|The Plot: It’s Poland during World War II. A group of female detainees from Ravensbrück are being escorted to a little-heard concentration camp called Rosenhausen. Once they arrive, the camp commander Major Franz Weiker MD tells the new arrivals that Rosenhausen is actually a front for testing bacteriological weapons and eugenic experiments in order to aide Hitler and The Third Reich. Wieker assigns one of the new arrivals, Dr. Maria Black, to assist him and his medical team on the various unethical experiments. Working alongside her is another prisoner, Dr. David Miesel, who is determined to escape the camp alive. The two must survive the dangers around them including the increasing insanity of Major Wieker.|
Firstly, the DVD transfer of this movie is piss-poor. The movie is commercially available through a 20 disc boxed set called the Grindhouse Experience, a personal treasure-trove of Exploitation, Action, Western and Mondo movies. Sadly, like most multiple movie compilations, this one consists of horrible VHS transfers to DVD, most of which have less quality than bootleg titles. I think Women’s Camp 119 got the worst of it, because the VHS source flickers worse than an abused rental tape and the whole movie is hardcoded with Dutch subtitles. Well, at least now I know how to write in Dutch, begrepen? With that out of the way though, I’m not too sure if a cleaner transfer or Barrel Entertainment-style restoration would’ve helped: the film used to shoot this movie is grainer and darker than the Video Filter in Silent Hill 2.
Technical aspects aside, the movie is fairly well shot with a lot of effective close-ups and tight, claustrophobic face zooms. There is some very impressive camera work to be seen, too, particularly near the end out in a woodland scene. Strangely, the worst of the camerawork all happens in this extremely dark slaughterhouse set where all the public executions and beatings take place; every time the camera’s set in this area, it’s placed so far back and zoomed out completely it’s hard to tell what’s happening half the time. The editing is pretty good too, though there are several scenes near the end that pop up out of nowhere and disappear as quickly as they showed up, one of which showing what looks like actual Holocaust footage. There’s another scene closer to the beginning where Dr. Black and Meisel are discussing the depression around them and the characters seem to go from being in a hallway to a lab, then back to the hallway and then into another lab.
In regards to brutality, Women’s Camp 119 doesn’t pull any punches; this is the kind of movie that lets you know that no one will be spared regardless of age or gender. From beginning to end, Women’s Camp 119 has a thick rawness that you can feel and it feels like a cross between alligator scales and splintered wood. Some things you’ll see in this movie are genuinely disturbing and only add to the sense of dread and unhappiness leaking from the film. So much so I’m afraid to mention any of what you’d see for fear of giving it all away. If anything, I guess I can hint that the character study of Wieker had to have been inspired from Josef Mengele considering the complete lack of bio-ethics, the death of patients and how considerably well fed the patients were. Despite its sense of brutality though, you can tell just how low budget the movie is in some parts; there’s this one scene where a naked woman gets shot in the leg and the entire scene would be really uncomfortable, but the actress treats a bullet to the thigh like a hypodermic needle.
Which isn’t to say the acting is lousy. If there’s one thing I can say about Bruno Mattei is that he knows his talent and he found a lot of it in this cast. Ivano Staccioli does a good job at being an efficient, cold and uncaring monster, even though his dialogue is often too simplistic and too fact-oriented… and I think there’s a few scenes where it looks like he’s glancing at his lines or just remembering them. Lorraine de Salle is great as a depressed woman forced to tolerate malpractice and human experimentation, who spends most of the movie looking like Hell (kind of like how she did in House on the Edge of the Park) and confiding in her even more haggard love interest. And then… there’s Ober Lieutenant Otto Ohlendorf!
The camp Lieutenant here is played by an Italian actor named Gabrielle Carrara who I really hope did more than three movies; this man has a wild grin and maniacal laugh that could have easily won him a role as The Joker in an early Bat Man movie. The Lieutenant is probably the most fun character in this lot especially considering that he’s at is happiest when he’s humiliating women (“Who told you to stop working?!“). It’s fantastic watching his character go from stone-cold serious to an evil grin in seconds. Plus, most of the Italian actor’s German in the movie, that wasn’t dubbed over by their English dub actors, is pretty good, especially Staccioli’s who sounds like he spent most of the movie shouting at everyone.
