When it comes to brow, the line between ‘High’ and ‘Low’ is a lot thinner than some people would readily admit. A case in point is to be found between arthouse rarity Salo and the grottiest of the video nasties The Beast in Heat. Being principally about the fascist regime in Italy during the Second World War, both gained an edge of notoriety for presenting the darkest corners of sadism, ‘an exploration of the drives which brought about the Holocaust’. To borrow a quote off the DVD cover.
Or to put it another way, they’re both a whips and handcuffs exploration of Max Moseley’s wettest dream. While Salo takes the high ground by citing the grand old Marquis de Sade as its narrative source, Bestia in Callore’s approach to the subject differs only in two areas: its budget and the audience’s expectation. As a late exploitation flick Bestia was churned out at record speed, rehashing material and actors from another WW2 flick made barely days earlier. The little money they did have was frizzled away on Chinese bangers for the few battle scenes which underpin any feeble vestiges of action. In a measure to save their precious money the wardrobe department of Bestia saw fit to reduce the costumes for ‘resistance fighters – female’ to absolutely nothing whenever in the presence of any Nazis. Bare flesh sells and the relative costs of getting some grubby bodies on screen is practically zero. “Quids in!” says mister producer.
In that respect Bestia skirts dangerously close to softcore pornography, and the budget of the torture scenes has you reeling in disgust at the grubbiness of it all. Not as it should be, reeling at the horror of The Horror. The farce of the cheapness comes to its culmination when a roaming camera in the fully operational Nazi torture factory comes across a poor woman strapped to a table with two black guinea pigs on her belly. You can only assume they were the cheaper, more docile alternative to real rats, but the effect it warrants is the comedic highlight which almost saves the film.
But you have to take such exploitative fare with a hefty pinch of salt. It truly is a film built from the title down, with more risqué alternative billing like SS Hell Camp, SS Experiment Part 2, and Horrifying Experiments of the S.S. Last Days guaranteed to pull in the idle Dirty Mac Brigade.
Coming up later in the Video Nasties list will be the more controversial SS Experiment Camp which only last year had Tory backbenchers bellyaching about censorship in the House of Commons. The irony of it taking the right honourable Julian Brazier MP a whole 20 months to react to the release of said DVD could be overlooked if not for the damaging impact it had on the BBFC.
The Video Nasties list stands as record to one of the many uncomfortable shifts the BBFC has been forced to make over the years. Yet moves by the same Board in the last ten years has seen the majority of Nasties certified and released in the UK, reflective of an open and some might say more liberal society. This might seem to fly in the face of the opinions voiced by Conservative Christian Fellow Mr Brazier MP and his rather backward looking friends at MediaWatch UK, yet these moves genuinely reflect the more permissive attitudes found in modern British audiences, reflected in a number of extensive and independent surveys conducted regularly by the Board.
Niche material such as the majority of the Nasties list will always pass under the radar of the opportunistic Mediawatchmen, so quite why SS Experiment Camp was singled out we’ll never know. Maybe like the Dirty Mac Brigade the spiritual successors of Mary Whitehouse caught onto the title alone and just went from there. Maybe they found out about it through their regular Nazi-themed S&M magazine? Who knows what these watchmen actually watch in their spare time? Who cares? Hopefully not the Daily Mail or anyone else with a voice that can’t be ignored.
For those hungry for a high camp ‘best-enjoyed-inebriated’ controversy-toting adjective-hyphenated non-horror should look up The Beast In Heat. Those looking for a good film could hardly do worse for ignoring it.