Archive for February 1974

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS

February 2, 1974

Trash-movie fans might think, before seeing this infamous film, that a softcore-porn/bondage exploitation flick set in a Nazi concentration camp sounds so politically incorrect — so defiantly foul — that it has to be good, or at least worth a look. Think again. Ilsa, the first of four films, is inept and profoundly disgusting in all the wrong ways. Great exploitation, whatever else it lacks, has a human heart. This one doesn’t; it’s cold and grotesque. The ample-chested Dyanne Thorne stars as Ilsa, a sadistic doctor who performs experiments on prisoners (mostly female) at a secret German medical post. She’s known for taking male prisoners to bed and then castrating them, sending their penises to a colleague to support his theory that Jews are inferior even in genital size. (One good joke comes of this: a prisoner explains that he escaped emasculation because “it would have spoiled the doctor’s theory.”) But Ilsa has the most fun with the women, whom she uses to back up her own theory that females can withstand far more pain than men can. So we watch as women are whipped, hanged, shocked, boiled, raped — all served up for our titillation by Don Edmunds, a director who once decked an actress on the set of one of his movies because she complained too much. The film’s recurring visual is a large, painful foreign object shoved into a woman’s vagina — we see this at least three times. To add insult to puerility, at the beginning there’s a note from the producer making this piece of shit sound like a daring, honest inquiry into the horrors of the Holocaust. The whole affair stretched even my considerable tolerance to the breaking point. I stuck it out primarily so I could say I viewed the whole thing and could therefore judge it fairly. Despite a lot of competition, this is perhaps the most poisonous thing passing itself off as a movie that I’ve ever seen. It was apparently popular enough to warrant three sequels, and there were dozens more like it in the years to come. There still are.


February 1, 1974

In one of those bits of synchronicity that seem to happen now and again, two groups of horror filmmakers — one down in the sweat and heat of Texas, the other up in the chill and frost of Ontario, both around the same time — made movies inspired by the notorious Wisconsin psycho Ed Gein. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the better-known movie, mainly by virtue of being a far better film. But we shouldn’t ignore Deranged, which offers a top-drawer performance by Roberts Blossom as “Ezra Cobb,” the movie’s thinly-veiled version of Gein. Directorially it’s no great shakes, the corpse effects by a young Tom Savini are nowhere near up to what he would later accomplish, and even at 82 minutes it has slow spots. Still, the movie has an undeniably unique feel, subdued and (in the early scenes, when Ezra faces the death of his beloved, domineering mother) even fairly depressing. Much of what’s here can also be seen in the later Ed Gein, except for the sequence in which Ezra kidnaps a buxom barmaid and ties her down for a nice dinner with various corpses seated around the table.

The similarities between Chainsaw and Deranged — and between the marketing of the two — are often striking, but according to the IMDb, Deranged was released in February 1974, while Chainsaw debuted in October of that year. Clearly, neither ripped off the other. And Deranged has what Chainsaw, for all its fine naturalistic acting, didn’t: Roberts Blossom, who worked with Scorsese (Last Temptation of Christ), Spielberg (twice, in Close Encounters and Always), and John Carpenter (Christine). Like Steve Railsback 16 years later, he plays Ed/Ezra as a shy mama’s boy whose strangeness can easily be mistaken for backwoods taciturnity.

Deranged has been released on DVD as one of those MGM Midnite Movies Double Features, sharing a disc with 1980’s Motel Hell (the connection being weird business out in the boonies, I guess). It is not the uncut “restored” version (available on a German import disc) and does not include the scene wherein Ezra mutilates a Sunday-school teacher’s corpse. Those who care about such things will be incensed by the omission; those who don’t, won’t.