Dir. Jean LaFleur
There are many things I praise the BBFC, British Board of Film Classification, for since 2000, when they became more lenient on the films acceptable to see in British for the better, but there are a lot of things about them that anger me. An entire social cosmos of modern British attitudes can be gauged in what they censor as well as pass, including the contradictions. With one exception that was released on DVD over here, SS Experiment Camp (1976), the Naziploitation subgenre has never been acceptable in its mixing of sex, torture and swastikas. Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975), a Canadian film that started the subgenre proper, will probably not be released in Britain still, rejected back when it was first released. Sexual violence is one of the last remaining taboos left that, understandably despite my anti-censorship beliefs, will not die, and a film which has potentially trangressive S&M scenarios, baring a few that have been released, will probably have a tough time being passed uncut or at all still. In the outside world, that Canadian film managed to spawn Italian rip-offs, many put on the Video Nasties list, and the film itself spawned sequels that went away from the Nazis. One of them, Ilsa, The Tigress of Siberia, has been shown on British television uncut in October 2013. The hypocrisy that is latent in this is clear. A film that trivialises the Stalinist gulags, where real people died on mass, for seeing Dyanne Thorne naked and gore, is allowed to be shown on our TV yet Naziploitation is still taboo because it has more historical meaning for the country is questionable even if I'm glad the film was actually broadcasted. I am baring in mind that it hasn't got a lot of really objectionable material that would trouble the BBFC, but the issue is there. If suddenly Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS was passed or another Naziploitation film was released, I would not say this, but until then this point sticks out. As for the film itself...
The first half is set in a Serbia gulag, where dissidents are brainwashed for the Stalinist cause by Ilsa (Thorne) and her minions/sex partners. One man stands out as being unbreakable, which she wants to reverse. Made with a ragged tone, set in almost desolate locations using Canadian snowy wilderness, it's still pretty raw even by today's standards despite being ridiculous. A lot of this is because, for all the freedom is cinema in terms of violence and sex now, this feels more blatant and lurid about it. The sex, where Thorne (and almost all the female cast) are naked at some point, and her character is insatiable for human comfort, feels like porn has directly influenced it even if nothing is seen. One scene with Ilsa and two of her minions, frankly, becomes double penetration, which causes me to wonder what erotica and pornography at this period of the seventies was like, as the film in these sex scenes and anytime an actress disrobes suddenly has a sheen of softcore. You suddenly expect there to be Vaseline on the camera despite the fact the same raggy look is still there in them. The other content, Ilsa's various methods of torture and brutality, are just as exaggerated. The gore is not that extreme, baring one exception, but the actual material is surprising. The tigress as a pet tiger, as you do, to feed prisoners to. The brain washing is through electric shock punishment, not that different from what the evil communists did to Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). Throughout the film there's limb removal, spear impalement and general abuse of the body. And there is a scene with two chainsaws and arm wrestling that is still striking now, something you will never see in any other film to my knowledge. It's incredibly exploitative. But maybe its my distinctions between legitimately offensive material and these exploitation films distancing further, or I've given up with certain forms of political correctness after realising it has no content to the real world and real issues of human behaviour, but I admit this first half did engage me despite trivialising real historical content. The sexuality of the film is sensual, and titillating in a very vulgar but potent way. An older woman here, Thorne is attractive here while not becoming the kind of actress used in, say for example, most of Andy Sidaris' films whose there because she has large assets, if one is to be honest, and no charisma whatsoever. The tackiness and schlockyness of it all is actually a virtue. And in all its tactlessness in using communist purges, the film by itself is no less as offensive that actual sexual and fantasy scenarios which play with dominance, which if it's an issue for people has more to do with needing to probe the human mind that created the fantasies that criticising the actual scenarios. The only difference here is that there occasional gore from a horror movie spliced in-between it.
The second half takes a drastic shift. A huge time and geographical change. It suddenly becomes a strange, strange film, close to Jess Franco but its own weird beast of erotic political thriller. The use of a computer that projects one's nightmares leads to surreal images, and the film at this point gets completely silly rather than tasteless. Someone dies by a waterbed in the least expected way possible. There's unexpected use of a spear on a modern piece of technology. And at this point the real issue with the film is clear. It's not that it weaves sexuality and violence in disconcerting ways. Many films do this that I have defended. Some are awful however because their lifeless, terrible filmmaking actually makes the content offensive because, stripped of any craft, it becomes clear these films are just an excuse to pander to this material in a lazy, presumed to be inherent way rather than something legitimately transgressive. Here, with Ilsa, The Tigress of Siberia, the problem is just that its workman-like schlock. It's entertaining as it is, far from offensive in my mind, but there's no craft. Remove Thorne, and it's a generic film which sustains itself through an occasionally ridiculous moment and sex. Not through real craft, imagination or being truly gonzo and weird. It's strange, but not truly weird to be an interesting cult movie.
Altogether this film is watchable. Merely tasteless entertainment because, barring the historical reference, there is nothing to be offended by even if it's still pretty surprising. It pushes itself close to the camp of films made by Jess Franco, rarely made now even in a period which has a great deal of artistic freedom, this fact counterbalanced by a hesitance to go this direction for political correctness or for the likelihood now of making it in a way that actually feels cheap rather than trangressive and potentially artistic. Unlike a good Franco film, its no way near as interesting. As distinct with a unique voice. It's no way near as bizarre as it could have been considering the direction it goes with computer generated nightmares and Soviet mercenary raids. The fact that it's a sequel probably doesn't help. Without seeing the original, I can still see that this is trying to continue spinning the wheels for a series with some desperation. Desperate use of nudity and sex. A Soviet theme that feels there to give the series one to follow from Nazis and Middle Eastern oil sheiks in the previous films. Violence and a tiger cage just because it could keep the viewers wanting more. It's a seventies exploitation film that is just entertaining, guilty pleasure or not, not quirky enough, not made with enough passion, not even ramshackle enough for me. I enjoyed it. Revealing in its luridness. But I can think of films better in these categories to rewatch over and over again.