Color, 1977, 88 mins. 20 secs. / 87 mins. 5 secs.
Directed by Luigi Batzella
Starring Macha Magall, Gino Turini, Edilio Kim, Salvatore Baccaro
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The strange Nazi exploitation craze that swept some of the more disreputable theaters in Europe in the wake of the disturbing and highly successful Salon Kitty and The Night Porter is one of the weirdest wrinkles in Euro-sleaze history. Loaded with nudity, perversion, fascist imagery, torture, and an overall atmosphere of moral decay, films like Gestapo's Last Orgy and SS Experiment Camp wallowed in the excesses of the Third Reich while simultaneously warning of the dangers of such unchecked brutality in the future, which results in a serious disconnect in viewers' brains as they're watching. However, nothing else is quite like the insane and quite notorious The Beast in Heat, also known as SS Hell Camp and one of the most extreme films to end up on the banned "video nasties" list. This one is the brainchild of "Ivan Kathansky," a pseudonym for The Devil's Wedding Night and Nude for Satan director Luigi Batzella; as wild as those films are, there's nothing in his filmography to suggest the ratty debauchery on display here in what amounts to the Nazisploitation equivalent of a kid chewing up his food and showing it to you.
At a Nazi POW camp turned scientific lab and torture chamber, the imposing, leather-clad Dr. Ellen Kratsch (Man, Woman and Beast's Magall) gets off on tormenting any unlucky female or male who ends up being captured and turned over to care. That means she can indulge in subjecting her inmates to electroshocks, fingernail tearing, an onslaught of rats, water dunking, and all other manner of atrocities. However, the worst is what befalls the prettiest captives who end up in a cage with her most insidious creation, a primitive, nude man-beast (played by Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks' Baccaro, credited her as "Sal Boris" and also famously billed as "Boris Lugosi") whose ravenous sexual appetite results in deaths of his unwilling mates and, in one unforgettable instance, a bloody thatch of pubic hair gnawed in his mouth. Meanwhile, in extensive footage culled from Batzella's World War II drama Quando suona la campana (When the Bell Tolls) augmented with slivers of an additional film called The Devil's Garden, a priest played by Brad Harris is involved in an uprising against the Nazis, with A Bay of Blood's Brigitte Skay getting traumatized in the process.
While many films mellow with time, this one is still incredibly foul-tempered and outrageous to a degree that may never be replicated again. Much of the credit has to be given to Magall and Baccaro, who chow down on their roles with so much gusto it keeps the film from tipping over the edge into unwatchable nastiness. The patchwork construction of insane new footage, a slicker older film with recognizable faces, and little dabs of ratty stock footage increases the strangeness of the whole enterprise, and it's a wonder it didn't cause riots when it ran in theaters to audiences who couldn't have possibly been prepared for what they were about to witness.
Originally released on U.S. VHS by Video City to an appalled public, this film made the leap to DVD in 2005 from Media Blasters as one of the first titles in its short-lived Exploitation Digital sublabel. Taken from an Italian print (as La bestia en calor), the slightly windowboxed English-language print looked okay for the time but was interlaced to a sometimes very distracted degree given the amount of constant motion. Extras on the DVD include a doctored version of the Italian trailer, a gallery of stills and pressbook scans, and bonus trailers for Flesh for the Beast, Elsa Fraulein SS, Faceless, and Slaughter Hotel.
Of course, it was inevitable that this one had to make the leap to Blu-ray at some point given its reputation, and that's exactly what happened in 2019 courtesy of Severin Films. The new transfer from "negative elements" features the title Horrifying Experiments of S.S. Last Days and runs a bit over a minute longer than the DVD, apparently due to less damage as the extra running time is made up throughout the second reel. The image quality is so good it feels almost obscene; you can see more detail throughout, the flesh tones look healthier, and the absence of all that interlaced tearing means you get a significant upgrade all around. The English DTS-HD MA mono audio (with optional English subtitles) is fine given that this isn't a terribly accomplished mix in the first place, but it's still full of crackpot dialogue you'll never believe. The new Naomi Holwill documentary Fascism On A Thread: The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema (91m26s) makes no bones about the nature of the films at hand (the word "trash" pops up a lot!) with interviewees including Dyanne Thorne (Ilsa herself), Malisa Longo, Sergio Garrone, Mariano Caiano, Giuliano Sorgini, Liliana Cavani, Rino Di Silvestro, Liliana Cavani, Bruno Mattei, Mikel J. Koven, and more chatting about the evolution of these films and the semi-academic underpinnings behind them. Fans of one of the scores will get a little treat, too, especially if you stick around all the way to the end. Speaking of academic treatments. "Nazi Nasty" (30m18s) features the always welcome Stephen Thrower chatting about this "genuinely, shockingly disgusting" project as he tries to reconcile it with the cultivated man who made it. Also included is an English-language French trailer (as Holocauste Nazi), which runs two minutes longer than the one available before and has some lurid alternate shots guaranteed to grab your attention.
Severin Films (Blu-ray)
Media Blasters (DVD)
Reviewed on June 28, 2019.