The Beast in Heat – aka SS Hell Camp – is a 1977 Italian exploitation film.
Directed by Luigi Batzella from a ‘screenplay’ co-written by Lorenzo Artale, this was essentially a rehash of soldiers vs. resistance footage culled from Quando suona la campana aka When the Bell Rings (1970), with additional horrific and sexploitative footage designed to cash-in on Tinto Brass’ Salon Kitty and other grubbier Nazisploitation movies. Batzella, who on a good day could be called a ‘journeyman director’ is credited as Ivan Katansky on several releases of the film. It was released in the US on VHS as SS Hell Camp.
The film gained notoriety when it was banned in the UK as a video nasty and is currently still unreleased on DVD in the UK. This is one of a number of so-called video nasties about fictionalised World War II Nazi POW camp atrocities. The film is currently still banned in Australia too.
Depending upon your viewpoint or sinematic tastes, Luigi Batzella’s The Beast in Heat is either the best or the worst entry into the ever-dubious Nazisploitation cycle of films made across Europe in the mid to late 70’s. Huge Nazi regalia abounds throughout this seedy production and no filthy stone is left unturned in a bid to shock even the most jaded of viewers.
The film’s infamous status was secured a few years later when it was banned in Britain; having briefly made an unrated home video appearance on the obscure JVI Video Films label. This uncut VHS is now still making around the £850 mark on eBay, despite the fact it is readily available on DVD.
In World War II, a European village is under the rule of occupying Nazi forces – not unattractive head scientist Dr. Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall, who barely worked again), is subjecting troublemakers and unloved locals to horrifying experiments involving, amongst other things, electrodes, pliers, and rats. Said rats scene supposedly involves the rodents gnawing a prostrate and terrified female victim’s torso. However, the ‘rats’ are in fact blatantly-obvious and confused guinea pigs, which gives you a far better insight into the real joys of this supremely silly film.
Elsewhere, a very unreal baby is tossed into the air as target practice for restless soldiers. It isn’t shocking; it’s frankly very sick black comedy for fans of Andy Warhol and John Waters-type humour. However, the coup-de-resistance is Salvatore Baccaro, often credited as Sal Boris.
The result of Nazi experiments to create a Neanderthal killing machine (who needs bombs?) he is unquestionably the star of the show. Squealing female victims are tossed into his cage and are duly molested enthusiastically and then ripped to pieces as he gurns into the camera longingly. These scenes are not repulsive, they are ineptly shot and hilarious – and any distaste as to the subject matter of the film is immediately diluted.
Batzella was, with all due respect, an utterly rotten director, here filching footage from his even more rotten earlier films to supply wartime footage to pad out hopeless scenes in cardboard cut-out sets. Batzella and Baccaro’s finest moment is clearly the triumphant segment when The Beast noshes on his new victim, raising his head to reveal a mouthful of lady parts and pubic hair! Befuddled viewers are allowed to savour this supposed atrocity for some time as frankly, nothing else could possibly be worth watching.
One scene in particular perhaps typifies Baccaro’s state of mind at this point in his acting career – again in the throes of delirium, he actually fogs up the camera lens – the director either believing this lends credibility or realising he’s been rumbled, this scene remains intact. Baccaro can be seen in many Italian films of the era, from Westerns to horror (he has a blink-and-you-miss-it part in Dario Argento’s Deep Red), the aforementioned Salon Kitty and sci-fi silliness (the wonderfully trashy Caroline Munro vehicle Star Crash).
Rather like the cannibal films which followed in the wake of Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox and the zombie films which were spawned off the back of Dawn of the Dead and Zombie Flesh-Eaters, The Beast In Heat is the extremely poor cousin to the American Ilsa series of films and Salon Kitty. What it lacks in actual terror and structure it pays back handsomely in sick fun and silliness.
Whilst the film is still victim to archaic British censorship laws, it can be purchased on DVD in the USA and in several other territories.
Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA
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