Waiting impatiently for the next series of Orange Is The New Black and Wentworth? If you lived during the 70’s and 80’s it was pretty much the same with our limited TV channels and programmes like Prisoner Cell Block H and Tenko. However what many did not realise was that a whole chain gang of films were being made to fully embrace the exploitative side of things and they actually led to a genre known as the Women In Prison film (W.I.P.) Not many made it from Europe to the UK for release compared to the huge output that flourished at the time and indeed some of the best examples are to this day only available on import. Some of the best in my opinion include the veritable Jess Franco’s 99 Women (1969) and Sadomania (1981), Bruno Mattei’s Violence In A Women’s Prison (1982) with the wonderful Laura Gemser in one of her Emanuelle offshoots and Oswaldo de Oliveira staggering (and still cut in the UK) Brazilian strip entry Bare Behind Bars (1980). As an aside and flushing things even further down the moral sewer a short lived and even more contentious form of celluloid atrocity the Naziploitation genre also came about. Acclaimed films such as The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani 1974) and Salon Kitty (Tinto Brass 1976) opened this particular floodgate and naturally censorious wrath went into complete overdrive. Caught up in the video nasty scare the very camp SS Experiment Camp (Sergio Garrone 1976) and the still completely banned Beast In Heat (Luigi Batzella 1977) were among the most infamous and as for Ilsa She Wolf Of The SS (Don Edmonds 1977) I don’t think anyone has ever dared present it to the BBFC for certification. This brings us neatly onto the film in question.

You probably noted the similarity of Ilsa and Helga She Wolf Of Stilberg (Alain Garnier 1978) in title and you would be correct as they are from the same sort of slimy place as each other. However despite it attempting to trick you into thinking so, Helga is not a Naziploitation film as such. These films were literally too hot to handle. Ilsa although splattered all over her pillow at the end of her first outing was transported to communist Siberia and Sheik ruled oil Fields on her return from the grave. Even Jess Franco would not go there and exploited Ilsa with an unofficial entry having her preside over a jungle banana republic in Ilsa The Wicked Warden (1977). At least he kept the levels of sex and violence up and included main star Dyanne Thorne in the lead, bless him. You won’t really find quite such a level of filth and sleaze here though in this completely bargain basement effort from French director Garnier who would not even put his real name on the chair for it, using one of his multiple pseudonyms Patrice Rhomm.

We are pitched up in an imaginary fascistic state somewhere unspecified where a revolution is taking place. A cigar smoking Castro clone controls a tin-pot army of soldiers and rebel women are locked up and overseen by the mild (by these standards) Helga (Malisa Longo) who struts around with a riding crop dressed in leather trousers and red blouse like she’s auditioning for Dynasty. Naturally we have a camp doctor whose only real aim is to molest the women, an attempted love affair between the main army commander and man hating Helga and a new arrival who happens to be the daughter of the revolutionary leader who Helga is lusting after. There’s a lot of drawn out scenes of people aimlessly driving around but having hired out the vehicles no doubt the director had to get his money’s worth. He also bamboozles the feel of the film from any past wars by inserting a shot of a modern (for its time) helicopter into the frame; guess it was flying over and an opportunity too good to miss. Despite being uncut the violence is fleeting and mild and don’t even think about going into this expecting loads of blood and gore there isn’t any. There is however plenty of bare flesh on display, the prisoners favourite pastime appears to be lounging about au natural apart from knee length leather boots which appear to be the height of fashion in prison camps in this area. The horse crop does of course get used on men and women but you could only look at it as mild flagellation and nowhere near as rough as a night at the Torture Garden so it’s hardly a surprise the BBFC passed this without any problems.

Seriously, this is one of those films that should be watched just to see how bad it actually is and that is not to say it is not enjoyable. The acting is awful, the pacing is ponderous and the most fun is had from watching out for goofs and continuity errors. As for the stock footage of wartime explosions; never in the field of filmic conflict have things been so abused. Fans of exploitation will also be able to play a game of match the faces to other films; for instance Longo was in Enter The Dragon as well as the aforementioned Salon Kitty, Patrizia Gori who plays the rebels daughter was in Andrea Bianchi’s astounding Cry Of The Prostitute (1974) and Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle e Françoise (1975). A lot of the others have a huge amount of credits in much more hardcore and salacious fare than this. Even Daniel White’s score is enough to have you cringing here but watching this you can’t help but laugh as you guessed you were going to put on something cheap and nasty and at least were half right. On the other hand this transfer is far better than such a grubby little film deserves even on DVD and it is a UK debut, having as far as I can tell never even been released on video. Helga is one of the more obscure films compared to many others in the genre and if you have seen it previously it will probably been on a grainy bootleg. If you have you wouldn’t have forgotten it and indeed within a few minutes of this starting I groaned for all the wrong reasons realising that I had. Still it’s a nice move on behalf of Maison Rouge for bothering to present this to us; let’s just hope they whip up some of the better examples from the jail house soon! Extras are just an alternative scene with actresses clothed instead of nude; like anyone’s going to watch that ever.

Pete Woods