Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia (1977) review


Dyanne Thorne (Ilsa), Michel Rene Labelle (Andre Chicurin)

Directed by Jean Lefleur

The Short Version: The official second sequel to the splat-tastic ILSA, SHE WOLF. This outing again changes locations not once, but twice. It's two exploitation movies in one from the frozen Siberian tundra to a seedy prostitute ring in late 70's Montreal. Throw in Russian secret agents, dollops of sex and nudity and creative torture/ death scenes and you have a recipe for a worthy addition in the ILSA franchise.

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

In 1953 at Gulag 14 on the frozen Siberian wasteland, Ilsa runs a brutal rehabilitation camp for political prisoners. Those who try to escape are tortured in a variety of ways, or fed to a man eating tiger. When Joseph Stalin is executed, the Ukranian General Zerov and his soldiers plan to attack the camp, but not before Ilsa and her comrades kill the captives and escape. One man survives; Andre Chicurin. Flash forward to Montreal in 1977, Chicurin is now a coach for a Soviet Hockey team. He soon discovers that Ilsa is alive and well and running a brothel named 'Aphrodite' in Canada. Meanwhile, a group of secret agents have their sights set on the vile female war criminal, but Chicurin wants his chance for revenge and Ilsa has unfinished business.

For this second official sequel, it's business as usual as Ilsa starts off much the same way as the other two only the location is different. Those who attempt escape, or fail to work hard are punished in gruelling ways. One poor soul has his head crushed into squishy pulp with a massive hammer. Another captive is pulled with rope under the ice and dragged below the icy depths to another pulley some distance away. Another man is fed to Sasha, the hungry tiger. Another scene finds two starving captives forced to partake in an arm wrestling match with chainsaws; the loser losing his hand in spectacularly gory fashion.

Once the film switches locales, the action changes to a sordid sexploitation opus with heavy spy overtones. General Zerov learns "the bitch is still alive" and sends heavily armed agents to kill Ilsa and destroy her prostitution ring, but she is ready for them. At this point, we get more creative death sequences. One man is tucked inside a large tank and dropped below a lake covered in ice. Another man is gruesomely sucked into a snow plow. Yet another is killed in a scene worthy of an Italian crime flick when Ilsa's cronies sneak into a hotel room and replace the water from a water bet with gasoline! Then there's a wild action finale wherein the remainder of the spies, decked out in white camouflage and brandishing machine guns, launch an all out attack on 'Aphrodite'.

New World Pictures picked this one up for distribution, but heavy censorship kept it from a reasonably wide release. It was released in the US on VHS tape through Charter Entertainment in its drastically cut form. In its complete version, it's quite gory and contains a gargantuanly gratuitous amount of sex and nudity. Anchor Bay were unable to secure the North American rights for this film from MGM(!!) when they released the first two and the non-ILSA Franco disaster to DVD in July of 2000. Like the other films, the score is mostly made up of library tracks and fans of Shaw Brothers kung fu movies will recognize several tracks used here.

Regarding the generous proliferation of flesh on display, Thorne shows off her voluptuous form more than the first two films combined; and that's not counting the other copious scenes of lesbianism and sexual shenanigans. Thorne's husband, Howard Maurer (they met on the set of HAREM KEEPER), plays one of Ilsa's lovers during the Russian prison camp segment of the film.

The character of Ilsa is slightly different from the previous pictures. She's depicted as possessing a more voracious sexual appetite this time. She's never seen bedding down just one man and she also indulges in some kinky bedroom antics as well involving whips and knee high black boots bearing spurs. She chooses her dual love slaves each night sometimes by having them fight over her resulting in the winners having her body for the evening. There's even a scene (when the action switches to Canada) where Ilsa is taking a shower in a stand up bath in front of all the men under her employ teasing them all as she slowly washes away the soap from her sultry frame.

One mainstay ported over from Don Edmonds two classicks is that Ilsa is obsessed with a particular man. In those movies, Ilsa's brutal wiles are tempered by the sexual charms of a particularly empowered male. In this film, Ilsa is hellbent on breaking a man's will. Failing to do so at Gulag 14 with electroshock treatment, Ilsa has new modern methods in a computerized machine that causes the patient to experience hallucinations of their worst fears. For Chicurin, his worst fear is to have his penis bitten off by Ilsa(!)

While the wild tone of Edmonds films are largely absent here, TIGRESS carves its identity with its own unique style. A sliver of the ghoulish wit of those movies emerges here and there. One moment occurs at the beginning when a group of prisoners are being taken to Gulag 14 which is signified by a frozen corpse tied to a tree with barbed wire pointing the way to the prison.

The ending, like the ending of ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS (1976), leaves an ambiguous ending as to the fate of Fraulein Ilsa. The final shot is ironic and striking. After breaking her ankle in a snowmobile accident, Ilsa is left for dead on the icy Canadian plains. She attempts to pay off Chicurin with her stash of money if he'll save her, but he turns and leaves her there to freeze to death. The last we see of the indomitable Ilsa is her burning all of her money in an effort to stay alive in the freezing cold as the sun slowly disappears below the horizon.

