Franchise Corner Entry: ILSA
Following popular Nazisploitation offerings on both sides of the budgetary spectrum (the grim and grotty SS EXPERIMENT CAMP, the arty and po-faced THE NIGHT PORTER), Don Edmonds unleashed one of the most iconic exploitation characters of all time with this gleefully tasteless hit. A title card at the start announces this film’s intent as a serious indictment of Third Reich atrocities in the hope they will never happen again – though, of course, it’s only a sincere condemnation of real-life horrors in the same sense that MARK OF THE DEVIL was a solemn treatise on witchcraft: Edmonds relishes the grisly subject matter, packing in a hefty supply of Joe Blasco’s fine gore effects alongside a catalogue of all-purpose debauchery.
Dyanne Thorne is astounding as the eponymous ice-cold Nazi commandant, presiding over an SS camp where male prisoners are castrated if they fail to satisfy her sexually and any dissenters are tortured. When not using the Tantric-like prowess of wooden American Gregory Knoph (“I guess you could call me a freak of nature…a sort of human machine!”), the insatiable Ilsa retrains and abuses newly arrived female inmates to serve Third Reich soldiers while gruesomely experimenting with prisoners for her own nefarious ends. ILSA climaxes with a flurry of bloody throat slashings, slo-mo shootouts and the emergence of a hammy Nazi general who likes to be pissed on (“Wunderbar!”), awarding our anti-heroine with the SS’ greatest honour (“You are like some blonde goddess!”). A new star was born and anyone with genitals were simultaneously nervous and aroused.
ILSA HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS *** Canada 1976 Dir: Don Edmonds. 92 mins
She’s back!! Dyanne Thorne, going full-tilt like a character in an extreme version of ‘ALLO, ‘ALLO, is wide-eyed and camp-as-Christmas, returning via a suitably iconic entrance in which she slaps a beggar (Buck Flower) to the ground and arranges his flogging. Now serving Sheik Victor Alexander (who looks like Tony Blackburn’s sleazier brother) and preparing his hairy-bushed harem for slave auctions, she is busy unlocking chastity belts, dallying with a Scandinavian film star and entertaining a visiting oil magnate who notes accurately of Ilsa, “not a lady to meet in a dark alley”. A lighter, more knowingly comic-book sequel, this presents a series of jolly romps as Ilsa (easily drawn into slavery herself when the right hunk comes along) is duped and seduced by buff young U.S. diplomat Michael Thayer and oversees the topless hand to hand combat between memorable blaxploitation-era bad-asses Satin (Tanya Boyd) and Velvet (Marilyn Joy), as they beat the shit out of a schlubby guy and rip off one testicle each. “Welcome to my company of eunuchs” deadpans Ilsa.
Harsher moments include a poor shmuck doused in oil and set alight, plus the usual array of medieval crushing devices, foot-eating fire ants, grim dentistry and a naked, belching, chocolate-munching obese inmate. The broad performances by Thorne, Alexander and Robert Kennedy’s Kaiser (lured in to sexual favours with a strapping teenage boy in a scene played for homophobic laughs) take the edge off the vaginal explosives, and Thorne once again gets naked and gives it everything she’s got. She even gets to say the line “Ve have vays to make you obedient!” with a straight face. That alone should have got her the Oscar.
ILSA THE WICKED WARDEN (a.k.a. Greta The Mad Butcher / Wanda The Wicked Warden) *** Canada / West Germany / Switzerland 1977 Dir: Jess Franco. 100 mins
Not officially an ILSA picture, with Dyanne Thorne playing a thinly veiled variation (with red hair and less attractive female assistants) named either Greta, Wanda or Ilsa, depending on which version you watch. One of the insanely prolific Franco’s grubby, incarcerated-women exploiters, the film’s various title changes and alternate versions resulted in it becoming part of the ILSA pack. Ilsa now runs a mental health facility in the South American jungle, where the inmates have been convicted of prostitution, nymphomania and lesbianism (typical line: “Her pubic nest is moving due to chlorine in the water!”). Sympathetic Tania Busselier, in search of her missing sister, blackmails a doctor played by Franco himself to go undercover and expose the concentration camp-like sadism of the clinic, and soon she’s hosed down, group-groped and renamed No.41. Among her cell mates are a predatory serial knitter who was born a man, castrated her former husband and considers all men “big smelly beasts”, plus, of course, Franco’s muse and wife Lina Ronay on hand for naked acupuncture and massage.
“Ve have vays of turning you into a peaceful doll!” Relatively slow paced, this particularly seedy outing takes in everything from electro shock therapy as a cure for nymphomania to the accumulation of secret footage bound for the snuff movie market. A sequence of naked flagellation and the queasy, extended pleas of “wipe my culo! Lick my culo…lick it clean!” are not easily forgotten, and Thorne is as magnificent as ever, effortlessly seducing helpless men and unleashing her vast boobs to much appreciation: “Your body should be immortalised in marble!” It also pays off with a genuinely jaw-dropping, frenzied orgy of rape and cannibalism as the inmates take over the asylum, resembling variations of the ravenous infected in the early movies of Romero and Cronenberg. Intercut with images of lions and tigers feasting on raw-meat, the breast-chewing insanity (some of it still cut by the BBFC) of the last half hour provides the most mind-blowing finale to any ILSA picture.
ILSA THE TIGRESS OF SIBERIA *** Canada 1977 Dir: Jean Lafleur. 90 mins
It’s 1953, and Dyanne Thorne’s Ilsa now oversees a male Communist gulag in wintry Siberia, where she feeds dissenters and escapees to her pet tiger: “See how Sasha loves the taste of men!” When the gulag descends into chaos after Stalin’s execution, a subversive inmate Ilsa attempted to “re-educate” is the sole survivor, eventually tracking Ilsa to a Montreal brothel in 1977 to get his revenge. Opening with literally in-your-face gore, the first half of the final ILSA picture is action-packed fun, despite the absence of the lesbian interludes and omnipresent bush to which we had become accustomed. Donning her fur coat one last time, Thorne is wonderful as ever, stripping off for threesomes in the first 15 minutes with her “stallions” and worshipped by the blokes (“Skin like silk…bosoms full and warm like Mother Russia herself…”) as she rides them like horses.
It peaks with a remarkably dangerous-looking central action set piece incorporating shoot-outs, wild horses and a tiger fight, plus a show-stopping, pre-SAW, chainsaw-enhanced arm wrestling challenge (with excellent gore FX) : “Perhaps truth will give strength to the honest hand…” Sadly, when the movie shifts to the modern day, the evolution of Ilsa’s hitherto primitive torture methods results in a ponderous, disappointing second half, though her computer-controlled electro shock shenanigans do unleash some diverting horror movie imagery from the subconscious of her subjects, ensuring their swift punishment. It’s not the outrageous cinematic swansong Ilsa deserved, though still plenty to enjoy for devoted fans.