Colour, 1973, 96m. / Directed by Don Edmonds / Starring Dyanne Thorne, Gregory Knoph
Colour, 1974, 93m. / Directed by Don Edmonds / Starring Dyanne Thorne, Victor Alexander, Michael Thayer, Haji
Colour, 1977, 94m. / Directed by Jess Franco / Starring Dyanne Thorne, Lina Romay, Jess Franco / Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A rare exploitation film that actually surpasses the lurid promises of its title, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS became one of the most notorious titles on videotape, due to both its rarity and the numerous different versions floating around. The sheer tastelessness of its concept had already earned it a reputation as a nasty puppy, even worse than the likes of Love Camp 7 or Salon Kitty, primarily thanks to the unforgettable, hammy performance by Dyanne Thorne as everyone’s favourite domineering commandant of the Third Reich.

Our tender story begins with a batch of new arrivals at Ilsa’s medical camp (actually the sets of Hogan’s Heroes, as most know by now), where Ilsa quickly gets to work. She’s already castrated her latest bed partner, who failed to satisfy her ravenous sexual cravings, and now she’s ticked off at the entire human race. Determined to prove that women can withstand more pain than men, she doles out countless atrocities on her victims to prove that the fairer sex should serve in Hitler’s army. Ilsa’s work routine is momentarily disrupted when she chooses an American prisoner, Wolfe (Knoph), from the latest batch of male prospects, and in his words, he “can hold it back all night, like a human machine - faster, slower, anything.” Naturally Ilsa turns into a growling kitten in the sack with our studly Yank, and she even throws in a couple of extra women the following night to prove his stamina wasn’t a one time fluke. Little does Ilsa know that Wolfe is also busy staging a revolt which will make the camp’s grounds run red with Nazi blood!

Produced under a pseudonym by cinema’s greatest huckster, David F. Friedman, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is made with enough skill to make the viewer very, very uncomfortable. Every campy line of dialogue and outrageous plot development is immediately deflated by a stomach churning image of bodily torture, courtesy of latex master Joe Blasco (Shivers). Thankfully the accents and sets are so ludicrous that one never believes the film is taking place anywhere near Nazi Germany, and Thorne is always worth watching in just about anything.

Anchor Bay’s presentation of the initial Ilsa offering most obviously sports a brand new, crystal clear widescreen transfer that wipes the floor with those old chopped up VHS tapes. You simply won’t believe a ‘70s exploitation film could ever look this good. (Not so for the trailer, lifted directly from a dupey videotape.)

Any drive-in fan with a perverse streak should have this film in their collection, but only the die hard will want to venture into the commentary track. Featuring Thorne, Friedman, and director Don Edmonds, this could have been a golden moment for sleaze fans, but unfortunately British “humorist” Martin Lewis (who had already stinted on Anchor Bay’s The Ghost Goes Gear commentary) moderates with a snide sledgehammer approach that obviously irritates all of the participants, not to mention the listener. His jarring, unfunny cracks reference everything from Mel Brooks to the film’s low budget without eliciting a single chuckle. This problem aside, the disc is nicely (and sleazily) packaged, complete with filmographies and nasty menu screens to get you in the right mood.

Following the sex-and-death-camp antics of She Wolf, busty Dyanne returned to the screen in some unspecified time period for a new job as the Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks. Well, it’s only one sheik actually, but who’s counting? Ilsa’s boss, El Sharif (Alexander), delights in her nasty antics, which include kidnapping and importing girls in crates to serve in the harem along with the help of black sidekicks Velvet and Satin. (Honestly.) A diplomat from the US arrives at the palace along with CIA agent Adam Scott (Thayer), the requisite All-American stud whose bed skills melt Ilsa into a demure love toy. Well, not quite; she still has time to torture a harem spy (Russ Meyer regular Haji) throughout most of the film by feeding her eyeball to the diplomat (who’s married but likes young boys), covering her leg in fire ants, and ultimately doing something with an certain electric device which can’t be described in words. Yep, it’s revolution time again, so it looks like Ilsa just might get her comeuppance for a second time.
Less slick but more guilt-free compared to its predecessor, this film chugs along with plenty of nudity and gore along the way to keep the crowds cheering. The familiar cast of exploitation vets is a joy to watch, with busty Uschi Digard turning up as one recent kidnappee and the ubiquitous George “Buck” Flower as a beggar with syphilis who figures prominently in the climax. Thorne seems more relaxed and active in her role this time, though that beige outfit doesn’t quite pack the same kinky wallop as her first uniform for obvious reasons.

