Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Sexy Nazis

In response to the Max Mosely vs News of the World trial and in particular Mosely's claim that he can "can think of few things more unerotic than Nazi role play", critic Danny Leigh has written a short piece about sexy Nazis in film on the Guardian website. Unfortunately he's missed out the Video Nasties, but readers' comments fill in the gaps with mentions of "SS Experiment Camp" and "Love Camp 7" (as well as the classic Two Ronnies series-within-a-series "The Worm that Turned", much to my delight).

I didn't find "SS Hell Camp" in the slightest bit sexy, but should mention that lead actress Macha Magall did look pretty hot in an SS uniform.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The Funhouse

Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: Lawrence Block
USA 1981

"The Funhouse" is a fairly traditional horror offering from Tobe Hooper, but one that nonetheless allows him to explore his love of gaudy, redneck Americana - in this case a creepy carnival that comes to town, much to the the delight of a group of pot smoking teenagers who decide to spend the night there. The carnival set-up is handled as expertly as you'd expect from Hooper, it being just his sort of thing, with unsettling sideshows, grotesque characters and (my favourite) what appear to be genuine deformed cows in an animal freakshow.

However "The Funhouse" takes quite a while to get going, and when it does it isn't a patch on "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre". Apart from an agonising chase scene set in the mechanical innards of a ghost train ride, there just isn't that much in the way of thrills. It's actually quite a slow film. Not necessarily a bad thing of course, but in this case it jars with the gaudy horror theme.

It's widely thought that Hooper lost his way after "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre", or even that it was a chance movie and he actually isn't that great a director. What can't be denied though is that his peculiar take on America has been a big influence on contemporary horror. It is great to watch a film like "The Funhouse" and see where the ideas in Rob Zombie's and Eli Roth's films come from. Unfortunately though, away from that colourful redneck vibe "The Funhouse" is a pretty boring and unremarkable mainstream horror movie.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

SS Hell Camp, aka The Beast in Heat

Director: Luigi Batzella
Writers: Luigi Batzella and Lorenzo Artale
Italy 1977

I didn't think there'd be anything on the Video Nasty list so tasteless it actually deserves to be banned, but it's hard to defend this Italian Nazi exploitation movie. The plot, for what it's worth, has a saucy female SS guard inject a caged man with a serum that turns him into a rampant sex beast. The beast is then used to torment the wives and girlfriends of local partisans, so they confess to their activities. The film ends with a partisan raid on the SS camp, and the tables being turned on the female SS guard.

I'm not going to be coy about what makes this film so distasteful. Several scenes are very unpleasant to watch. In the opening sequence, the caged beast rapes a woman to death, the rape continuing into necrophilia after her death. Later in a Nazi raid on a nearby village a woman is shot in the pubis by an SS guard. The following scene has a woman being tortured with electrodes on her vagina as she is strapped to a table. This isn't subtly done - her vagina is in full view and fake blood runs down her thighs. Later the caged beast eats parts of a woman's pubis while she is still alive. The film ends with the female SS guard getting her "comeuppance" by being raped to death by the beast in the cage.

To a certain extent these scenes are mitigated by appalling special effects. There is a lot of underpant wearing and flaccid tackle waggling about in the rape scenes, the fake blood is bright red and copiously splashed about, and in purely visual terms the scene where the beast eats the woman's pubis is farcical. But it is the casual misogyny of this sexualised violence that is disturbing, not its realism. No matter how obviously faked a female corpse dripping in blood being raped is, it is still an upsetting sight. And a screaming woman undergoing vaginal torture is about as much as I can take, no matter how bad the acting or props.

What makes this worse is a lack of context. These scenes, and indeed the film itself, have no point, aim or agenda. It is pure exploitation. There is nothing wrong with exploitation for its own sake - I wouldn't be writing this blog if I thought there was - but in this case the exploitation is of sexual violence towards women explicitly for the titillation of a male audience.

This sets "SS Hell Camp" apart from other contentious films on the Video Nasty list. While opinions on, for example, I Spit On Your Grave's artistic merit vary, it is at least controversial. Its subtleties, presentation and revenge-driven plot provoke debate about a difficult subject. "The Beast in Heat" however is just badly-made, violent pornography, any merit lying solely in the unintentional humour that so often runs through films of its ilk.

"SS Hell Camp" is of course still banned in the UK. Despite an innate feeling that a film this ridiculous shouldn't be censored in such a heavy-handed manner, I find it virtually impossible to defend. But more than that I wonder about a film audience that made exploitation cinema like this a viable business model in the first place. This is an audience that no doubt nowadays finds its kicks in the darker corners of the internet. Just how big is it?