The nazisploitation sub-genre was one of the branches of exploitation cinema which saw a growing market for this taboo kind of sleaze, most prominently in the 1970’s. These types of movies involved themes of degradation, perversion and sexual humiliation and the majority of them fell under the “women in prison” banner.
Well-known titles included Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS in 1974, SS Experiment Camp and The Beast in Heat. They featured a level of uncomfortable violence and several titles inevitably found themselves on the Video Nasties List by the time the 1980’s rolled around. Considering their unapologetic subject matter and blatant offensiveness to a general audience it’s no surprise that these films became an easy target for the censors.
Following the same formula yet surprisingly tamer was Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg, a late 1970’s offering from French director Patrice Rhomm. Helga, along with the previously reviewed Female Vampire is released as part of Maison Rouge, a new cult film label that specialises specifically in euro sleaze cinema.
Helga (played by Malisa Longo), is a stern but viscous warden in a prison that keeps political prisoners captive, each of them female (sex) slaves. The women are victimised and forced into sexual exploits against their will. The more they fight back the worse their punishments become, expect plenty of whipping! Anarchy and chaos ensues when a new inmate and the daughter of a rebellious leader, Elisabeth Vogel (played by Patrizia Gori) causes havoc and plots against Helga and her guards as she becomes tired of all the depravity Helga inflicts on her and her fellow prisoners.
To enjoy a film like Helga, there certainly needs to be an appreciation for this sub-genre as it doesn’t display much general appeal. Plenty could have been cut from this movie as the repetitive scenes of sex mixed with repulsion are a drag to sit through. It’s not until half way through the film that things get going with the arrival of Elisabeth. Despite how grimy and mean-spirited this film comes across as, abrupt cuts mean that not a huge amount is shown. As stated earlier the whole thing is rather tame. The assumption is that it was intended to be titillating but in fact it’s a rather slow, mundane viewing. Essentially, for over half the film it’s just about attractive young women being showered, whipped, sexually abused and punished, rinse and repeat. Nothing about it stands out.
Malisa Longo has a striking screen presence in the title role of Helga but the general tone of the film makes her come off as quite campy rather than overly threatening. None of the acting or little storyline there is is riveting in any way shape or form.
Compared to its counterparts what’s interesting about Helga is it doesn’t blatantly use any Nazi imagery. Of course, the general construction of the guard’s uniform has implications with the red badge on their sleeves but it avoids using swastikas, demonstrating again that it isn’t trying to go all out like some of the films similar to it. Another brownie point is that it does have some pleasant location shots which are countlessly repeated when transitioning between scenes, for example Helga is getting it on with one of her conquests (victims!) and then it cuts to a nice shot of the Stilberg castle and some trees! This was quite welcoming as the notion of sitting through boring soft-core would have prolonged the film even further.
It’s unclear whether Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg has a place with modern audiences as it’s so niche. 1970’s nazisploitation movies are hardly hot property on the genre market these days and this one doesn’t uphold the vulgarity of its counterparts to even have some memorability about it. Maison Rouge’s restoration is polished and somewhat takes away it’s grotty, exploitation feel. If you’re nostalgic for ‘women in prison’ movies, then there may be something on offer in this but it’s neither nasty enough or depraved enough to even make its mark and isn’t the best example of its kind.