Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976)

Poster for Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976)Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) by #DonEdmonds
w/#DyanneThorne #UschiDigard #ColleenBrennan

In the vast deserts of the Middle East, the lascivious tigress, Ilsa, joins the sex-trafficking ring of a maniacal sheikh who enjoys importing helpless female slaves for his perverse amusement.
“Ilsa’s back! More fierce than ever! …With brutal fury she enslaved an empire and shocked the world!”
#Horror #Exploitation
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

I remember perusing the shelves of the Action section at Movie Village one night many years ago. I was looking for something fresh and exciting; something I’d never seen before; something that looked outrageously entertaining. I started at “A” and by the time I got to “I” I was feeling discouraged. It seemed like there was nothing there that was going to jump off the shelf and scream “rent me!” I was starting to think it was time to abort and head back over to the Horror section…

That’s when I saw them… four VHS tapes with eye catching artwork and titles that were like nothing else in the store: Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975),  Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia (1977), Ilsa, the Wicked Warden (1977), and Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976).VHS boxes for Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) and other Ilsa movies

I remember picking them up one by one, turning them over and back again. I couldn’t decide what I was looking at. Were these Adult titles that had somehow been slipped into the regular action section? No, it didn’t quite seem likely. They talk as much about violence and cruelty as sex.

“Dyanne Thorne is a female James Bond… DEDICATED TO EVIL” says Oui Magazine.

“If you thought Dirty Harry was a mean mother, you haven’t met Ilsa.”

I loved James Bond and Dirty Harry… but somehow these descriptions didn’t seem to fit with what I seeing on the boxes.

A store employee came by and saw me looking at the boxes. “Rent Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks,” he told me. 

“Yeah?” I said, taking another look at that box.

“It’s the best one,” he explained. “They’re not really great movies, but Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks is so extreme, you won’t believe your eyes.”

“Yeah?” I flipped the box over and looked at the back again.

“When you watch it,” he predicted, “you will feel things… things that will shock you… things that will thrill you… things that will make you feel ashamed.”

I dropped Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks into the basket with the six other movies I was going to rent (7 for 7 Days for $7.77). And so it became the first Ilsa movie that I ever saw.

For a long time it was the only one I ever saw, as I felt like I’d been told not to bother with the others. But I eventually watched them all. In fact, I picked up copies and put them into my personal library. They seemed, to me, to be a weird offshoot of the Women In Prison genre, which was one of particular interest to me. I may have mentioned something about it a while back… I will undoubtedly eventually discuss it in more detail, but for now… that’s another story.

I’m not sure if I ultimately agree that Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks is the best movie of the bunch, but it certainly is a contender. And because it’s the first one I ever saw, it’s a special movie to me.

Watching it again now, it’s surprising how good a movie it is. I know, many people would not use a word like “good” to describe any Ilsa movie. But as a connoisseur of “bad” movies, I can say that this one is much better made than many. And the Movie Village employee was basically right about it all those years ago. It is pretty shocking, and nasty, and cruel. And depending on how much of a good time you have watching it, you may well feel ashamed afterwards. I’d like to give that guy credit, but I honestly can’t remember his name. I’m not sure if I ever knew it, actually…

Aside from Dyanne Thorne, who is a legend, there are many other famous (or infamous) actresses in this movie, who might often be associated with exploitation films and adult cinema, such as Uschi Digard, Colleen Brennan, Haji (best known for her work with Russ Meyer), and Marilyn Joi, Su Ling only appeared in three things in her career, and one of them was Russ Meyer’s Up! (1976)

If that isn’t enough, cult film character actor George ‘Buck’ Flower is also in this movie.

But, as always, Dyanne Thorne is the main attraction. She’s in top form in this movie, and she has a couple of scenes that might leave some viewers wondering, how is it that she never appeared in a Russ Meyer movie?

I’d love to go into the finer points of the plot and all of the crazy things that happen in this movie, but it’s time for me to watch the next celluloid atrocity in my queue so I’ll just say this:

Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) is a legendary #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic. It’s an exploitation masterpiece with the sleaze dial turned up to eleven. If you haven’t seen it, you probably want to, and I say go for it. It’s not for everyone, but it certainly won’t be like anything else you’ve ever seen (except maybe the other Ilsa films). It’s a rare movie that can actually deliver all of the shocks, the thrills, and even the feelings of shame that anyone could ever hope for on #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Drive in Massacre (1976)

The first time I saw Drive in Massacre (1976), I hated it. I had seen the VHS box on the shelves of my local video store, and it had been calling to me to rent it for quite some time. I loved slasher films, and I loved old fashioned gore films (hello Herschell Gordon Lewis), so this film seemed likely to be something that I might enjoy. However…

It was very short, according to the running time on the box, which may have been one reason that I hesitated and passed it over a few times. I’ve always liked to feel like I’m getting a good deal. A two hour movie would cost the same to rent as a 90 minute movie. Same with a three hour movie, or a two movie set (which was rare, but it happened occasionally). Drive in Massacre was only 78 minutes (it was actually less than that, but I can’t remember how much less). Why would I pay the same amount of money to rent a 78 minute movie when I could have so much more?

