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Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Dyanne Thorne, Lina Romay, Tania Busselier, Eric Falk, Esther Studer, Esther Moser, Peggy Markoff
Length: 95 min
Rating: FSK: 18
Label: Ascot Elite Home Entertainment
Release Date: Oct 22, 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: German, English, Italian: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, Japanese
- Featurette consisting of interviews with Jess Franco, Erwin C. Dietrich, and Lina Romay
- Audio interview with Jess Franco (in French)- 40-minutes
- Photo Gallery
While many criticize exploitation cinema for its crass delivery and unabashed coverage of taboo topics, there is one thing that cannot be denied: exploitation is nothing if not honest, and performs exactly the function its title suggests. Covering a broad range of subjects set out to titillate, disgust, and shock, no topic has been off limits—and none perhaps so lurid and shocking as Naziploitation. And so, Diabolique continues its journey into Ascot Elite’s Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection—with a title that associates itself with one of the most memorable moments in the limited subgenre of Naziploitation—namely Ilsa She Wolf of the SS (1975), and the series that followed. An association in name only, Ilsa: The Wicked Warden (1977) became Jess Franco’s ‘unofficial’ chapter in the ‘Ilsa’ quadrilogy, labelled as such because of the association with lead actress Dyanne Thorne. Canadian producers were keen to carry on from the success of the previous two Ilsa films and had international prints renamed to reflect the connection. This German edition—in its full Director’s cut—shows the title on the print in its original format Greta: Haus Ohne Männer aka Greta, The Mad Butcher, the film has also been titled Wanda the Wicked Warden.
Naziploitation was an odd genre and one that many—even today—remain uncomfortable with. Leading on from the popularity of straight up Women in Prison films, the genre allowed for an extra amount of distasteful content to be brought onto the table. Many of the titles in this strange hybrid of cinema could be considered crass, cheaply made, and only of mild entertainment value. Although not completely without interest, some could be enjoyed because they were so badly made they could not be taken for anything but unintentional comedy—take Luigi Batzella’s Beast in Heat (1977) for example. There was one film that stood out like a diamond in the rough however—Ilsa She Wolf of the SS (1975). The original film blends a dark sadistic energy with Dyanne Thorne’s strong characterisation of one of exploitation’s enduring super bitches. Thorne carries such a presence in her original role that she successfully portrays camp sinister that borders on pantomime villain and infuses this with a distinctly theatrical zeal. Many films tried and failed to copy this formula, yet without Thorne the resulting product lacked that certain je ne sais quoi. So it was, that this film went on to become a series. Removing the Gestapo element, Thorne found herself resurrecting the role in Ilsa Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976); this time she was charged with collecting female sex slaves for a rich Arab. The formula was kept—although toned down to some extent—with sex and torture remaining firmly on the menu; along with Thorne’s wildly overplayed villain at centre stage—faux foreign accent, and all. Here—in part three (or four depending on your source, Ilsa Tigress of Siberia was also produced in 1977)—the script keeps some elements of the original film. However producer Erwin C Dietrich states, in an interview included with this edition, the film was never originally intended as an Ilsa instalment. Whether or not this was the case it must be said that as well as the association with Thorne the film does bear enough similarities with the rest of the series to be regarded as a fitting title.Thorne plays—depending on what language you are watching in—Greta/Ilsa/Wanda, the sadistic governess of a jungle based mental institution. The film begins with a girl escaping the institution who, after being injured in the pursuit, ends up crawling up to the abode of the kindly Dr. Milton Arcos (played by director Franco). Thorne arrives, with her hired rifle-bearing thugs in tow, and insists the girl is returned. After relenting, the alarmed doctor begins to investigate the institution—questioning the methods used there. Arcos does not get very far; however, that is until he stumbles upon the girl’s sister Abbie Phillips (Tania Busselier). The two come up with the slightly misguided plan of getting journalist Abbie committed so she can find out what is going on inside and what has happened to her sister. While the other three titles were Canadian produced, this Ilsa addition has a very European feel, in line with the production. For the first three-quarters, the film, under the all-seeing lens of Franco, is an exercise in viewing naked female flesh. The other three movies had their fair share of sexploitation, but here Franco firmly has his mark stamped all over the print. This factor is demonstrated in the abundance of shots hovering over women’s bare crotches—in fact the inmates are only allowed shirts and no underwear, for reasons only explained by the fact that the director probably wanted to keep the actresses suitably exposed. Even Thorne, who in the other titles always seems to manage to keep her body at such an angle that she avoids full frontal, is no match for Franco’s voyeuristic camerawork.
