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  Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks Cracking The Whip
Year: 1976
Director: Don Edmonds
Stars: Dyanne Thorne, Max Thayer, Jerry Deloney, Uschi Digard, Colleen Brennan, Haji, Tanya Boyd, Marilyn Joi, Su Ling, Richard Kennedy, George 'Buck' Flower, Dea Martensen, Ivan Roars, Speed Stearns, Bobby Woods
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sex, Thriller, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 2 votes)
Review: Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne) is the right hand woman of oil sheik El Sharif (Jerry Deloney as Victor Alexander), keeping his harem in order and generally seeing to the business side of his pleasure - and the pleasure of those other Arab captains of industry willing to buy his female merchandise. Yes, life is very cheap if you happen to be under the rule of these men, but nevertheless the Americans have to do business with them if they want a share of the oil, so two representatives of the United States are flying over to the Middle East right now...

This was the second Ilsa movie, after the notorious Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, a film that had developed out of the so-called roughies of the sixties which would play to specialist audiences in grindhouse cinemas into the next decade where you still got the roughies (like the less infamous Ginger series) but with developments in special makeup effects and a small but significant audience willing to see how far the exploitation producers would go, you also had the sickies to contend with. As with that first installment, often tackling the worst of human nature was on the agenda, so the Nazis would figure in many of those, but director Don Edmonds had been there, done that, so sought other subject matter, here more self-consciously comedic.

Therefore one of the most nineteen-seventies trash epics of all was created in Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, with its concerns screaming that era when the cast members are not simply screaming. During the middle of the decade, there was an oil shortage for various reasons, and the West opted to blame those oil producing companies of the Middle East for putting their prices up so high (although there was actually plenty of black gold elsewhere to go round, but the West didn't like the Arabs being seen to have the monopoly). So in pop culture there were plenty of gags about the Arabs being, shall we say, a mercenary lot, from sketches in comedy shows to Brian De Palma flinging them around on a fairground ride in The Fury as a substitute for perceived revenge.

But nobody went quite as far as lambasting the Sheiks than this movie, where to a man every one of them is a lascivious, power-crazed maniac who when they're not torturing people are taking sexual advantage of their female prisoners or eating disgusting food, including sheep eyes (the latter an idea adopted by Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Actually oil didn't feature too much as once the two Americans arrive they get dragged into the depravity, which included the Commander (Max Thayer), a spy who took a shine to Ilsa and vice versa, and his sidekick, an obvious parody of another seventies bogeyman Dr Henry Kissinger who they try to paint as just as corrupt thanks to him agreeing to eat a sheep eye (but it's not from a sheep!) and sleeping with a teenage boy (offscreen) who has been provided as a joke by the Commander.

The boy said he'd be killed if he didn't spend the night, but given Kissinger had a womanising reputation you wonder what Edmonds and company were thinking. Actually, there's a lot about this which made you wonder about the minds of its creators; when the Ilsa movies were first released you would have to be very brave to admit you'd seen them whether you had enjoyed them or not, but as horror movies caught up with their stagey brutality they may still be strong stuff, but no worse than the manufactured torture porn controversy of the twenty-first century. If you were trying to justifiy them you could argue that they presented an independent woman succeeding in a man's world, but then you'd be backing up a character obviously presented as the villainess, and there were no hints we were meant to be cheering Ilsa on, merely eagerly waiting her comeuppance. So they were what they appeared: stupidly sadistic entertainment for those who would watch on a dare, unless they were really getting off on it, in which case you could never underestimate bad taste.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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