In their pursuit to try and issue as many current and former ‘Video Nasties’ onto Blu-ray, Severin Films have chosen to release one of the nastiest nasties of them all: namely Luigi Batzella’s THE BEAST IN HEAT (1977), an infamous patchwork concoction which represents the absolute nadir of an already suspect subgenre. One of a handful of Nazi-themed exploitation pictures (hence the inevitable catch-all term “Nazisploitation”), Batzella’s lowly offering to the form gets quite the deluxe overhaul indeed with a brand new 2K scan taken from (quote) “35mm negative elements”, and in spite (perhaps even because) of the film’s humble origins, the results are quite remarkable.
Clearly an imitation of Dyanne Thorne’s now-legendary “Ilsa” character from Don Edmonds’ ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1974) and its two ‘official’ sequels, in BEAST Dr. Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall) is finalizing her (quote) “creation of an artificial master race”, which is nothing more than a caged, primordial-looking beast (the aptly-named “Sal Boris” / a.k.a. Salvatore Baccaro) that gleefully rapes most of her female captives. In a ridiculous bit of post-synched dubbing, Dr. Kratsch hilariously promises her in-house brute will (quote) “make the God Eros go green with envy!” Meanwhile, due to the careless efforts of one Captain Hardinghafser (Kim Gatti / a.k.a. Edilio Kim), local partisans led by Moreno (Alfredo Rizzo) and munitions expert Drago (John Braun / a.k.a. Gino Turini) successfully blow-up a tactically important bridge, an act which enrages the Nazi top brass (“As you can see, it is not easy dealing with half-vits!”), who then order Dr. Kratsch to assist in both the capture and torture of the partisans and their womenfolk.
Accentuated by the film’s quickie cash-in status and downright ludicrous – often verging on cartoonish – English dubbing, Batzella’s film is impossible to take seriously, despite its many grisly, uh, ‘highlights’. These include flagellation, fingernail-yanking, electro-shock treatments, and ‘flesh-eating rats’ (in actuality only harmless domesticated guinea pigs [?!]). Then there’s “The Beast” itself, that in one over-the-top scene even resorts to some impromptu cannibalism. Also seen in Bruno Mattei’s tawdry SALON KITTY (1976) rip-off SS GIRLS (a.k.a. PRIVATE HOUSE OF THE SS, 1976), Macha Magall ticks all the appropriate boxes with her pulpy portrayal of a sadistic, leering dominatrix (“You’re just a bitch on heat!”) and she remains the dubious highlight of the film. However, interspersed amidst all the lowest-common-denominator exploitable elements, we get a tired and rather-too-convoluted narrative involving the Italian resistance movement, double-crosses and even dissention among the ranks (“I’m bored of this war!” exclaims one partisan). These less-interesting subplots take up much of the film, and are actually merely redubbed / repurposed footage from Batzella’s earlier – equally meagre – WWII flick, WHEN THE BELL TOLLS (1970). This ‘creative recycling’ of pre-existing scenes also explains the uncredited reappearance in BEAST (presumably without either his knowledge or remuneration) of ex-peplum strongman and usual total badass Brad Harris in an atypical role as a sympathetic priest named Don Lorenzo; other familiar Eurotrash supporting players to look out for include Brigitte Skay as a local prostitute, Xiro Papas (probably best-remembered as the fedora-wearing, sex-starved manster in Mario Mancini’s FRANKENSTEIN ’80 ) as yet another partisan leader, as well as stuntman / bit-parter Benito Pacifico in a tertiary capacity.
Although most of the notoriety heaped upon this film stems from its early ’Eighties U.K. videocassette release, Batzella’s film also garnered an uncut U.S. home video release in 1985 courtesy of notorious sleaze merchants Video City Productions (box-blurb: “Helpless victims caught in a mad quest for power!”), whose now-hard-to-find Beta/VHS edition featured some truly eye-popping cover art. The film was released yet again in 1987, this time by Mogul Communications (retitled SS EXPERIMENT CAMP PART 2), but this heavily-edited version ran approximately 10 minutes shorter than VCP’s aforementioned version. In 2004, BEAST finally made its DVD debut courtesy of Media Blasters’ Exploitation Digital line, and while it looked good for the time, the interlaced transfer hasn’t dated very well. Extras were limited to an archive of promotional materials, a slightly reedited export trailer and, for the film’s first pressing, a liner notes booklet was included.
Opening with THE BEAST IN HEAT’s grammatically incorrect English-language export title, HORRIFYING EXPERIMENTS OF S.S. LAST DAYS [sic!], Severin’s new Blu-ray is quite stunning to behold in its crystal-clarity, with nary a blemish in sight during much of the film’s newly-shot footage, or the rearranged scenes from Batzella’s earlier film, WHEN THE BELL TOLLS. However, the meagre production also made use of some additional stock footage from yet another unidentified, bigger-budget war film, which is in considerably rougher shape, so due to the film’s new transfer, this abrupt shift in picture quality is even more jarring than before. In an interesting comparison to Exploitation Digital’s earlier DVD, the initial demolition of the bridge and the climactic siege upon the Nazi compound utilized some cheap day-for-night blue filters, which are absent on Severin’s new transfer, and it actually looks the better for it. Regardless of the laughable English dub track, the DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds great given BEAST’s obvious post-production limitations. English SDH subtitles are also provided.
Along with their excellent transfer of the film, Severin have also provided a batch of worthwhile extras, beginning with Naomi Holwill’s feature-length documentary, Fascism On a Thread: The Strange Story of Nazisploitation Cinema (91m29s), which covers the genre’s rather curious origins, its obvious controversies and its short-lived history beginning with such masterworks as Luchino Visconti’s THE DAMNED (1969) and Liliana Cavani’s THE NIGHT PORTER (1974), and of course, that (quote) “weirdly influential trash movie” ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1974), while film critic Kim Newman also points out the genre’s debt to the many (quote) “sensationalist 1950s paperbacks” on the theme as well. It’s a thorough, well-researched doc, which also includes newly-filmed and archival interviews with many of the films’ personnel. Next up, Stephen Thrower provides his thoughts on both the genre in general and BEAST in particular in Nazi Nasty (30m18s), whose primary motivation was to (quote) “shock and outrage jaded consumers”, and notes how Batzella’s film in particular is (quote) “genuinely, startlingly disgusting in many details”. He also points out the film’s sheer absurdity and describes its (quote) “bathos” as shocking, yet recognizes the memorable contributions of both Magall and “Sal Boris”, latter of whose suitably bestial and (quote) “unrestrained” performance is one of the most memorable aspects of the entire production; the influence of adult comic books (or fumetti in the Italian vernacular); and even the attempted – and subsequent failure – to successfully meld eroticism and horror into a moneymaking potpourri of sleazy sex-and-violence; and of course, he also goes on to discuss its release in the U.K. and the ensuing ‘Video Nasties’ outrage it garnered. Finishing-off the extras is BEAST’s lurid theatrical trailer (bearing the film’s French title card HOLOCAUSTE NAZI), which includes some alternate footage not seen in the main feature itself. In a nice added touch, Severin have also provided a reproduction of the film’s original Video Nasty cover art with the package.
As a film,THE BEAST IN HEAT may be cheap, crude, crass and tasteless, but Severin’s top-drawer Blu-ray presentation is anything but, a fact which should please most fans of boundary-pushing, scuzzed-out shock-erotica. Order it from Severin Films here or as part of their June Bundle, and for you Canadian readers, order it from Suspect Video.