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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) review


Dyanne Thorne (Ilsa), Michael Thayer (Commander Adam), Victor Alexander (El Sharif), Uschi Digard (Inga Lindstrom), Colleen Brennan (Nora Edward), Haji (Alina Cordova), Tanya Boyd (Satin), Marilyn Joi (Velvet), Su Ling (Katsina), Richard Kennedy (Kaiser), George 'Buck' Flower (Beggar), Bobby Woods (Prince Salim)

Directed by Don Edmonds

The Short Version: Don Edmonds sexy, gruesome and fun follow up to the SHE WOLF is a more ambitious affair this time adding spy movie conventions and wildly over the top trashy elements. Grandly offensive and filled with nudity, if trash is your fancy, they don't get much better than Don Edmond's two ILSA entries.

***WARNING! This review contains images of sex and violence***

Ilsa is operating a slavery ring in the Middle East serving El Sharif, a maniacal oil sheik who has usurped his young nephew as ruler. Some of Ilsa's kidnapped clientele consist of well known and wealthy personalities. This attracts the attention of the United States Secret Service who send spies to bust up the criminal activities within El Sharif's harem. One of them is an American diplomat whom Ilsa becomes infatuated. She refuses to kill him against El Sharif's orders and brings about her own humiliating torture. The slaves soon revolt culminating in a violent confrontation against El Sharif and his soldiers.

Spectacular sequel to the amazingly tasteless ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1974). Whereas that film trotted out every deplorable act imaginable, Edmonds follow up finds even more nasty nuggets to wallow in and serves them up with a helping of camp quality. The grim mood has been lightened up just a bit (the scene with Kaiser and a slave boy is a riot). The nudity, sex and gore are all here, but there's a Bondian air of adventure about the film that belies its meager budget.

The budget was a bit bigger this time out and the filmmakers deliver ten times the entertainment value of films with a hundred times the budget of Edmonds picture. It's simply incredible the ingenuity of exploitation movie makers of old compared with the egocentric actors and technicians of today. The 1970's will arguably be the greatest decade for exploitation movies and Don Edmonds two ILSA entries go a long way in proving that.

This series of films (the three official ILSA movies) bear no connection with one another (they're all stand alone features) aside from the title villain and the outrageous portrayal of Dyanne Thorne. They also share extreme violence as their selling points, but none are as well accomplished as the first two entries by Don Edmonds. For this second outing, the elusive Ilsa has set up a slave shop of beautiful women to be trained as sex slaves for El Sharif and his oil Sheik colleagues.

HAREM KEEPER is a non stop barrage of some of the most insane sex and sadism scenes ever committed to film. At times bordering on the pornographic, the sex quotient is increased from the previous movie. There are no rapes this time out, although women are forced to perform sexual activities as part of their training. Most scenes see slave women gleefully pleasuring themselves with giant dildos, or enjoying the company of a man. Fans of Russ Meyer's catalog of cleavage and gravity defying breasts will have a field day here spotting the talents of Haji, Uschi Digard, Su Ling and Colleen Brennan.

The scriptwriters had a brainstorm of ghoulish ideas for ways to torture and mutilate the various victims of the movie. It's a collage of cruelty from start to finish. Over the years there have been many exploitation movies that were marketed far better than the actual motion picture itself. This is not the case with Edmonds two ILSA's. Both are the ultimate in exploitation brilliance. Preposterously shocking, HAREM KEEPER just may edge out its predecessor in overall sleaze just by its myriad amount of ideas. Structurally it's the same movie, just a different location. But it's more than a mere torture flick.

The plethora of women and spy motifs seem to foreshadow the Andy Sidaris 'Sex & Spy' features in the 80's, but with a lot of gore. The action oriented plot also features a young wrongfully deposed prince, the nephew of El Sharif who is kept locked away in a dungeon mud pit. It's also not unsettling in the manner of the previous film because of the lighter, intentionally kitschy tone that rears its grand guinol head frequently. Ilsa has two African American lesbian bodyguards who seem to dislike wearing clothes of any kind. They also have their own XENA like amazonian battle cry. EL Sharif is a sex crazed, power obsessed, oil craving madman who delights in the suffering of others.

One of the films best scenes involves a death dealing device designed by Ilsa that is truly one of the greatest killing contraptions ever conceived. It's a pneumatic dildo weapon that acts as a detonation device when ecstasy is reached. It's tested on a captive spy whose body has been savagely mutilated through torture. Needless to say the results are explosive. This doozy of a death trap is implemented once more at the finale in a choice piece of poetic justice.

Other scenes of crudity are the harem sequence wherein women are sold off and others have various signs of disease covered up so as not to scare off potential buyers. One slave girl, thinking she is being bought for her beauty soon realizes her teeth are to be chiseled out as her buyer doesn't like the "scrape of teeth". Some women are injected with silicone to make their rectums more sizable, others are force fed cream corn to fatten them up. Eyeballs are removed, breasts are crushed, feet are eaten away by flesh eating ants, bodies are beaten to pulpy hamburger, or set on fire. Not since BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (1976) has their been such a display of depraved misogyny, only here it's shot with the deft hand of a professional.

Unlike the first movie, there's no one character to identify with. The lead male barely registers on life support While none of the female captives are given much characterization, but just there to be brutalized, or humiliated. The only one to be dwelled upon is Ilsa herself. A surefire villain and torturess, Ilsa is dealt some pathos this time out. She's bewitched by a man just as before, but here, she's tortured for her disobedience by being felt up by a syphillis infected peasant played by George "Buck" Flower (Boomer from the WILDERNESS FAMILY movies), who played a Nazi doctor in the first movie. The lovely and lithe Tanya (BLACK SHAMPOO) Boyd is one of Ilsa's naked bodyguards. Victor Alexander as El Sharif is devilishly over the top and delivers a performance worthy of a Bond villain.

The music is stock tracks and the opening theme (heard throughout) sounds like the main theme from Hammer's BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1971). With so much violence, sex, gore, plentiful nudity, action and lovely ladies from start to finish, ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS is simply one of the best exploitation movies ever made. It's a worthy sequel and a true shame that Don Edmonds couldn't be coaxed back for a third entry to form a cinematic unholy trinity of exploitation madness and mayhem the likes of which will never be seen again.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD.


Andrew said...

Ah, my Netflix queue just got longer....
You really know how to find the classy ones, don't you?

Fazeo said...

I always wanted to check out the Ilsa series of films, now I know I have to. Terrific review as always.

venoms5 said...

@ Andrew: I think you'll like these, Andrew. They're definitely in a "class" all by themselves!

@ Fazeo: I'd skip the Franco one in my opinion unless you're a fan of his work. It's not an Ilsa movie anyway, just retitled as such. TIGRESS OF SIBERIA isn't as good as the first two, but still delivers. The spy element is heightened even more for this one.

dfordoom said...

I still haven't seen the original Ilsa movie, Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, but both Harem Keeper and Tigress of Siberia are great movies.

venoms5 said...

The first is often cited as the best, it's tone is just much more grim than the others. I think I prefer the second actually just because it has other things going on and a slightly lighter tone. The first one is just brutal from start to finish. It's definitely worth owning, though.

Aaron said...

Cool review! I've only seen SHE WOLF... I've been wanting to get the Ilsa box set from like Amazon UK or something like that for cheap, but keep putting it off.

venoms5 said...

The first two are the trashiest with TIGRESS OF SIBERIA a very close third.

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