SS Experiment Camp (1976)

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“That Nazi’s hot!”

Words you don’t expect to be saying on a drizzly Thursday night in front of the TV. Oh who am I kidding? Give me some Hugo Boss Jack-booted and slightly camp eye candy any day, I’m not ashamed. Blame Helmut Berger, Dirk Bogarde and all the other fine actors who’ve stepped into the leather boots of a morally troubling antagonist over the years, making me question just what it is about these movies I’m so drawn to.

Well sometimes you just want to be appalled by something, don’t you? Sit down to watch A Serbian Film, The Human Centipede, or I dare say Speed 2: Cruise Control and you’ll come out of the room satisfied and dirty and in need of a long hot shower. I get my freak show kicks all over the place but nothing makes you feel quite as wrong as Nazisploitation. Whether its the high end Salon Kitty with its camp Dietrich-cum-Lady-Gaga heroine rubbing oversized shoulder-pads with midget porn and slaughter-house footage, or bad old Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, with Dyanne Thorne looking like Krystle Carrington’s Nazi cousin with her blonde bangs and giant tits… you want nasty, go Nazi.

Salon Kitty alone features so much queer imagery mixed up in its dark maze of fetish and horror that I’ll be coming back to delve deeper into that in a future blog and podcast.

So I finally went for it and grabbed the 88 Films release of SS Experiment Camp. This film reportedly kicked off the ‘video nasty’ scandal, although I could have sworn that honour goes to Driller Killer, but either way the image of a naked girl bound naked upside down under the gaze of an evil Nazi commandant was always going to ruffle feathers. Think of every heartbreaking, infuriating and downright shocking image you’ve ever seen of ‘life’ in a concentration camp. Got it? Okay. Throw that away. Stamp all over any semblance of good taste. Replace the gaunt, emaciated victims of the holocaust with cheap, make-up-covered centrefold vixens, sprinkle in some rape, mutilation and any excuse for bare breasts and you’ve got this film.

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Turned off? Repulsed? Horrified? Offended? You should be. The sheer horror loses its power when you see the execution of most of these films. I mean on one hand it makes you even more angry that they were made with such flimsy budgets and flimsier moral compasses, something so weighty, so unbelievably tragic, reduced to a tawdry sex movie with added blood and gore. But on the other hand, you came here to be shocked and offended so pipe down and watch the rest of the damn movie.

If you stick with it you’ll get a damp squib attempt at a love story, a predatory lesbian (obviously), a forced testicular transplant that must be seen to be believed, and – for fellow queer viewers and ladies who like men – you get some damn fine male flesh on show. In my ongoing crusade to re-address the balance in a genre seemingly hellbent on turning women into sex dolls splayed on a slab to be prodded, I’d like to salute the rather beautiful Mircha Carven.

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Playing Nazi soldier Helmut, he’s the piercing blue eyed boy of the third reich is considered the most virile of the lot (yeah right, he’s never picked up a Luger in those manicured model hands), and after falling for a female POW during one of the camp’s many sexperiments he becomes the object of the commandant’s unwanted attention. He’s got something the boss Nazi wants – balls, big ones, and he’ll stop at nothing to get them.

No, this really happens. Somewhere amongst the rape and torture and terrible 70s hair, a beautiful man’s balls are at peril. I’m describing it in a way that makes it sound interesting, quirky and exciting, but the execution of this and all the other plot lines is so inept its rendered almost dull. But watch it for Mircha, watch it for the boys in the barracks being coraled to take part in the naked experiments which are carried out – and I quote the marketing of this fine piece of work – “in pursuit of a better tomorrow!”

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Then go get that shower. You’re gonna need it.

(JL)

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The Love Witch Review

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Sashaying her way on to Blu Ray/VOD this week is Anna Biller’s ‘The Love Witch.’ Starring Samantha Robinson, this technicolor treat for the eyes follows Elaine, the titular witch, as she travels from San Francisco to small town California to start a new life and find… you guessed it. Love.

Elaine’s got a past. As the film progresses at a sometimes problematic leisurely pace, we learn that Elaine suffered mental abuse at the hands of her husband who put her down and made her feel worthless. So to counter that she did the only logical thing a woman could do and joined a coven of witches housed in a San Francisco strip joint. So what made her flee Frisco for small-town life? I won’t spoil that.

