Nazi exploitation (also Nazisploitation) is a subgenre of exploitation film and sexploitation film that involves villainous Nazis committing criminal acts of a sexual nature, often as camp or prison overseers in World War II settings. Most follow the standard women-in-prison formula, only relocated to a concentration camp, death camp or a Nazi brothel, with an added emphasis on sadism, gore, and degradation. The most infamous and influential title (and the one that set the standards of the genre) is perhaps Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974), a Canadian production. Its surprise success and sequels led European film-makers, mostly in Italy, to produce dozens of similar films depicting Nazi atrocities. While the Ilsa series were profitable, the other films were mostly box-office flops and the genre all but vanished by the mid-1980s.
In Italy, these films are known as part of the "il sadiconazista" cycle which is largely inspired by such art-house films as Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974), Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) and Tinto Brass's Salon Kitty (1976). Prominent directors of the genre include Paolo Solvay (La Bestia in Calore, aka The Beast in Heat, SS Hell Camp), Cesare Canevari (L'ultima orgia del III Reich, aka Last Orgy of the Third Reich, Gestapo's Last Orgy), and Alain Payet (Train spécial pour SS, aka Special Train for Hitler, Helltrain), all from 1977.
A blend of sexual imagery and Nazi themes was pioneered by Italian directors and can be found as early as 1945 in Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossellini. Another Rossellini film, Germany Year Zero (1948), connects Nazism with homosexuality and pedophilia. A major influence on the genre was the controversial art-house production The Damned (1969), directed by Luchino Visconti, about the rise and fall of a German industrialist family in the Third Reich. The film featured an orgy of homosexual SA-Men, and depicted one of the main characters who eventually joins the SS as a troubled multiple pervert, posing in a transvestite outfit, molesting little girls, and finally, committing incest with his own mother. Other early examples of sexual themes and Nazism combined can be found in the West German productions Des Teufels General (The Devil's General) (1955) by Helmut Käutner and Lebensborn/Ordered to Love (1961).
The critically acclaimed 1964 film The Pawnbroker includes a flashback scene showing nude women kept in a concentration camp brothel. The Italian Giallo thriller In the Folds of the Flesh (aka Nelle pieghe della carne, 1970) has a similar flashback sequence of attractive nude women being sent to a Nazi gas chamber. But the earliest sexploitation film set in a Nazi camp was Love Camp 7 (1969). It was also the vanguard of the modern women-in-prison genre that emerged in the early 1970s.
Love Camp 7 established the pattern for the many films that followed. The story resembles a "true adventure" pulp yarn from a men's adventure magazine of the period. In order to rescue a Jewish scientist, two female agents infiltrate a Nazi Joy Division camp, where prisoners are kept as sex slaves for German officers. There are scenes of boot-licking humiliation, whipping, torture, lesbianism, and near-rape, culminating in a violent and bloody escape. The stock characters include a cruel and perverse commandant, a lesbian doctor, sadistic guards who freely abuse the prisoners, and a sympathetic German who tries to help the prisoners.
Producer David F. Friedman had a small acting role in Love Camp 7. He went on to produce Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS in 1974. Ilsa was unique in that the camp commandant was a sexy (and sex-crazed) woman played by the busty, and frequently nude Dyanne Thorne. Between sex scenes, Ilsa subjects her male and female inmates to horrific scientific tests, much like Josef Mengele's notorious Nazi human experimentation at Auschwitz. Some of the tests on hypothermia and pressure-chamber endurance were factual, while others were pure fantasy. For example, Ilsa has a male and female prisoner flogged to death to prove her theory that women can endure more pain than men.
The character is also loosely based on "The Witch of Buchenwald", Ilse Koch, the wife of the commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Koch was known for having perverse sexual dalliances with the prisoners and was rumored to have had lampshades made from human skin.