Actually, there’s another thing Mattei did well and it was having a real ear for music. I’m just going to come out right now and say that I personally LOVE the soundtrack to Women’s Camp 119; I’ve heard a few scores from Italian musician Alessandro Alessandroni, such as The Devil’s Nightmare, Go Kill and Come Back and some solo work in Hell Ride. All of those film scores were lovely, but this score tops it. The soundtrack to Women’s Camp 119 is a unique combination of pianos, violins, vocals and I think an occasional mandolin that mix together to make one of the darkest and depressing musical scores in a movie. As sad as it is, the soundtrack never falls short in its range of emotions: there are scores in the movie that use violin stringing so well the songs practically sound terrifying and borderline horrific.
For most of the movie, the music works very well. The music that plays during the gassing/supper scene near the beginning adds a stark intensity to both actions – women being gassed to death and Nazi Officers eating supper – spliced with each other; it’s powerful music to a truly disheartening scene. Yet, the most touching, heartfelt song in the whole soundtrack is used in probably the most ridiculous moment in the whole movie: it’s when the doctors manage to revive a human corpse… by getting a French prostitute to writhe around naked on top of him. And the experiment actually works.
Now that I mention it, this movie does get a little silly, though I knew that going into the genre; any sub-genre of Exploitation that has overt lesbian Nazis (??) is bound to get a little zany. Earlier in the movie, we’re briefly introduced to the male prisoners at the camp (so it’s not really a ‘Women’s Camp,’ then) and let me just say they are HILARIOUS. There’s only two homosexual men in the camp but their introduction shows them locked up in a sunny, well furnished room as they quietly knit and flame. The experiment the homosexual characters are involved in is probably the silliest, funniest and simultaneously most subtly disturbing moment in the whole movie. The other one is Crazy Kurt, a dopey, chuckling criminally insane pervert with a wildly funny face who spends most of the movie molesting the female prisoners.
In regards to continuity and anachronisms, Women’s Camp 119 is seamless for the most part. Because the footage and film quality is so grainy and because the video source was so choppy, it was hard to point its faults out. I have to give the film makers a lot of credit for the location, though. I don’t know where this movie was shot, but most of the scenes looked like they could very well have been taking place in a concentration camp: from the exterior scenes right down to the Alchemilla hospital-like labs and operating rooms complete with functioning medical equipment and machines, Camp Rosenhausen honestly looks like a stalag.
There were some flops that stuck out though like how Major Wieker changes between gray and black uniforms and doesn’t put on his armband throughout the movie and how one of the Nazi doctors has a fully grown beard. I’m sorry, no, the Nazi’s never grew beards unless they were out to sea. What, you couldn’t have the actor maintain a mustache? The only notable continuity and anachronistic parts I could notice were objects in the background that looked a little too modern: there’s what looks like a security camera in one surgery scene and even what appears to be an office building just outside the camp walls far behind Wieker’s head in his introduction.
Bruno Mattei has been known to use a lot of stock footage for his earlier films and has been able to match the stock of those movies with his own. That’s apparent here, but only in one nighttime scene. Considering how incredibly dark and grainy this movie is, the stock footage matched well enough I wouldn’t have been surprised if the movie suddenly grew a budget.
My only real complaint about the movie is the ending – consisting of two separate scenes – because as dark and depressing as it is, it’s completely random, abrupt and makes no sense. Oh sure, the concept was kind of cool and even a little dramatic at parts, but it had no context or reason to happen… it just does, out of nowhere. It makes me wonder what this movie would be like if it were more of a psychological study of its main character. The decisions of the character and the editing suggest a severe mental break that, with a proper back story, would’ve made a lot more sense. The actual ending, context-wise is okay, but it feels as though it was shot in post due to the scene’s dullness. Also, what’s shown instead of End Credits is tacky and out-of-place.
* Well, except maybe Men Behind the Sun, but that wasn’t Nazis, that was the Japanese. Besides… that’s a whole other review.