This notorious 1970s women in prison classic, finally available for the first time in North America. Taking a cue from Don Edmond’s classic Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Helga moves the action to South America, where she lords over a castle of female political prisoners, who are stripped and tortured at whim, until local rebels help them fight back against their captors and attempt escape.
Oh Helga, you are a strange one. Taking its cue from so many other Nazisploitation films of the time, Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg presents a very familiar story with very familiar, subgenre-specific tropes while only introducing a small handful of unique, and slightly confusing, new elements to the mix. This Italian film was directed by French filmmaker Patrice Rhomm, but under the name Alain Garnier (not his only entry to the subgenre – he also directed Captive Women 4, aka Elsa Fraulein SS, but under the name Mike Staar) and was written by H. L Rostaine, aka Marius Lesoeur (occasional writer, but more often producer of a long list of exploitation gems, including films by Jesus Franco, Jean Rollin, and others). As is often the case, Helga had a great variety of titles, depending on the release – Helga, la Louve de Stilberg; Helga the Leather Mistress; Girl Slaves; Bloody Camp – and much like you might expect from the title, it also has a great number of similarities to Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. I suppose the film does raise one slightly important question: can a film be categorized as “Nazisploitation” if it does not feature a single Nazi?
Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg features Malisa Longo in the titular role (included in her vast acting resume are Bruce Lee’s The Way of The Dragon, Salon Kitty, and even Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain), a character no doubt borrowing heavily from Dyanne Thorne’s Ilsa. Helga is a high-ranking member of…I don’t really know, some presumably fascist dictatorship that wears red arm bands but is culturally diverse?
She is put in charge of Stilberg, a castle where political prisoners are held, after being insulted by the president (?), who tells her she knows nothing of politics because she is a woman. This, of course, makes her furious and she sets out to prove herself through brutality and zero tolerance (in other words, a non-German Ilsa situation). There is a normal routine of women being punished, tortured, and even “rented” to a nearby farmer in exchange for a bottle of booze, and of course Helga regularly sleeps with whoever she desires at the moment. But things change when Elizabeth (Patrizia Gori) arrives as the new prisoner and manages to both win the attention of Helga and get talk started of a prison break amongst her fellow captives.
As I mentioned, this movie displays a lot of the same tropes as so many other Nazisploitation films of the time. Of course there is the attractive, dominating female leader (Helga) who has a mean streak that can only be matched by her insatiable sexual appetite. Of course there is torture inflicted on the primarily female prison population, although not nearly as explicit or gruesome as many of this film’s predecessors. And of course there is a heaping amount of bare female skin from beginning to end.
But while I hate to pick on technicalities in an exploitation film, there is a nagging problem with the story – who are these people? When the Nazis are the bad guys in these films, we understand the scope of the situation. But here we seem to have a small army of “bad guys” and a small army of “rebels” with bases very near each other, and it all comes across as more of an expanded game of “king of the hill” rather than a global, or even nationwide, war. Not a huge deal, more just a note of one aspect that hindered the overall experience of the film. I mean, there’s also some shaky acting, and a little too much familiarity that prove to be more problematic in the big picture, although some of this is negated by the somewhat surprising cliffhanger of an ending.
Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg is a film that will be best enjoyed by the small subsect of the horror population that actively seek out the Nazisploitation and women in prison films of the 60s and 70s. And if you are one of those exploitation fans, the odds are that you have a high tolerance for cheese and repetition – I know I do. This is a very formulaic film, for the most part predictable and more “par for the course” than original or ground-breaking. That being said, it is an entertaining film, one that is as flawed as it is fun. One does not go in to a viewing expecting to have to think, but rather goes in expecting boobs and blood and cheesy action. If a thought-provoking film is what you’re after, you’ll want to look elsewhere…but if the sex and violence are your thing, Helga is your perfect partner.