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Nazisploitation is an exploitation film subgenre that separates the hardcore devotees from the dilettantes.  This short-lived but prolific ’70s movement added a uniquely disturbing element to the expected sex and violence of grindhouse fare by informing it with the racism and inhumane philosophy that drove the Third Reich.  It didn’t matter that these films were usually heavily fictionalized and cartoonish in their morbid sex/death extremes.  Evoking the spectre of real-life horrors that the world is still struggling to come to terms with GestapoLO-posgives even the silliest Nazisploitation films a gut-punch effectiveness that lingers in the viewer’s mind long after the end credits have rolled.

The Gestapo’s Last Orgy is as brutal and nasty as the rest of its Nazisploitation brethren yet it also has unique qualities that raise it to the top of this debauched subgenre.  For starters, it has an unusually complex plot and artsy structure.  It begins post-WWII as disgraced ex-Nazi officer Conrad von Starker (Adriano Micantoni) returns to the abandoned site of his crimes for a reunion with Lise Cohen (Daniela Poggi), a former concentration camp prisoner whose testimony kept him out of prison.

As the two walk the ragged terrain of the former camp, flashbacks reveal their backstory: von Starker was a frustrated soldier who was ordered by his superiors to operate a “joy division”-style camp where soldiers are sent to rape and brutalize Jewish female prisoners.  Cohen was one of the female GestapoLO-01prisoners, who frustrates and fascinates the commandant because she welcomes death instead of pleading for her life.  He tries to break her but ends up falling in love in a perverse, S&M way.  However, the horrors of the past aren’t easily suppressed – and Lise is not as docile as she might seem.

The resulting film is distinctive within the Nazisploitation subgenre because it offsets its wallowing in sleaze with an unexpected sense of artistic pretension.  It borrows from The Night Porter as much as it does Salon Kitty or Ilsa: She-Wolf Of The S.S. and surprisingly downplays Ilsa-esque geek-show gore in favor of psychological cruelty (tellingly, it opens with a quote from Nietzsche).  Though we are clearly supposed to side with the Jewish prisoners, the film shows surprising interest in exploring von Starker’s internal traumas and the perverse “love” he develops for Lise.

Director/co-writer Cesare Canevari crosscuts between past and present in a way that suggests that he thinks his film is a grindhouse answer to Last Year At Marienbad, albeit one spiked with a dash of Salo.  Though he had a tiny budget to work with, he exploits a few impGestapoLO-02ressive interior sets with some flashy camerawork and gives the film a queasy romanticism via a lush Alberto Baldan Bembo score that is deployed to the same ironic effect that Riz Ortolani’s scores achieved in Jacopetti/Prosperi mondo epics.  He also gets committed performances from Micantoni, who revels in his character’s cruelty, and Poggi, who brings a perfect, wrung-out blankness to her fetish object role.

That said, The Gestapo’s Last Orgy balances out its artsy flourishes with the sleaziest of setpieces.  In addition to the expected torture and trashy sex scenes, there are perversely inspired moments, like a bit where Canevari seems to quote Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls by having Lise show her submission to von Starker via fellating the barrel of his Luger pistol.

However, the fGestapoLO-03ilm’s key outrageous moment is an unforgettable banquet sequence where a wild-eyed scientist offers a Swiftian proposal that the Nazis farm their Jewish prisoners as a food source. He proves his point by serving them a dish made from “unborn Jew,” thus inspiring the banquet guests to douse an unconscious female prisoner in cognac and light her on fire. It plays like something John Waters would have written in the ’70s – and offers a carrion feast of over-the-top acting and bad taste showboating that will leave even the hardiest exploitation-flick vet with their eyes agog and their jaw on the floor.

In short, The Gestapo’s Last Orgy is as tacky as the title suggests but if you’re brave enough to watch it, you might be surprised by its oddball gestures towards the arthouse.  This yin-yang battle between sleaze and pretension gives the film a certain hypnotic quality that other Nazisploitation films can only aspire to.  You might even say it’s an art film for the grindhouse.