Suffice to say Elaine just wants to be loved – and what better way to find l’amour than to use love potions and cast her spell over every eligible man she can find. I use the term eligible loosely as we come to realise that Elaine is not above stealing another woman’s man. But Elaine needs all-encompassing, heart-pounding, Mills and Boons love… and we soon come to realise that most of these macho men just ain’t up to the job. A woman knows how to survive the floodgates opening and her emotions taking over – but a man? As we come to find out, fellas just can’t handle it. And the bodies start to pile up…

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To say this film is camp would be an understatement. Viewers queer and otherwise are in for an indulgent delight with a film bathed in hot pinks and reds. The sets, the wardrobe, the make-up and even a used-tampon burst with colour. Much has been made of this film paying tribute to Russ Meyer and Roger Corman but for me the stylistic influences were more Suspiria than Supervixen. The witchcraft element will forever be linked to the Argento classic, but with the spells and potions aside this is a massive nod to sexploitation and eurotrash cinema.

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Giallo fans will no doubt spot the soundtrack references – The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh being one of them, and it’s undeniable that Samantha Robinson comes across like the love-child of Edwige Fenech and Lana Del Rey. She disrobes plenty, but the nudity is played as a tease more than anything. And restoring the balance just a little, Anna Biller’s lens lingers on the male flesh just as much as the female. Elaine’s first seduction, Wayne, played by Mad Men and daytime soap star Jeffrey Vincent Parise, puts his pert butt on display more prominently than Elaine does in their first sex scene. And the eventual love interest and romantic hero Detective Griff (Gian Keys), has all the square-jaw, twinkly-eyed, wavy-haired matinee idol chops to make the most hardened heterosexual male admit he’s swoonsome!

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Biller uses a dainty dessert fork to poke at the gender politics of the 60s and 70s. In one scene Elaine advises her best friend Trish that women should be every fantasy sex doll their man wants and needs. But no more than 20 minutes later she’s got a dead hunk on her hands because he was just too weak to be the man she needed. For good measure she then waves a bloody tampon in front of the camera to remind us that The Love Witch won’t be bringing us our morning paper and getting on her knees for Steak and BJ Wednesday any time soon.

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It’s lovingly crafted, expertly so by Anna Biller who had a hand in the set design, the costumes, the paintings on the walls of Elaine’s sumptuous gothic apartment, not to mention writing and directing AND putting together the score. The Love Witch is a triumphant work of art, although I do think it could have been 20 minutes shorter. But then I think that of most films being released these days. The pace did suffer from lingering a little too much on minor details – but when they look this good you can’t really complain.

Not if you know what’s good for you…

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(JL)

Sleazy Does It – Deviating with D’Amato

Last night I thought I’d treat myself to two of Joe D’Amato’s notorious sleazy horrors from 1979/1981. This is the guy who brought us the wonderfully titled ‘Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals’. So you can imagine what I was letting myself in for.

I caught Emanuelle last year and loved it so I thought I’d treat myself to the 88 Films releases of Beyond the Darkness (1979) and Absurd (1981). Having done minor research on both I knew Absurd, an original video nasty, was held in high esteem by fans of all things sleazy and bloody. But surprisingly I preferred Beyond…

Absurd is basically a Halloween copy, only without the expert tension and atmosphere. What you do get is some nasty splatter – think guts ripped out on spiky fences, nurse with needled drilled into temple, babysitter crisped up in the oven. All good stuff and seriously unpleasant. It’s hampered by some very shoddy pacing though, and I had to keep checking I hadn’t accidentally watched a 3 hour director’s cut. The 94 minute run time dragged thanks to scenes where it took every character about 10 minutes to actually do… well, anything. But I do recommend for splatter fans if only for the gore. And queer/female viewers with bad taste in men (like me) – George Eastman, regular D’Amato collaborator who wrote this piece of work, also plays the killer and is a great hulking wall of man meat.

Beyond the Darkness, on the other hand, was a far more enjoyable watch. Kieran Canter plays Italian playboy Frank, who lives with a pervy Mrs Danvers-style housekeeper, Iris, who likes to breast feed him. The film opens with Iris making a voodoo doll of Frank’s beloved wife, causing her slow death in a hospital bed. Insane with grief, Frank steals her corpse, embalms it in a very nasty autopsy scene complete with entrails and guts, and keeps the corpse for sexy funtime. Obviously he is discovered and things get messy – fingernails yanked out with pliers, bodies dismembered and flung with gay abandon into acid baths, and even some casual cannibalism thrown in for good measure. Add to this a rather funky score by Goblin and this was the clear winner of the two.

D’Amato’s ‘Emanuelle’ cannibal outing is also available on Blu Ray via 88 Films, and that certainly doesn’t suffer from a slow pace. It also doesn’t concern itself with any kind of moral compass so if you’re looking for sleaze of the highest order I’d put that at the top of your chopping list.

Here are some lovely offensive photographs from all three, and yes that is Emanuelle fingering a girl in a straight-jacket.

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