Journeyman director Luigi Batzella (here credited as Ivan Kathansky) may not be a household name among fans of Italian Horror, but his 1977 film The Beast In Heat is a classic in the annals of Scum Cinema, splicing a routine WW2 action film with the kind of outrageous sadism seen in Ilsa She Wolf of the SS. In the film, a remote Italian town mounts a spirited defense against the encroaching Nazis. In an attempt to flush out members of the resistance, the villagers are tortured by a seductive but deadly female SS lieutenant who feeds the women to the lascivious genetically engineered half-man, half-beast of the title...
There's very little to be said in favour of The Beast In Heat. It's almost a failure on every level. The film very often makes little sense, not helped by the dreadful dubbing. Some of the faux-German accents are incomprehensible and the dialogue lets loose a steady stream of cringe-worthy lines - at one point, a priest offers one of the resistance fighters some encouragement - "The Lord won't betray you. He's the best". In another scene Kratsch, the sadistic female SS officer proudly looks upon her beastly creation raping a woman and declares "You and me, we're going places!"
At times the film is almost schizophrenic in its tone. The bulk of the film is given over to scenes of partisans fending off the Nazi invaders - strictly routine Saturday afternoon stuff, but then Batzella will shift gears by including a scene where a woman is stripped naked and a gun shot into her snatch. Stock footage from a 1970 Batzella war film, When the Bells Toll, is dropped into the mix with little attempt to make any of it appear seamless, and the film's soundtrack features an odd mix of contemporary electronic music and what sounds like a mournful spaghetti western refrain.
Sleaze fans however will be rewarded for sitting through this mess with the torture sequences in the second half of the film - there's a woman with electrodes wired to her genitals, another woman having her fingernails pulled off with pliers and in the film's most celebrated scene, the beast rips off clumps of a woman's pubic hair (leaving her vagina bloody and raw) and enthusiastically chews on them, all the while mugging wildly for the camera. The beast played by comedy actor Sal Boris (aka Salvatore Baccaro) looks even more ugly in the flesh than what is depicted on the cover of the British pre-cert, and one wonders what the producers of the film offered their young Italian starlets to be groped and prodded and salivated over by Baccaro, who incidentally delivers probably the most committed performance in the film. Baccaro actually turns up in quite a few Italian films of this era - he can be seen in Deep Red, The Five Days of Milan, Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, Salon Kitty and Emanuelle In America.
The Beast In Heat is available in the US on DVD courtesy of Exploitation Digital. The anamorphic 1.85 transfer is something of a beauty to behold - sharp, colorful, the print almost devoid of any wear and damage, making the inclusion of the maggoty stock footage even more conspicuous. The English dub is the only audio option, and some trailers for other Exploitation Digital titles are included by way of extras.
Luigi Batzella, who made a career out of shooting cheap exploitation features - war films, spaghetti westerns, and horror gatecrashed the big film set in the sky in 2008 and no doubt would have been delighted to know that the ultra-rare British VHS release of his signature film now commands up to a thousand pounds among video collectors.