In one weird turn, many sources claimed for a while that actor “Victor Alexander” (actually Texas-based Jerry Delony, a vocal Scientologist who appeared in Slacker and a bunch of ‘70s porn oddities like The Horny Vampire and Nazi Sex Experiments) was actually late monologist Spalding Gray underneath the fake hair, eyeliner, and heavy beard. While the facial resemblance is striking, Spalding had performed in adult films around that time (The Farmer’s Daughters and Radley Metzger’s Maraschino Cherry) under his real name and had nothing to do with this one. As for Alexander, the commentators indicate he was a jerk who got his just desserts when someone ran over his foot. Ah, the foibles of ‘70s exploitation filmmaking.

Thanks to its deliberately gritty visual texture, Harem Keeper doesn’t look as dazzling as the first film on DVD but is miles ahead of any of the (often censored) videotape editions. That’s California’s sunny San Fernando Valley standing in for the Middle East throughout the film, and now you can fully bask in all the glorious... uh, scenery. The trailer here is in much better shape than the first one, and the commentary track is more easygoing than She Wolf’s. Apparently someone must have slapped moderator Martin Lewis around a couple of times so everyone else could finally get a word in.

So after Harem Keeper, you thought the Ilsa movies couldn’t get any sicker? Well, just wait until you see what happened when Spain’s notorious sex and violence maverick Jess Franco got his hands on the franchise. Actually this isn’t technically an Ilsa film, but it might as well be. Originally titled Greta the Mad Butcher, then Wanda the Wicked Warden (the version on this disc’s trailer), this twisted puppy ultimately wound up with its most famous title thanks to drive-in revivals and video reissues.
A more cheesecake-oriented film than its predecessors, Wicked Warden features Dyanne once again (this time with a redhead perm) as the sadistic warden of a jungle prison for women. One escaped inmate, Rosa, flees to the nearby home of Dr. Arcos (Franco), who believes something is rotten inside the jail walls. Ilsa/Greta/Wanda shows up to reclaim her property, provoking Arcos to send Rosa’s sister inside as a prisoner to discover the truth. In between numerous hosings, catfights, and other rampant displays of Franco’s favourite pubic areas, Ilsa indulges in fleshy delights with the twisted Juana (Romay, of course), who doesn’t seem to mind when Ilsa uses her as a human pincushion in the sack. It all ends violently, as these things must, when the inmates revolt with a most unusual and depraved method of revenge.

Throughout its long, looong history on home video, Wicked Warden has never looked this good. Colourful and crisp, this is sleaze at its finest and most well preserved. The film’s European producers are promising to launch a separate DVD edition with different extras, but they’ve got their work cut out for them to make this look any better. Thorne and her husband, Howard Maurer, return for the commentary track, this time with the annoying Mr. Lewis back to provide “comic” relief when absolutely none is really necessary. Just listen to Thorne and cover your ears for the rest. The menus and trailer are a real hoot, with a female voice on both repeatedly cooing, “wicked... warden....” It’s a shame this marked the end of Ilsa’s reign of drive-in cinema, but thankfully her heritage has been left in very capable hands at Anchor Bay. Come on in... Ilsa’s waiting for you.

Wicked Warden is the only one of these films to have been released on DVD in the UK, but it suffered at the hands of the BBFC who ordered cuts totalling 2m 31s with the following justification: “Cuts required to remove scenes of sadistic and sexualised violence, along with scenes of sexual violence, in accordance with BBFC Policy, Guidelines and the Video Recordings Act of 1984, under the grounds of possible harm to likely viewers and others.” The disc is available in its own right, or as part of “The Jess Franco Collection”, which is a sadly emasculated affair suffering many other instances of BBFC interference, and as such cannot be recommended.