Nazis make the perfect monsters. Steven Spielberg has often said this is the reason why he used them more than once in his Indiana Jones films. They are the embodiment of cruelty, of hatred, of everything that normal, decent people are against. Further, they allow for a higher (or lower, perspective depending) level of transgression in narratives. After all, these are people who tortured and murdered millions of human beings for nothing more than the circumstance of their birth. Depicting the fictitious shenanigans they can get up to feels somehow grimier while also being far easier to believe because of this.
Sure, there are films which gave their Nazi characters some nuance, tried to make them, if not sympathetic, then at least more well-rounded. But Nazis function best when they are pure villains. Pairing them together with attributes of actual monsters just makes them more intriguing. This is why films like Shock Waves or Hellboy or Outpost work as well as they do (to whatever degree). This is not to say that they always work. There are enough Nazi Monster movies that fall flat to make this sub-genre a truly mixed bag (See Oasis of the Zombies, if you doubt). It’s rather surprising, considering Italy’s rich tradition of Nazisploitation films that they didn’t churn out more of them that added in supernatural components. But if Lucio Fulci’s Sodoma’s Ghost (aka The Ghosts of Sodom aka Il Fantasma di Sodoma) is any stick by which to measure, maybe that’s for the best.
Six teen jerks (let’s assume they’re American for the sake of convenience) dick around in the French countryside until they wind up at an old villa. Holing up there for the night, they soon find more than a few surprises waiting for them, not least of which is the fact that the manse played host to an ill-fated Nazi orgy forty-five years earlier. And the revelers still want to party.
Roger Ebert’s film glossary defines the Dead Teenager Movie as “a generic term for any film primarily concerned with killing teenagers, without regard for logic, plot, performance, humor, etcetera.” Part of the genius of the Dead Teenager Movie is that (when done right) it makes us want these kids dead. We watch for the kills. This is why the virginal female character is typically the Final Girl. She is virtuous, nice, even bland, but she is worth more to the human race than the remainder of the characters surrounding her. The rule of thumb with this sort of film is that, if characters do drugs or have sex, they are marked for death. I could see going one step further (or maybe just putting a little shading on it). The reason these kids are lined up for death stems from their sense of entitlement. The majority of times, these are people who behave like the world owes them something, and, goddammit, they’re gonna take it all. This is why they indulge their every whim like they do. They don’t care, because they deserve to be allowed to be reckless (the converse argument can be made that this recklessness is from the natural maturation process, and their slaughter is a stymieing of this, a way for youth to be kept in check, but I like my theory more). With this in mind, the Ugly Americans of this film break into a house they were not invited into, because they are due a roof over their heads rather than having to rough it for their bad decisions. They eat food and drink wine that doesn’t belong to them, because it’s available, not because they earned it or even plan to pay for it. They make themselves at home and snoop through the entirety of the estate, because they have no regard for other people’s stuff. They are takers. This is much like the Nazis and their orgy. The Nazis took advantage of every vice they could get their grubby, little dick-beaters on because they were “The Master Race.” They were entitled to it. Both the Nazis and the teenagers in the film are punished for hubristic narcissism far more than for acting on their baser impulses.
It’s well-known that the Nazis had a penchant for documenting, in gruesome detail, all of their atrocities. This translates into Fulci’s film in two ways. During the prologue, young, rat-stache-having Nazi, Willy (Robert Egon), stumbles around the party with a film camera, gleefully recording everything around him. At several points, he aims his camera in direct address to the audience, as if he were filming us. We are partakers in the orgy. We are enjoying the flesh, sweat, and depravity as much as the Germans, because this is a part of why we are watching this movie in the first place. Willy’s film is (magically?) developed and screened for the participants (I assumed that same evening, since there’s no separation of time, direct or indirect). They watch the things we also watched, while we were also being watched. Moreover, the teenagers that infest the house also engage in this act of looking and self-reflexivity. As they are separated and “attacked,” each is shown a mirror through which they see their innermost desires and/or selves revealed while being watched by what’s on the other side (the fact that this is done via mirror goes to my point about narcissism, though far more overtly in this case). Mark (Joseph Alan Johnson) is horny and inebriated, so he sees a naked woman enticing him to the point that he plays Russian Roulette to get her. Anne (Teresa Razzaudi) sees Willy and is seduced by the promise of rough sex she would never tell anyone she secretly wants. Predatory lesbian Maria (Luciana Ottaviani aka Jessica Moore) sees her heart’s desire, Anne, getting hot and heavy with Celine (Maria Concetta Salieri), causing a fit of jealous rage. Everyone in Sodoma’s Ghost, including the viewer is watching and being watched, partaker and partaken.
Anyone who hears the name Lucio Fulci in association with this movie might get a little excited to check out one of his lesser known works. Don’t be. This film is a mess from front to back, technically, stylistically, and logically (I realize few people watch Fulci’s films for their logic, but the best of them have some internal sense of it that they follow to some extent or another). The use of handheld camera is out of control and sloppy, even when it’s motivated. The editing is disjointed (the best example of this is a sexual rendezvous between two characters that ends abruptly and is followed by a scene where one of the characters despairs that his sex partner turned into a monster, which we are deprived of seeing entirely; I get that there was no budget for this thing, but come on). Outside of the grating characters, the shit dialogue, the turgid melodrama, the plank-like acting, is the ultimate discovery that there is absolutely nothing threatening about anything that happens (with one exception), and these grabassers just spent eighty-four very long minutes of YOUR life learning diddly-shit other than that they should just continue with their tour of France as if all of this never happened. I guarantee you, if you watch Sodoma’s Ghost, you’ll wish you could continue with your life as if it never happened, as well.
MVT: It’s the obvious co-winners of the copious female nudity and some decent gross-out effects.
Make or Break: The finale and denouement are just infuriatingly unsatisfying.