Ilsa includes the standard elements of sadism, degradation, whipping, sexual slavery, graphic torture, and a bloody finale with Ilsa shot dead and the camp set ablaze. This was a surprise hit on the drive-in theater and grindhouse circuit. Ilsa was resurrected for a trio of profitable sequels that ignored her Nazi origins and are closer to the women-in-prison genre. As a freelance mistress-for-hire, she became Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976), commander of a 1953 gulag in Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia (1977), and ran a corrupt Latin-American prison in Ilsa, the Wicked Warden (1977).
Meanwhile, European filmmakers were creating their own lurid Nazi movies with Ilsa-type villains. In 1977, Malisa Longo starred in Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg as a black-booted, leather-clad, sexually sadistic commander of a prison camp for women. That year, Longo also starred in the Salon Kitty-inspired Fraulein Devil (aka Elsa: Fraulein SS) as Elsa, a former hooker with a penchant for S&M, who manages a Nazi brothel train. This was filmed back-to-back with Hitler's Last Train (aka Special Train for the SS, Helltrain, Love Train for the SS, 1977). These films plus Nathalie: Escape from Hell (1978) were produced by the French studio Eurociné.
One of the most notorious films in this genre is La Bestia in Calore (aka SS Hell Camp, The Beast In Heat), produced in Italy in 1977. German actress Macha Magall played Dr. Ellen Kratsch, another icy blond Nazi who is sexy yet thoroughly evil. This film, with its extensive and graphic scenes of torture, brutality and rape, was initially banned in England. A milder, edited version was released in the U.S. as SS Experiment Camp 2. Magall was also in SS Girls (1976), another story set in a Nazi brothel.
The Nazi exploitation subgenre presented an opportunity for Italian studios to make very low-cost horror pictures whilst tapping a previously ignored market; the exploitation war film. The Italian films are different from "Ilsa" in many ways, for instance, they focus on far more extreme aspects of human abuse.
The films of 1976 include: Sergio Garrone's SS Experiment Camp (aka SS Experiment Love Camp), depicting soft-core sex scenes and the castration of an SS officer. SS Hell Camp, Luigi Batzella's second Nazi film, featured a sexually crazed mutant created by an Ilsa-like Nazi scientist. SS Girls, directed by Bruno Mattei, is a blatant copy of Salon Kitty. Mattei also made Women's Camp 119 starring Lorraine De Selle. This film depicts horrific scientific experiments performed on prisoners based on actual documents. SS Special Section Women stars John Steiner as a sex-crazed SS Commandant whose love for a Jewish girl costs him his manhood. Achtung! The Desert Tigers, from Luigi Batzella, is interwoven with stock footage and scenes at a Nazi camp in the desert where tortures abound.
1977 saw the release of The Gestapo's Last Orgy (aka Caligula Reincarnated as Hitler), which depicts a love affair between a camp Commandant and a prisoner. SS Camp 5: Women’s Hell is SS Experiment Camp's sister film featuring the same cast and crew. Red Nights of the Gestapo is a soft-core sex film with SS soldiers abusing women in a castle. Nazi Love Camp 27, starring Sirpa Lane as a Jewish girl forced into a brothel, is notable for its hardcore sex scenes and for being written by famed scripter Gianfanco Clerici.
By the end of the decade the genre had run its course.
Adult films also exploited Nazi scenarios in a string of sadomasochistic "roughie" pornographic films in the '70s and early '80s. Examples include the Mitchell brothers' Hot Nazis, Nazi Love Island with John Holmes and Seka, and Hitler's Harlot. One of the last entries, Stalag 69 (1982), starred Angelique Pettyjohn as an Ilsa-type SS officer. The story was largely a remake of Love Camp 7, bringing the cycle back to its origins. The genre remained mostly dormant for the next two decades. In 2006, Mood Pictures, a Hungarian producer of S&M films, released Gestapo, Gestapo 2, and Dr. Mengele in 2008, all of which are set in a Nazi prison camp and pay homage to Ilsa and the Italian exploitation films.
