Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet
Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg
AKA Helga, la louve de Stilberg
AKA Helga, la louve de Stilberg
Directed by Alain Garnier (AKA Patrice Rhomm)
Eurocine / MVD Visual
93 minutes, 1978 / 2016
Of all the strange exploitation subgenres that have arisen (e.g., girl gangs, women forced into a life of crime), one of the weirdest and most violent towards them is the girl-in-prison one. While there are such films that predate modern exploitation/sexploitation, it came to popularity in the late ‘50s after the birth of rock’n’roll brought the fear of a world of juvenile delinquents, and showed the degradation of the sex. That being said, the bar was upped a notch in the ‘70s with the popularizing of the next level up, women in prison camps. They had lovely titles like The Big Bird Cage (1972), Love Camp 7 (1969), and the most infamous being Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975), which led to a series with essentially the same character played by the powerful Amazonian screen presence of Dyanne Thorne.
The formula for the genre is exceedingly similar: women get physically and mentally abused (men get tortured and/or emasculated), and at the end, usually with the outside help of men, the prisoners rise up and kill their tormentors. If you’re familiar with this kind of film, I am really not giving anything away. Even if you are not, it’s pretty obvious early on.
|Malisa Longa is Helga|
Taking place in a South American dictatorship, this is actually a French production, with Patrice Rhomm at the helm, using the pseudonym Alain Garnier; he directed genre films under a few different names during the 1970s. The hand is played heavily from the start, as the country’s dictator condescendingly proclaims to redheaded Helga (Italian actress Malisa Longo) that she is a woman, so naturally she doesn’t understand politics (ironically I am watching this as the Hillary/Bernie race narrows down). He is also massaged by the only other woman in the room, who is also the only Black person present, as he smokes his stogie (no, his cigar...Jeez!).
But then again, Helga is administered to in a full frontal shower (she is nude often). But her male lover is a Che-looking wannabe. The love scenes are solid soft-core porn, and are shot like the Euro style of the harder version, replete with cheesy music consisting mostly of horns. No surprise as Rhomm also did some hardcore directing under the name Homer Bingo (kid you not).
The locus moves to the castle/camp for political prisoners at about 15 minutes in, and all the captives are not only women, but quite lovely, of course. It is there that the brutality begins with a kind of nondescript rape scene where the woman tries to fight off the attacker by mostly keeping her arms stretched out to her sides and throws her head back and forth.. She later complains to her compadres, who blame her for it (can you tell this was directed by a man?), that they are being forced to “let those stinking swine make love to us.” Whaaaaaa?
One of the women has a dubbed thick (fake sounding) New York accent: “Shut yer trap! You beddah not tawk,” she says in a high-pitched, nasal voice. Later one, the one black woman of the group will show to have a very deep, Southern accent, y’all. Their “uniforms” are overcoats with nothing underneath, and knee-high leather boots, some with high heels, obviously all the better for doing hard labor. Helga also has a set series of clothing, such as a thin blue bathrobe, and a combo silk red top and tight leather pants. Sure there is sometimes a random lingerie item, but it’s pretty steady.
|Patrizia Gori as Elisabeth|
Joining the crew is the redheaded daughter of the rebel leader, Elisabeth (the lovely Patrizia Gori), who naturally is surly and you know is going to lead an uprising, if her character lives that long (I’m not saying).
There definitely are some questionable moments of illogic, such as when we see a guard pacing in front of the six feet of caged door to the room where the (naked) prisoners sleep, yet one walks over to another bed to ask about Elisabeth, who has been selected by Helga as her new lover. Where is the guard in all this? It’s not like he has much to do other than watch for movement. Also, while this is supposed to be the subtropical South American back-territory, it’s obviously European woods, and castle (supposedly built by a French landowner). This is typical of these films, where you have to suspend a few gold coin of disbelief, but then again, noticing these kinds of things are part of the fun.
After a gang rape and thrashing, Elisabeth quickly falls for one of the guards (Richard Allen, aka French adult actor Richard Lemieuvre), who is a friend of her father. A relationship develops quickly and sends Helga into jealous rage.
Compared to Ilsa, Helga is hardly as fearsome, as she is often talked back to by her soldiers, lovers, and even prisoners. Longo is attractive, yes, but she is not as intimidating a presence as the wild-eyed Thorne. Sure there are whippings (clothed), manacles, and some rapes (all but one off-sceen), but the sheer torture porn and castrations of Ilsa are not present (nor is Uschi Digard, but I digress…).
I won’t press the point about the ending, which is left on a curious freeze-frame, but it had me truly laughing that it lasted for about two minutes, while theatrical Wurlitzer music swirled. Talk about a dichotomy!
After the film, wait a bit as there are some deleted scenes from the original print, mostly due to either restrictions by censors or just bad quality negatives. The only other extra is the film in its original French (which I did not watch).
As these kinds of films go, while harsh to the naïve viewer, compared to many of its subgenre mates, it’s actually quite mild. The Linda Blair 1974 television film Born Innocent was more shocking. Yeah, this is vile and violent, but in a matter of degrees, it’s not as hardcore as many of the others.
But was it fun to watch? Well, honestly, rape scenarios have never been a fave, though quite prevalent in this oeuvre to justify the actions of the last act, but as a whole, this was a good viewing. As this is the first time this film has been released on DVD in North America, adding this to the canon is the historically right thing to do, as well.