The answer eventually became “because I want to see this one.” So, one night, when it was late and I was tired, I decided that a 78 minute movie might be just about right.

VHS tape for Drive in Massacre (1976)I say that it was actually less than 78 minutes. That’s because 78 minutes is the running time of the uncut version of Drive in Massacre. The VHS tape that I rented turned out to be a censored version of the movie. There was no gore whatsoever. And if you’ve ever seen Drive in Massacre, you know that aside from the gore there isn’t too much to recommend it. At least not to a young, unsophisticated viewer who has yet to develop a taste for the truly trashtastic limits of Not Quite Classic Cinema.

All I can recall about that edited cut of Drive in Massacre is that is was boring. Nothing happened (on screen). And it was ridiculously short, which offended me on principle in those days, but in this case might have been a welcome mercy. I was so angry that I had wasted $1.99 and my time on this movie that I actually wrote a message on the back on the box before returning it to the store: “Very bad – don’t rent,” or something very close to that. This was the only time that I ever dared to do something like that. I’m not sure if the store ever noticed, or tried to erase it, but they never asked me about it. Maybe they knew that tape deserved it.

Some years later, I bought a cheapo DVD set called Drive-In Classics, and was intrigued (and perhaps a bit disturbed) to see that Drive in Massacre was included in the set. I watched it, prepared to be just as bored and annoyed as the first time, but was pleasantly surprised to see that this copy of the movie contained some pretty over-the-top gore. And perhaps for this reason – or perhaps because my expectations had simply been lowered so far that nothing could have been bad enough to meet them – I found the movie much more enjoyable the second time.

Fast forward a lot of years, and I decided that I had to revisit this movie of dubious quality and decide once and for all if Drive in Massacre is a horrible waste of time, or a rare gem of cinematic wonder.

Two cops in Blood Feast (1963)

Two cops in Blood Feast (1963)

The first thing that struck me about Drive in Massacre is that it bears some resemblance to the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Nowhere near as good, of course, but I had to wonder if the filmmakers had perhaps been going for that. Just like in H.G.L.’s Blood Feast (1963), there are a series of gory murders, and two male cops investigate. And by investigate, I mean they do a lot of talking – to each other. This is something that always amused me about Blood Feast. We see a murder, and then we see two cops sitting around the police station talking about it. I’m sure it was due to budgetary concerns, but I always wondered why they didn’t get out there and DO something.

The two cops in Drive in Massacre (1976)

Are these two cops played by the same actor?!

The two cops in Drive in Massacre (1976)

Unbelievably, these actors are not even related.

The cops in Drive in Massacre are played by John F. Goff and Bruce Kimball and I swear to the Godfather of Gore that they look exactly alike! I thought for a minute that they were being played by the same actor! They are both overweight, dark haired, and they could be brothers. If they weren’t together in the same shot, I couldn’t tell which one was which. Hell, I couldn’t tell them apart when they WERE in the same shot. I’m not sure what kind of casting genius was at work here – maybe they both auditioned for the part of the cop, and the director couldn’t decide which one he liked better, so he cast them both. I think more likely they were the biggest names that the producers could convince to be in the movie, so they went with them even though they look a bit too much alike (a bit?!).

My friend Séan and I talked about this kind of casting phenomenon in our discussion of Canadian horror film Rituals (1977). To apply our thoughts to this movie, why not cast one cop with dark hair and one with blond or grey hair? Or one fat cop and one thin cop? Or one tall cop and one short cop? Or one man and one woman? There are endless possibilities that could have made these two characters easier to tell apart.

Having said this, as a connoisseur of the finer things in life (like Not Quite Classic Cinema), I actually LIKED the fact that Drive in Massacre made this strange casting choice. It added to my enjoyment of the movie.

The director, Stu Segall, had a long career in Hollywood. He made a few bad movies  – I mean, Not Quite Classic Cinema classics, like Saddle Tramp Women (1972) — which is featured in Drive in Massacre, by the way. Other titles include Harvey Swings (1970), The Suckers (1972), and C.B. Hustlers (1976). He also made some golden age adult movies like Teenage Sex Therapy (1976), Spirit of Seventy Sex (1976), Teeny Buns (1978) and the X-rated classic Insatiable (1980), starring Marilyn Chambers.

As a director, Segall did more porn than non-porn, to be honest. But starting in about the mid-1980s, he produced a whole bunch of respectable TV shows and movies – starting with the classic Hunter (1984-1988). Other shows include Silk Stalkings (1991-1999), Pensacola: Wings of Gold (1997-2000), and 18 Wheels of Justice (2000-2001). His last credit was a show that only lasted for 4 episodes called Saints & Sinners in 2007. What an amazing career!

Drive in Massacre (1976) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema for those with an appreciation for Herschell Gordon Lewis, and a tolerance for sub-par imitations of Herschell Gordon Lewis. At only 78 minutes, with its gore scenes intact, it’s pretty easy to sit through. Without the gore scenes, it might be a bit of an endurance test. But if, like me, you take pleasure from campy details like two cops who look suspiciously alike, then you will find yourself amused throughout the movie. And let’s face it, any movie called Drive in Massacre will always be a welcome sight on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.