Bruno Mattei made an enjoyable film with SS Girls – then he made Women’s Camp 119. There are two sides to the nazisploitation genre; there is the delightful and macabre fun of films like Ilsa; She-Wolf of the SS and Mattei’s SS Girls… the other side is, well, Women’s Camp 119.
CONTENT WARNING! Some discussion and screenshots of some pretty fucked up shit sill follow.
LIKE THE WORST OF WiP
One reason that some nazisploitation films can be fun is because there is a lack of character. The villains of SS Girls and Ilsa are so over-the-top in their arrogance and decadence that they become caricatures – like a parody of the SS. The draw of those films wasn’t the torture, it was the sex, the crazy debauched nazi sex. That scene in SS Girls where the commander is losing his mind and rolls around with prostitutes demanding fellatio and screaming “taste your new Fuhrer!” works as comedy because it is unreal, it’s over-the top. Women’s Camp 119 doesn’t offer any over-the-top antics like that.
Women’s Camp 119 gives us a prison camp for women (mostly women, they have some gay prisoners there) whose crimes against the Third Reich are… I’m not sure. These girls are constantly called demeaning names and told “you’re all here because you are pig whore bitches,” and some of them actually were prostitutes. There is some line about using their reproductive parts for the glory of the Aryan race. There is a scene actually where they give one girl a hysterectomy and transplant her lady guts into a sterile women “for the glory of the Fuhrer.” All of this barbarism, however, is presented far too straightforward. There are no over-the-top moments like the dinner orgy in Ilsa or the religious trial scene in SS Girls. This feels like the worst of Women in Prison films.
At least some Women in Prison films were able to have fun with their setting and always made us cheer for the imprisoned women. Women’s Camp 119 doesn’t make an effort for us to care about the plight of these women – it’s just an assembly line of increasingly abused flesh for 90 minutes with no character or context. Oh there is a story, involving two characters whose purpose is basically to look at all of these mutilated bodies and say, “oh these SS guys are pretty mean.” Eventually the Allied Forces show up and that’s the end of it all, with nothing memorable to show for it.
Take a movie like Men Behind the Sun which is definitely not an exploitative comedy. Men Behind the Sun is about a Japanese camp in Manchuria towards the end of World War II where horrible medical experiments were performed on Chinese and Russian prisoners of war. The film lets us know consistently how wrong this is and it gets us to care about the victims of these atrocities. We see the events unfold from the point-of-view of naïve boys sent to work at the camp who have second thoughts about the nature of their work. In the end the film presents a factual (albeit exaggerated) glimpse at history as well as insight into the darker nature of man – we see both sides as humans. The tragedy of the film isn’t just the plight of the victims but the way these actions destroy the mind and soul of the ones performing them.
Women’s Camp 119 gives us nameless faces for a cast – well except for the SS commanders. The SS have names and are given character, they are the only ones we come to know. They fit in their hopes and dreams and constantly quote Mein Kampf as a great vision for humanity. Our protagonists are the SS which is unsettling. And these SS are completely remorseless. It’s one thing to be ignorant, believing that these inhumane actions truly do serve a higher purpose, like the cast of Men Behind the Sun, but one can’t stay ignorant forever. Men Behind the Sun gave us tortures who eventually believe “these are some fucked up things we’re doing – I don’t think our leaders here have the best interests of humanity in mind.” Women’s Camp 119 we have SS doctors and officers that torture people with an aim of strengthening the Aryan race and never question it – right up until the Allies liberate the camp everything these people do is proudly for the glory of the Reich. There are no moments showing us any kind of humanity, no moments where we’re told that these prisoners are human since most of this movie is seen from the SS point-of-view with their propaganda about eugenics spouted off the entire time.