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Director: Ivan Kathansky (Luigi Batzella)
Media Blasters/Exploitation Digital

During the 1970s, Italy took its fetish of making Nazi movies to two different levels. Some of the efforts were overbaked exercises in artsy decadence, while another group of films just played the genre for all its distasteful worth. With the release of the U.S.-produced ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. in 1974, the rise in Italian-made swastika sleaze was on the rise over the next few years, and S.S. HELL CAMP (aka THE BEAST IN HEAT) was one of the most outrageous offerings of the lot. It happens to have been one of the infamous “video nasties” in the U.K, but unlike most of the titles on that list, the outrage over this one seems duly justified.

Though released in 1977, the film actually uses a lot (and I mean a lot) of padding from a 1970 war film titled WHEN THE BELL TOLLS (from the same director) which presents a subplot about partisans forming an uprising and fighting the Nazis within their village. This allows for a lot of ordinary TV violence type situations; a lot of gun fights, embarrassingly faded stock war footage from another entity, and several toy planes on wires. A number of familiar faces from Italian horror and exploitation movies grace these scenes, including Brigitte Skay (TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE), Gino Turini (THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA) and Alfredo Rizzo (PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE). You’ll also spot American muscleman star Brad Harris as a bearded priest who proves he can kick some Nazi ass, as he sprouts absurd dialog like “The Lord won't betray you, he's the best!" These scenes can be tedious, but actually allow for something of a plot and are blended well with the atrocities to follow…

SS HELL CAMP’s new, genuine footage mostly takes place on one lab setpiece, and it’s a set you’ll feel like hosing down after the viewing experience! The star is German-born Macha Magall as Dr. Ellen Kratsch, a lieutenant in Hitler's Third Reich. Garbed in black, she looks quite attractive as she portrays a ruthless, sadistic and quite kinky character -- whether she’s rubbing her bare breasts against a tied-up pretty boy or castrating the poor bastard imprisoned next him! Her prize creation is a Neanderthal man, played to the hilt by Salvatore Baccaro (here billed as Sal Boris, but he also went under the name Boris Lugosi!). Although the European posters promised a gorilla-like figure, Baccaro plays the part with no make-up at all, and like Rondo Hatton before him, he doesn’t need any. The truly ape-resembling actor spends the whole time naked (with a disturbingly large pimple above his fanny) and in a cage, while beautiful girls are tossed in with him for the purpose of breeding some sort of new race, even though his subjects perish in a violent and bloody manner. The softcore stimulated sex scenes allow the actor to grunt, grown and make obscene faces at the camera, and one of his screaming victims has her pubic hair torn off as he munches on it like it was a handful of Oreo cookies! Baccaro also played smaller roles in other Nazi exploiters like SS GIRLS and SALON KITTY, but he is probably best known for this one, as well as playing “Ook” (a Neanderthal man) in FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS.

Other atrocities in the lab/torture chamber include women being shocked with electrodes attached to their genitals; another's belly made a snack for rats (actually guinea pigs); a naked guy being hung upside-down, while one is whipped and dunked head-first into a tub of water; and another frizzy-haired gal having her fingernails torn out with an metal instrument as she deadpans, “Stop, you’re hurting me!” Also, on the outskirts of the village, a baby in a blanket is tossed in the air and machine gunned, and an unfortunate teenage girl is raped and then shot in her womanhood! Pretty wild stuff, huh? At any rate, S.S. HELL CAMP may not be the nastiest of the Nazi exploitation films, but it certainly well represents the explicitness and unbridled silliness of the genre, and a great place to start for those unfamiliar with it.

For anyone who ever owned or rented the old Video City VHS version of this title will be presently surprised here. Media Blasters has inaugurated its new Exploitation Digital label with SS HELL CAMP, and it’s presented in an anamorphic widescreen with its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image is sharp and looks very good, with vivid color schemes. Only when the film switches briefly to some shoddy stock footage does the picture become inferior, but there are few visible defects in the source print. The English dubbed audio track has clear and audible dialog, with the sound effects being fine and the synth music score never overpowering.

Extras on the disc include the film’s trailer (as well as trailers for other Media Blasters releases), a decent still gallery, and a booklet with liner notes by Paolo Zelati, giving a good overview on this film and Italian Nazi cinema in general. (George R. Reis)