Thursday 8 June 2023

Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg (1978)

Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg is a 1978 French Eurocine production and it’s clearly in part at least an attempt to cash in on that other notorious 70s exploitation movie with a similar title. You know the movie, the one whose title we dare not mention. But the similarities are largely superficial. Helga She Wolf of Stilberg belongs firmly to the European women-in-prison movie genre, a genre that was already well established long before that other infamous movie was made. It’s a genre that was kick-started by Jess Franco’s 99 Women in 1969.

There are no nazis in Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg. The setting is a South American banana republic in the 1970s. It’s a dictatorship but it appears to be a non-ideological dictatorship. President Steiner seems to be interested purely in money and power. No-one in the movie ever mentions ideology. There are rebels, but the issues at stake do not appear to be especially political. There are political prisoners, but their crime is simply that they oppose the current regime.

Helga (Malisa Longo) is some kind of adviser to the president. He fears that she is too ambitious so he offers her a job to keep her out of the way. He appoints her commandant of the castle of Stilberg, where female political prisoners are housed.

Helga intends to tighten up discipline at Stilberg.

Helga is sleeping with the prison’s head guard, captain Lombardi, but it’s obvious that Helga prefers girls.

Helga has what she thinks is a stroke of good fortune when a new prisoner arrives. Elisabeth Vogel (Patrizia Gori) is the daughter of the rebel leader Vogel. If she can find a way to use Elisabeth to trap Vogel this could be an opportunity for Helga to get back into the president’s good books.

Helga thinks it’s a stroke of luck for another reason. She thinks she can persuade Elisabeth to share her bed. Helga would like that. She’d like that a lot.

The bad news for Helga is that some of the prisoners are hatching an escape plan. That will get Helga into the president’s bad books in a big way.

Helga is vaguely aware that one of her officers is disloyal to her but for some reason she doesn’t do anything about it, apart from sulking.

Of course the escape plan is going to offer the opportunity for some action scenes, but the movie fails make the most of that opportunity. There is also a revolution brewing, a fine opportunity to use some stock footage, which looks out of place.

The acting is adequate. Malisa Longo is quite good but for reasons that I”ll go into in a moment her performance falls a little flat.

There are some major problems with this movie. We are given no reason to feel any particular sympathy for the rebels. Steiner’s government is apparently corrupt (like most governments) but we’re shown no evidence that it’s all that oppressive. We have no reason to think that a revolution is going to be any great improvement.

While we’re expecting Stilberg to be a hell-hole it isn’t really. It’s more like a moderately strict girls’ boarding school than a brutal prison.

Helga is not especially evil. She’s not a psychopath or a sadist. She’s more like a slightly spoilt slightly petulant head girl at a girls’ school. Mostly she’s remarkably indulgent towards the prisoners. Her punishments are generally not much worse than detention and extra homework. She commits a handful of acts of cruelty, but only under severe provocation. The viewer is likely to end up feeling that if only these girls would behave better the headmistress wouldn’t get cross with them.

And although she beds several of the women prisoners, once she seduces them she treats them remarkably well.

It’s not that easy to hate Helga. And if we don’t hate her the movie is not going to work.

It’s interesting to compare Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg with the German-Swiss women-in-prison movie Women of Inferno Island (AKA Caged Women AKA Gefangene Frauen). There are major similarities. Both seemed to be attempts to make women-in-prison movies that were rather non-brutal and rather tame and almost wholesome (by women-in-prison movie standards). Both movies feature acres of bare female flesh. Women of Inferno Island has more energy and style, it has a better script with a much better twist at the end and it has two female stars with both genuine charisma and genuine acting ability - Brigitte Lahaie and the extraordinary Karine Gambier (who should have become a major cult movie icon).

Women of Inferno Island is clever and consistently entertaining and it works. Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg just falls rather flat.

Amusingly the Maison Rouge DVD release includes eight minutes of alternative clothed scenes. Given that the one major thing that Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg has going for it is lots of pretty girls without their clothes on I’m not sure why anyone would want to watch alternative scenes in which they’re wearing clothes.

Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg turns out to be a bit of a toothless doggie rather than a fearsome wolf. It’s OK and maybe worth a look if you’re a fan of Malisa Longo but seriously, watch Women of Inferno Island instead.

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