While it's a slightly lesser entry to its predecessors, TIGRESS is a worthy follow up and a hundred times better than the falsely connected Franco entry, WANDA, THE WICKED WARDEN (1977; retitled ILSA, THE WICKED WARDEN among other monikers). It's unfortunate the series didn't continue as I'd like to have seen something along the lines of ILSA, DRAGON LADY OF THE ORIENT. Can you imagine what the Shaw Brothers could have done with the franchise? Trash fans will definitely get their money's worth here. It's a crying shame we didn't get more adventures of the sex crazed Aryan wild woman with a body to die for in this, one of the most notorious exploitation film series' ever committed to celluloid.

This review is representative of the uncut Norwegian PAL region 0 DVD

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972) review


Fred Williamson (Nigger Charley), D'Urville Martin (Toby), Don Pedro Colley (Joshua), Thomas Anderson (Shadow), John Ryan (Houston), Tricia O'Neil (Sarah Lyons), Jerry Gatlin (Sheriff Rhinehart), Gertrude Jeannette (Theo), Keith Prentice (Niles Fowler), Joe Santos (Reverend Jarvis)

Directed by Martin Goldman

The Short Version: Enjoyable blaxploitation western is slightly irritating in that it doesn't flesh out some very interesting characters settling instead for comic book mayhem and typical racial sensationalism treading dangerously on the outskirts of its 'PG' rating. Hopefully, a better, more complete version will surface one day to properly put this occasionally exceptional black actioner into perspective.

Set free by his dying master, Charley is beaten and humiliated by racist plantation workers. In a rage he accidentally kills the sadistic Houston. Charley and two of his friends make their escape and are pursued by a posse of vengeful slave herders and professional killers including the psychotic Reverend Jarvis.

Goldman's pseudo serious blaxploitation western occasionally wants to be a compelling piece of entertainment, but it isn't long before the exploitable elements take over as Charley goes from one mini adventure to the next. It's almost like two movies in one. The first half if Charley and company escaping prior to a bloody shootout in a town after being cornered by his pursuers. Charley and his two friends soon pick up a couple additional black compatriots along the way, one a young sixteen year old boy and another, a wily, dirty old codger.

The latter half of the film is akin to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) with Charley protecting a white man and his half breed wife from the crazed Reverend Jarvis who terrorizes the weak. The requisite angle of interracial infatuation rears its head once more as it became an oft used plot device in countless other black action pictures and other genre related productions. Like several other movies, NIGGER CHARLEY was controversial upon its release no doubt spurred on by its incendiary title, but it didn't stop Paramount from backing a sequel the following year. Still, Fred Williamson himself understood the value, the importance and the business sense of such a picture during this time, and there were lots of them.

My original poster for the film. Note the 'PG' rating in the left hand corner. Also note the tagline at the top of the poster. I imagine nothing like this would be allowed today regardless of the movies message.

I think the title may be just as much a reflection of the time period in which it is set as opposed to being strictly about sensationalism. The title alone may be the only truly "memorable" thing about the movie as it isn't all that great anyway. There are some nicely done, dramatic moments, but they're few and far between and the out of place soul tinted score does the film no favors. That's not to say the songs aren't good, just they seem strange backing a movie that takes place out in the old west. There's even that 'wa wa' style music that accompanies so many 70's productions.

The opening of the film is particularly striking showing African tribes waging war and taking captives of their enemies in what appears to be a statement on man's propensity to wage war and dominate his brothers regardless of skin color. Bypassing a lot of potential, it's difficult to ascertain just how good it is since the only digital version available is a fullscreen, edited print apparently taken from a television version. With some expletives obviously drowned out, they left in dozens of strong racial slurs. Some of the characters are decently constructed, but I can't help but wonder if we're missing more. As they stand, they're predominantly comic book caricatures; efficient, thinly drawn they may be.

There is one scene that made me wonder if Mel Brooks was inspired for a similar scene in BLAZING SADDLES (1974). The scene involves Charley and his friends surrounded by Indians. The Native Americans touch Charley's face to see if the black rubs off. Charley reciprocates by rubbing the Indians skin in the same manner. A few years later, Williamson would seemingly reproduce some of SADDLES story conceits for his BOSS NIGGER (1975) wherein two black bounty hunters enter a town and take over as sheriff and deputy.

As much as I've enjoyed some of Williamson's movies, he mostly gets by on a plethora of charisma and comic book bravado as opposed to acting. THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY is one of the actors best roles and performances. He really puts himself into this one and I imagine this picture was close to his heart despite the high exploitation content (including a cock fight) that frequently steals any social significance the film had attained. Don Pedro Colley was Baron Samedi from SUGAR HILL (1974) and one of the mutants in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970). D'Urville Martin was a familiar face in these movies and even directed and played the villain in the ridiculous classic, DOLEMITE (1974).

Tricia O'Neil (PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING) is the busty object of Charley's affection as the half indian, half white woman persecuted by the mad Reverend Jarvis. Larry G. Spangler, the producer and writer, took over directing duties for the sequel.THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY (1972) delivers everything you'd expect from one of these movies. It has some genuine, yet subtle moments of poignancy. However, it is one of Williamson's better efforts especially in comparison with some of his Po' Boy Productions. It's worth seeking out and deserving of a better release.
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