Star Wars, Annie Hall, and Elvis becoming a corpse were the entertainment events of 1977; but exploitation/horror cinema hardly noticed, driving ahead full-throttle with Third Reich obsessions in this banner year for Nazisploitation. Naturally, queen Dyanne Thorne was still cracking the whip. Unfortunately, Ilsa the Wicked Warden was directed by Jess Franco, and he is no Don Edmonds. Franco’s direction is, as usual, languid. Still, Thorne, now a redhead, has undeniable charisma. Originally, this was not an official Ilsa title—the wicked warden was originally Wanda—but was christened with her name somewhere along the way.
Thorne was extraordinarily promiscuous in 1977, appearing in a second Ilsa: Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia (directed by Jean Lafleur). More flesh and blood along with multifarious locales makes this a far better entry than Franco’s effort, while still not at the level of Edmonds’. This was the last of the Ilsa films, which undeniably make up the most notorious of exploitation franchises.
Blatant Ilsa ripoff Elsa: Frauline Devil (directed by Patrice Rhomm) commits the cardinal sin of exploitation: it teases more than it delivers.
The same can’t be said for Last Orgy of the Third Reich (directed by Cesare Canevari), which features cannibalism and death by German Shepherds and rats, but this one’s different. It has a brunette warden (Maristella Greco).
A pubic-hair eating rapist dwarf actually outdoes the lesbian concentration camp warden in SS Hell Camp (AKA The Beast in Heat, directed by Luigi Batzella). Macha Magali is the Aryan camp dominatrix filling in for Dyane Thorne. It tries to outdo the competition, and succeeds (with multiple brutal rapes, pulling out fingernails, castrations, rats, etc), but even with all that going on, it still manages to be a dull affair. It’s still banned in the U.K.
Italy continued its love affair with Nazis (at least on screen). Nazi Love Camp 27 (directed by Mario Caiano) has a decent budget, wretched dubbing, notorious hardcore sex, and a good, central performance by the tragically short-lived Sirpa Lane (from The Beast) as a Jewess out for revenge.
The Red Nights of the Gestapo is another Italian entry in the genre. Directed by Fabio De Agostini, it is clearly influenced by Tinto Brass’ Salon Kitty (1976) and features a Third Reich orgy and farting torture. Brass was more adept at this kind of thing, for what that’s worth.
Frauline Devil (AKA Captive Women, directed by Patrice Rhomm) features German hookers being sent to the camps to service the poor overworked Nazis. It has a lot of wretched accents and amateur costume design, with Nazi uniforms looking like they just came off the racks. Worst of all, though, it’s a big tease in both the sex and whip-cracking departments. Needless to say, Thorne does it better.
SS Girls (directed by Bruno Mattei) also influenced by Brass’ Nazi opus, has its tongue firmly-in-cheek and feels like its been lifted out of the pages of a comic book. As strange as it may sound, it’s one of the most entertaining Nazisploitation films of the decade. It’s chock-full of Mattei’s trademark montages, close ups, stock footage, and a jazzy score. It also has bestiality, orgies, and endless parades of flesh.
Mattei’s second Nazisploitation feature (of the year) is Women’s Camp 119, which is more of the same, with the additional bonus of poisoned bullets for nude prisoners. The result is two hours of writhing in pain and bleeding out of every orifice. This one is also like a comic book, but more of a Chick tract. It makes you feel dirty for having seen it. It even has a lot of Chick targets, like a Catholic priest who gets popsiclized and a two-for-one with gay Jews. Of course, the Nazis-for-Christ attempt to cure the gays in this tailor-made-for-Mike-Pence flick.
