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!”
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).
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.
Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) by #DonEdmonds
— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) April 23, 2022