In 2007, as part of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's tribute to exploitation cinema, Grindhouse, director Rob Zombie created a trailer for a fake film called Werewolf Women of the SS, starring Nicolas Cage and Udo Kier. According to Zombie, "Basically, I had two ideas. It was either going to be a Nazi movie or a women-in-prison film, and I went with the Nazis. There's all those movies like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS; Fräulein Devil; and Love Camp 7—I've always found that to be the most bizarre genre." On December 18, 2007, Zombie posted an entry on his MySpace page, asking if people would want to see a feature-length version of Werewolf Women of the SS.
In Frank Miller's 2009 film version of the pulp comic The Spirit, the supercriminal known only as "The Octopus" (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is portrayed as being so insane that, rather than picking a recurring theme as most supervillains traditionally do, he dresses in an entirely different wardrobe on a day-to-day basis, depending on his mood (additionally providing a matching costume for his henchwoman, Silken Floss). In one scene, he is wearing a full SS officer's uniform, and his hideout has been adorned with flags, statues, and portraits of the Third Reich.
Most of the Nazi exploitation films have stalag settings with young female inmates like Women's Camp 119. Their tormentors are female or male Nazi officers in SS uniforms, usually speaking with a fake German accent and irrelevant or mispronounced German words, who often use "experiments" as excuses to implement sadistic physical violence (perhaps inspired by the work of people like Josef Mengele, who performed medical experiments that often killed people). There are scenes of sexual conduct or, more routinely, exposed nude bodies of the victimised inmates. The level of violence depicted in these films may often reach the gore level.
It should be noted this genre mainly focused on female SS officers. It presented them as lusty as well as buxom women, such as Dyanne Thorne's Ilsa, who also sexually abused their male prisoners (mainly in non-statutory female-on-male rape fashion). As the setting is a Stalag (prisoner-of-war camp), not a concentration camp, the prisoners are mainly Allied soldiers, not Jewish civilians.
There are also many films that do not follow the conventions of Nazi exploitation, such as Bordel SS (1978) of José Bénazéraf (one of the very few Nazi exploitation films to hold the dubious honor of having actual hardcore sex) and Salon Kitty (1976) of Tinto Brass. These films are not usually considered as "prototypical" Nazi exploitation films and qualify more for the "art house" subgenre. However, because of the vague term, even the film Il portiere di notte (The Night Porter) (1974) by Liliana Cavani that (in the opinion of many) lacks the exploitation motive, may be deemed one such film.
Laura Frost's book Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism (2002) (ISBN 0801487641) says that the genre is part of a problematic attempt to link political deviance (i.e. fascism, militarism, genocide) with sexual deviance (i.e. sadomasochism, homosexuality, transvestism, pedophilia).
Sometime in the early 1980s, Nazi exploitation films made their way onto the British market, made popular by the growing VHS home video technology. With major Hollywood studios steering clear of the new format, it was left to small, domestic companies to populate the shelves with tapes. A small company from England, GO Video, purchased the rights to an Italian film named SS Experiment Camp. The company ran a marketing campaign with full-page ads showing a naked woman hanging from her feet, a swastika dangling from her wrist and an SS commander looming in the background. Advertisements for the film in video rental stores became a target for protestors, who picketed such stores and petitioned for the film to be banned. After the Video Recordings Act, most of the Nazi exploitation films (labelled 'Nazi Nasties') were denied BBFC classifications. The following Nazi exploitation films were taken off the shelves:
Of the above films, only SS Experiment Camp is now available in the UK.
In Israel specifically, during the 1960s, "Stalag fiction" was pocket books whose stories focused on the unique features of this genre. The phenomena took ground in parallel to the 1961 Eichmann trial. Sales of this pornographic literature broke all records in Israel as hundreds of thousands of copies were sold at kiosks. They were inspired by Ka-tzetnik 135633's The House of Dolls, the experiences of a Jewish girl prostituted in the "Joy Division" (Block 24) of the Auschwitz camp, the factuality of which is disputed.