of the films that would eventually be expelled from the video stores of the UK could be counted within the genre. As if this needed saying, it was in Italy that the greatest numbers of these putrid films seem to have been produced, and in Italy that they are generally held to have reached their high-water mark of putrescence. And that, my friends, brings us at last to SS Hell Camp. There are those who will tell you that SS Hell Camp represents that very high-water mark, and I’m not entirely sure that I’d disagree with them. Lord knows writer/director Luigi Batzella seems to have done everything he could think of during its 80-odd minutes to offend every conceivable audience. On the other hand, he did so with such uniformly slack-assed ineptitude as to make SS Hell Camp one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in 2005.
We begin with what we are assured is an SS-run laboratory where SS doctor Lieutenant Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall, from The Daughter of Emmanuelle and— go figure— SS Girls) conducts what we are assured are insidious SS-sponsored medical experiments. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s just a ground-floor room in a genteel country inn somewhere. And those medical experiments? They consist of Kratsch tossing a succession of nude women into the cage in the center of the room, where a similarly nude subhuman (Salvatore Baccaro, who also played subhumans in Starcrash and Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks) squats in a heap of filthy straw, waiting to rape them to death. Somehow, this has something to do with breeding an artificial new master race, but I’ll be damned if I understand how that’s supposed to work. For one thing, you’ve got to wonder how genes from that guy in the cage could confer mastery of anything except maybe nose-picking or shit-flinging. For another, wouldn’t it be just a little inconvenient for a breeding program to employ a stud who invariably kills every female who mates with him? And finally, I thought the Germans themselves were supposed to be the master race. What the hell do they want with competition from a bunch of selectively bred neo-Neanderthals?
All those questions can safely be put on the back burner, however, because Kratsch’s “experiments” don’t actually have anything to do with what we may loosely describe as the story. No, to the extent that there’s a plot in this movie, it concerns the activities of the Italian Resistance cell led by Lupo (Xiro Pappas, of Frankenstein ’80 and The Devil’s Wedding Night) and Moreno (Alfredo Rizzo, from The Slaughter of the Vampires and Five Graves for a Medium). Their most effective agent is a demolitions expert named Drago (Gino Turini, from Bloody Pit of Horror and Caligula and Messalina), who has a most unexpected hangup about killing people; he’ll blow up all the strategic bridges Lupo wants, but only after the Nazi troop trains pass over them. Even so, his talents cause the Germans a lot of headaches. The local commander, Captain Hardinghauser (Spirits of Death’s Edilio Kim), has had no success whatsoever in bringing the rebels to heel during the last five months, and his commanding officer, General von Kreutzen, is out of patience with him. Maybe the fact that Hardinghauser’s mistress, Doretta, works for the Resistance herself has something to do with the captain’s ineffectuality, you think? For that matter, Doretta’s sister, Irene (Brigitte Skay, from Bite Me, Darling and Twitch of the Death Nerve), works as Hardinghauser’s cleaning lady, and she’s a Resistance fighter, too. Even when Hardinghauser sends his men to round up the young women of the village which he believes to be the partisans’ headquarters, he has no luck in uncovering the identities of the guerillas or the location of their hideout. That being the case, von Kreutzen decides to send Dr. Kratsch out to give the captain some much-needed backup.
Kratsch’s big chance to help out comes when Hardinghauser’s soldiers capture a partisan named Stefano. Supposedly, the idea is to seduce the desired information out of him, but before Kratsch can make any headway, she gets distracted by the lecherous squawking of one of the other prisoners, and drops everything in order to cut the second man’s dick off with a bayonet. (This seems like a good time to mention that SS Hell Camp is extraordinarily egalitarian when it comes to full frontal nudity. Not coincidentally, it also seems like a good time to apologize to the women of the world for my sex’s appalling laziness in maintaining the appearance of our bodies.) Having thus failed to accomplish anything at all, she forgets all about her supposedly infallible new interrogation technique, and begins overseeing more conventional tortures instead. Stefano eventually blurts out (rather by accident, incidentally) that the partisans are being aided by village priest Don Lorenzo (Brad Harris, from The Mad Butcher and King of Kong Island). Hardinghauser and his men go to the church to follow up on this tip, but picking a fight with a man who used to star in Hercules movies isn’t a very smart idea. Don Lorenzo hulks out and beats an entire squad of soldiers senseless. The Nazis do eventually subdue him, but he makes his escape on the way to the chateau, and Kratsch never gets a chance to see if her vaunted boobs-in-the-face technique is effective on men of the cloth.
Meanwhile, a powerful Wehrmacht unit is on its way to the village, withdrawing before the Allied advance. They find the route blocked by the Resistance, leading to two grand orgies of destruction, spliced clumsily in from Luigi Batzella’s earlier When the Bell Tolls— a project that had sufficient backing to afford things like convincing uniforms, respectable pyrotechnics, large numbers of extras, and borrowed surplus military vehicles. (Note, however, that the higher production values of the recycled battle scenes do not extend to the strafing Allied aircraft, which are nothing but model-kit P-47s dangling shoddily from visible strings. It’s the same technique my high school friends and I would have used had our no-budget homebrew war movie, Flying Rednecks, ever made it past the planning stages.) With the main threat to the village thereby contained, Lupo and Drago lead a small band of partisans in a raid on Hardinghauser’s chateau, which ends with them freeing the surviving hostages and shoving Kratsch (who, it turns out, wears nothing beneath her white lab coat but a garter belt and stockings) into her own freak cage. As the ape-man goes to town on his creator, the two rebels look on with approximately the same mixture of disbelief, distaste, and resignation with which a person might observe their dog fellating himself in front of the holiday guests. It makes for a more eloquent assessment of SS Hell Camp than anything I could ever write.
If Larry Flynt had been allowed to direct an episode of “Hogan’s Heroes,” it might have come out looking something like SS Hell Camp. It surprises me not a bit that easily 90% of the cast and crew accepted no screen credit for this movie, or that the handful of people who did put their names on the screen hid to a one behind pseudonyms. It’s not just that SS Hell Camp is awe-inspiringly stupid and sleazy, but that everything about it is so woefully incompetent that you have to work hard to take actual offense at even its most belligerently offensive elements. A graphic fingernail-extraction scene might sound squirm-inducing on paper, but when the victim lethargically mumbles, “You’re hurting me…” as the pliers wrench away at her cuticles, it kind of spoils the effect. A woman with a pair of rats on her belly beneath a heated tin bucket, burrowing into her flesh to escape the flames, might sound like a nightmare scenario, but when the bucket comes off and we see that the rats are actually two of the world’s most adorable guinea pigs, it puts an entirely different spin on the situation. The repeated and seemingly endless ape-rapes might have had a little more bite to them were it not for Sal Baccaro’s conspicuously flaccid cock flopping hither and yond with abandon, putting the lie to his ludicrously enthusiastic humping. And my God, the facial expressions that man makes!!!! Particularly in the scene where the subhuman yanks out his victim’s pubic hair and eats it, Baccaro’s expressions could inspire nothing but giggles in even the most humorless audience. But honestly, would you expect anything less than an end-to-end travesty from a scenario like this one in the hands of the same man who wrote and directed Nude for Satan? No. Of course you wouldn’t.
This review is part of a B-Masters Cabal salute to the Video Nasties. Click the banner below to see just how much nastiness my colleagues and I could take.