Director Bruno Mattei
Let's just get it straight…if there is anything out there that fuels film sales more than anything else it is the forbidden, scandalous, provocative, repelled by society subjects. And Nazi exploitation films just happen to be a tiny facet of the "industry" where so many other genres, blaxploitation, nunsploitation, grindhouse cinema, giallo, eurotica, crossover, have spurred thousands of passionate fans.
The "industry", unjustifiably tagged by many as "trash-cinema", was for a long period of time ostracized by politically correct film distribs. In North America many of the notoriously controversial European films that constitute the core of the Nazi-exploitation genre were censored, re-cut, dubbed in a more accessible language, etc. Consequently many simply disappeared and became collector's items. With the introduction of the digital versatile disc however things drastically changed. A number of "classics" were dug out from the far corners of film libraries around the world and many forgotten films seem to be enjoying a revived interest. Logically, after an early boom in the mid 70s and 80s and a relatively calm early 90s there seems to be a whole lot of new enthusiasm among fans of the genre(s).
Much criticism has been written about the exploitation genre(s) and hordes of "serious" film critics have utilized their right to slam a derogatory remark or two on these cult films. Thanks to such constructive criticism nowadays for anyone unfamiliar with the history of the genre(s) it is almost impossible to separate the quality productions from the so-called B-films. And the Nazi-exploitation genre happens to have a lot of them, from R. L. Frost's Love Camp (1977) and Erwin Dietrich's She Devils of the SS (1973), to Don Edmonds' Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975) and the acclaimed Liliana Cavani's Night Porter (1974) to the purely scandalous Tinto Brass film Salon Kitty (1975).
Bruno Mattei's Casa Privata per le SS (1977) (a.k.a SS Grils/Private House of the SS Girls) is a somewhat successful replica of the more sophisticated and refined Tinto Brass film Salon Kitty. With a plot that nearly copies Salon Kitty down to the smallest detail (a group of "willing" women are trained to seduce and please high-ranked SS officers in order to discover the "unfaithful" to Hitler) SS Girls will not surprise you with any originality yet it will quench your thirst for sleaze.
However, whereas Tinto Brass' camera work was outstanding and the massive expensive decors transformed Salon Kitty into a "classic" among followers of the genre SS Girls lacks substantially in both style and execution. The camera work often feels a tad too static and the decors are of rather questionable quality.
The female cast on the other hand, an aspect of the film that most viewers will probably be looking forward to, is rather well selected. There is a very fine line between their acting and the erotic elements in SS Girls and the actual story line which successfully prevents the film from stepping into the territory of another more conventional genre often associated with the valley in the state of California. In fact, amongst all the "detective work" which the girls are trained to do there is plenty of humor that will put a smile on the faces of even the most conservative of viewers. It really is impossible not to chuckle when a group of scantly clad women entertain a group of SS officers which are more likely to be part of a Florida retirement home for senior citizens than active military members. With other words, if there is anything that this film (and genre) is good at it is certainly the art of parody.
In my opinion there are two key elements that made the Nazi exploitation genre so successful and both of them are strongly represented in SS Girls. First, it is the attractiveness of investigating an area of modern history that seems to be a taboo subject for many directors-the sexual exploits of the Nazis. Second, it is the freedom to explore within the norms of conventional cinema under the pretext that many of the erotic acts shown on film truthfully depict the moral degradation of the Nazi regime. With other words, the directors that worked within the realms of this specific genre had a good excuse to experiment and add a tiny bit of spice to their films. Some, as the now notorious director Joe D'Amato could not resist the temptation and simply crossed the line to conventional adult filmmaking, others such as Italian director Tinto Brass are still walking the fine line of the genre that made him an icon in Europe.
I remember the time when Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972) was tagged by many "serious" film critics as "shameless exploitation". I have also seen plenty of derogatory comments classifying Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1976) as a fascist film. Needless to say none of the above asinine critique turned out to be "substantial" enough to negate the importance of these films and their place in the history annals. While SS Girls is nowhere even close to these important films it sure offers a bit of controversy and perhaps a steady dose of entertainment for those longing for some forbidden excitement.
How Does the Film Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's SS Girls looks as good as it ever will. With the opening scene of the film a short notice announces that due to the age of the film some minor problems might exist. For what is worth I find this transfer to be superb. This is not a sparkling digital transfer that rivals some of the most impressive restoration jobs we have seen since the invention of the DVD format but given the history of the film and the manner in which many of these "classics" were treated I am perfectly satisfied with the results. Steady colors, good contrast, an occasional dust speck, lack of excessive digital enhancement, is what makes this DVD presentation worthy of your attention.
How Does the Film Sound?
Unfortunately the audio presentation is where I feel disappointed. Instead of the original Italian language track we are offered an English dub in Dolby Digital which is not horrendous but somehow holds back the cult feeling of the film. On a positive side the dub is clear, easy to follow, and free of any digital imperfections. With this said, I wish film distribs that delve deep into the cult genres will begin offering the original language/audio as an option to their releases. This will tremendously enhance the cult look (and sound) of the film.
A photo gallery, trailers for other cult films, and a rather interesting interview with director Bruno Mattei is all that can be found on this disc.
A rather entertaining replica of Tinto Brass' Salon Kitty, SS Girls offers a steady dose of sleaze thrills for the fans of the genre. With all of its controversy, with all of its critics, and with all of the humor (for those that can see it), the Nazi-exploitation genre certainly has its masterpieces and well…its disappointments. SS Girls is neither a masterpiece nor it is a disappointment. It is just a good ol' piece of parody. For those that can see the humor in it…RECOMMENDED.