Shock Waves (directed by Ken Wiederhorn) takes a different route with Nazi zombies, literally bred to survive underwater. Brooke Adams is among a small group of passengers taking a tour on a cruiser with cantankerous captain John Carradine. It’s a watery variation on Old Dark House thrillers, with the group crashing into a wrecked ghost vessel. The captain is killed and the survivors are forced to take refuge on an island (filling in for the Old Dark House) where they discover what they believe to be an abandoned hotel. Its sole occupant is former Nazi commandant Peter Cushing (with a convincing accent). Unknowingly, the group has awakened the commandant’s genetically altered “Toten Korps”—AKA death corps—AKA Nazi zombies. They’re a creepy, disease-ridden albino lot, adorned in aviator goggles and SS uniforms, emerging from the water in slow-mo to kill anyone within their path. Since this was marketed as exploitation, Adams is required to strip down to a yellow bikini and take a swim—until she bumps into something dead.
Cushing’s role is a relatively small one, which leaves the acting to Adams. She’s up to it, but unfortunately, she’s the only one, with her fellow passengers clearly being amateurs. Apart from awakening Third Reich undead and fleeing them, there’s really not much of a plot. The violence is subdued and it’s definitely not paced for the post-Romero zombie audience. Despite its flaws, this is an impressive meager budgeted indie with good acting from Cushing, Carradine, and Adams, along with effective underwater photography (by Reuben Trane) as the death corps wait on the ocean floor to entrap unsuspecting victims. The zombie makeup is equally compelling, and Wiederhorn (who also scripted) adroitly mounts tension. None of his fellow-up films have matched this. It’s easily the best movie ever made about Nazi zombies.
Mario Bava exited cinema with the ghost story Shock (AKA Beyond the Door II). It’s hardly the director in his prime (it was co-written and finished by son Lamberto Bava), but it marked the end of a glorious era for this criminally underrated filmmaker.
The Psychic is a giallo from the permanently overrated Lucio Fulci. It stars 70s favorite Jennifer O’ Neill, who does good work, despite being miscast. It’s rather tame for Fulci. It’s also lethally dull.
Watch Me When I Kill (directed by Antonio Bido) is a ripoff of Dario Argento‘s Deep Red (1975). It has effective camerawork, well-crafted editing, and a memorable score, but go for the original.
With Suspiria, Argento became a force to be reckoned with. Although he had been making standout films for seven years prior, the giallo director became a household name of sorts here. For many, this is his masterpiece. Others have argued that both Deep Red and 1987’s Opera are superior. Regardless, Suspiria became an international hit, with Argento no longer under Mario Bava’s shadow. It’s Certified Weird on this site.
Hitch-Hike (directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile) seems to be heavily influenced by Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs (1973). Made in Italy, shot in America, Hitch-Hike remained unseen until the late 90s. After one of its producers died in an auto accident and another went bankrupt, the courts gabbed the film and delayed its eventual release for over twenty years. The plot may be familiar (read the title), but it’s put over with craftsmanship and good acting (Corine Clery, Franco Nero, and David Hess). The budget is noticeably larger than what Bava had to work with, and yes, that makes a difference. It’s grim, stylishly violent, erotic, and smartly written and edited, with a score by the legendary Enio Morricone.
Louis Jordan became the latest Count Dracula (directed by Phillip Saville) in a much acclaimed big-budgeted BBC miniseries, which many hail as being among the most faithful to the famous novel.
Ruggero Deodato’s Jungle Holocaust (AKA Last Cannibal World) ushered in a new genre of exploitation: cannibalism. It created a stir with its gratuitous gore and nudity, along with onscreen slaughter of animals (particularly brutal is the disembowelment of a crocodile), which is why it’s still banned in many countries today. It’s a precursor to Deodato’s even more infamous Cannibal Holocaust (1979). Actually, there had been a spattering of 70s cannibal films, but they did not receive the publicity of this effort. The plot is standard white man against native savages, and most of the scenes of torture and cannibalism are reserved for the last quarter of the film. Still, it’s bizarre even in the modern climate, and Deodato certainly is a skilled director.
Wes Craven‘s The Hills Have Eyes is more or less a larger-budgeted remake of his previous Last House on the Left, obviously influenced by Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Inexplicably, this derivative effort has a considerable cult following.
John Boorman‘s Exorcist 2: The Heretic was hardly the followup anyone expected. It was universally panned, but it’s hardly dull and retains a camp spell, as Mr. Smalley points out in his review.