This shift in focus means that Thorne to some extent no longer takes centre stage. We learn a lot more about the plight of the prisoners than the other Ilsa installments. The biggest difference, being the addition to the cast of Franco’s long-time collaborator and muse, Lina Romay. Romay, far from being a supporting character in her portrayal of Juana the camp snitch, brings with her presence to rival Thorne’s. For the other Ilsa films, it is safe to say Thorne shines out among the rest of the cast, yet here she competes with the enigmatic screen persona of Romay; the two making for a beguiling double act. Thorne’s usual camp performance is slightly subdued due to her lack of screen time, but the inclusion of Romay makes it worth the compromise.When the plot starts to build to its conclusion, there are some particularly nasty aspects brought into the pot involving a pornography ring, juicy torture scenes, and some impromptu lobotomy treatments. A certain freak component is blended in that lends the film a sense of the circus sideshow as the story peaks, giving the resulting product a very offbeat feel. It must also be noted this installment holds, arguably, one of the most innovative endings of the series; as well as, one of the most degrading moments involving Lina Romay and a certain toilet paper scene that is not to be watched on an empty stomach. All in all, while the film does not live up to the original Ilsa, it is a solid entry into the series, and one which—depending on what you are looking for—makes for an entertaining watch. For English speakers, the English dub track comes highly recommended for the use of bizarre language and phrasing which only serves to add to the enjoyment of the film.
Ascot Elite’s HD presentation of this release is almost flawless—the colors present are strong, well balanced, and naturalistic. Detail is well defined, and you can almost taste the beads of the jungle sweat dripping off the array of naked flesh on display. For a Jess Franco film, the restoration appears to have given the feature an entire new lease on life. The print is not heavy in grain, yet still manages to retain a 70s’ glow to some extent. There does not appear to be any digital flaws or attempts to over-sharpen the image, but if you compare this to the original Elite DVD collection—which was also of good quality—the entire series appears to have benefited greatly from being re-issued to Blu-ray. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
The film comes with various language tracks—French, German, English, Italian—with optional English and Japanese subtitles for the non-English dub tracks. The sound levels are well mixed and in line with the quality of the print, and do not seem to demonstrate any age related flaws.
Light on extras, there is a small interview featurette included on this release in which producer Erwin C Dietrich gives some interesting insights into the making of Ilsa: the Mad Butcher, and his time working with the stars involved. Director Jess Franco also appears in an archive interview talking about the time he and Lina spent working and filming in Switzerland. While not extensive, the interview with Franco proves to be extremely touching, as the director becomes choked up, as he remembers happy times in his career and working with his late wife. Included here are also a number of German trailers for some of the other titles in the Jess Franco Golden Goya series, a photo gallery, and an audio-only interview with Franco, in French, without English subtitles.
For Ilsa fans Ilsa: the Mad Butcher provides a solid entry into the series, albeit with a distinctly euro-flavor. Gushing with nudity and strong performances from Dyanne Thorne and Lina Romay, the film provides enough sleaze and shock-value to satisfy even the most hardened exploitation fan. While not hitting the highs of the original Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, this is still one title worth picking up. The pristine print and amount of language options available here are sure to please Franco fans all over the world.