Michael Winner’s The Sentinel is a derivative rehash of Satanic themes with an all-star cast of Chris Sarandon, Ava Gardner, Eli Wallach, Burgess Meredith, Arthur Kennedy, Sylvia Miles and John Carradine. It’s worthless, except for the score by underrated jazz musician Gil Melle.
Familiar genre director Gordon Hessler takes a stab at TV movie Satanism in The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver. Karen Black is in familiar territory as a horror sex symbol, co-starring opposite the perennially tanned George Hamilton. Richard Matheson’s script invests a twist: when conservatively constipated housewife Black is possessed, she actually starts to enjoy her life with far less hangups. Mattheson may be onto something there. Kessler handles the material ably, but is confined by prime-time censorship codes.
The Child (directed by Robert Voskanian) is a low budget, narratively muddled, drive-in ripoff of The Exorcist, The Omen, and countless zombie flicks. It’s certainly atmospheric with well done zombie makeup, if that’s enough to wet one’s whistle.
What would the 70s have been without Jess Franco? Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun is his 1977 nunsploitation entry, a blatant ripoff of Ken Russell‘s The Devils (1971), and nowhere near as good, which is no surprise. It does have good convent sets and decent photography. Of course, being exploitation, it also has plenty of nudity, lesbianism, and gore. If that’s all one requires, then it might be worth the time. However, as usual with Franco, it’s a rushed-through, sloppy affair, making one wonder why producers continued financing the director.
Alucarda (directed by Juan Lopez Moctezuma) is among the most infamous films that sprung from the 1970s tidal wave of Satanism. Moctezuma was part of Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s Panic Theater, and had produced both Fando Y Lis (1968) and El Topo (1970) before directing his first feature, House of Madness (1973). His second feature, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary, followed two years later, with Alucarda being the finale of his decidedly offbeat trilogy. Jodorowsky claims that Moctezuma stole money from him in order to finance the three films. One can only hope it’s true, and it may very well be. The claim of theft would aptly fit Moctezuma’s M.O of an erudite bad boy. Moctezuma didn’t make another film until 1983’s To Kill A Stranger and a final one, El alimento del misdo, in 1994, neither of which anyone seems to have seen. It’s loosely based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” and a standout in the school of films influenced by The Devils. Of course, it was vilified as being anti-religion (how is that a bad thing?), and damn well earned its considerable reputation.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (the only film directed by George Barry) is a List entry and one-of-a-kind, essential viewing for weird movie aficionados.
The Demon Lover (co-directed by Donald Jackson and Jerry Younkins) is yet another 70s title that has no sympathy for the Devil. It’s about as obscure a film as there is, but it was available on VHS and found in a lot of mom and pop video stores, including the one I managed in my youth. Its poverty row budget is bluntly obvious, as is the execrable acting and writing. At the very least it has some in-jokes with characters named Romero, Ackerman, Frazetta, and Peckinpah. It’s merely bad instead of being godawful, which would have been preferable.
Demon Seed (directed by Donald Cammell) was famous for its theatrical poster depicting Julie Christie spreading her legs before an unseen demon, which of course drove patrons into the theater, hoping for some serious sexploitation. Despite Christie’s typical good work, it fails to fully deliver on its hype. It’s a loose adaptation of a Dean R. Koontz novel, which reportedly displeased his fan base (apparently, he has one—who knew?) and received mixed notices upon its release. Critics are still evenly divided on its virtues and flaws, with some hailing it as being grossly underrated. The big selling point was, naturally, Christie being raped by an artificial intelligence named “Proteus IV” (well voiced by Robert Vaughn). It’s a product of its time, with good performances and tense atmosphere.
Satan’s Cheerleaders (directed by Greydon Clark) is exactly what you think it is: long-legged, busty pom-pom gals in short skirts missing the football game because they’ve been kidnapped by mean old satanists. John Ireland, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Sydney Chaplin (one of Charlie’s extensive brood) are the names, but no one will care. It’s the equivalent of a indie Big Mac with extra cheese. It may not be good for you, but it tastes pretty good going down.