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: Vendetta (1986)

Vendetta (1986) is, at heart, a Women in Prison film (or WIP). As I mentioned a while back, this is a genre that I have a particular interest in – and connection to – as I once wrote an important essay about it when I was a film student, and subsequently wrote an entire musical play poking fun at it (which was called  Bad Girls Jailhouse and was first produced in 1994). That play started me on a long path of writing, producing and directing crazy musicals, which was my main focus for over ten years – but that’s another story.

VHS box for Vendetta (1986)Vendetta is not one of the better known Women in Prison films. It came out a little late in the cycle. Caged (1950) is widely considered to be the first official entry into the genre, although there are earlier films that could (and should) be included, such as the wonderful pre code movie Ladies They Talk About (1933). But Caged really started things rolling, and was soon followed by other WIPs such as So Young, So Bad (1950), Women’s Prison (1955) and Reform School Girl (1957). The exploitation possibilities of the genre became clear to producers, and by the late 1960s there were a slew of R-rated WIPs released, such as 99 Women (1969), School for Unclaimed Girls (1969) and Love Camp 7 (1969) (which was also a sleazy Nazi movie, which oddly enough became a sub-genre of its own – but that’s another story). 

Needless to say, there were a lot of WIPs made in the 1970s, including Roger Corman produced masterpieces like The Big Doll House (1971), and Jonathan Demme‘s directorial debut Caged Heat (1974). There were so many great WIPs made in the ’70s that I could spend all day trying to talk about my favourites – but I’ll resist. The plentiful output continued into the 1980s, and included some of the very best efforts, such as The Concrete Jungle (1982), Reform School Girls (1986), and my personal favourite, Chained Heat (1983). 

Cinematheque programmeI first saw Chained Heat when I was 12 or 13, having rented it on Beta with a friend of mine. We loved it of course, and watched it two or three times before returning the tape to the store. I would later describe it as a seminal film-watching experience for me when I hosted a screening of the movie at Cinematheque in Winnipeg back in 2009. Notice that the programme guide mistakenly used a photo from Chained Heat 2 (1993), the vastly inferior sequel. The idea of these screenings was that playwrights (such as me) would host a film that was somehow important or influential in their development, or playwrighting career. Choosing Chained Heat was a no-brainer for me, as it directly influenced the first musical that I ever wrote. Thank you and R.I.P. to Dave Barber, who ran Cinematheque for almost 40 years and just died this past week (far too soon). I had known him since the early 1990s, and would often stop and talk film with him whenever we ran into each other. I will miss him forever.

As the ’80s wore on, the Women in Prison genre seemed to dry up a little, although there were still a respectable number of titles released. Most of them were direct to video
Ad for Reform School Girls, which came out the same year as Vendetta (1986)releases, and not as high quality in terms of production value. 1986 was a pretty good year, however. Reform School GirlsThe Naked Cage (by the director of Chained Heat), and Vendetta were all released that year. Reform School Girls was by far the highest profile film of those three. I remember it playing in the theatres, and I managed to catch it on pay TV a little later. I also bought the soundtrack L.P. which featured Wendy O. Williams (who also starred in the movie) and Etta James (who did not). I found out about Vendetta by reading Video Trash & Treasures by L.A. Morse. He gave it a decent review, and I was eventually able to track down a copy on VHS. 

What I liked best about Vendetta, was that it was a bit of a variation on the usual Women in Prison formula. WIPs are usually about an innocent woman going to jail (often because of a man). This happens in Vendetta, but the innocent woman dies in prison near the beginning of the movie. The remainder of the film focuses on the dead woman’s sister, who happens to be a tough, high kicking Hollywood stuntwoman named Laurie (played by Karen Chase). Laurie gets herself sent to the same prison where her sister died ON PURPOSE in an effort to find out who killed her sister, and to get revenge. And if there’s anything I like almost as much as a Women in Prison yarn, it’s a good revenge story. In fact, it could almost be called a vigilante story, as the police, prison officials, and other powers-that-be, seem unable to solve Laurie’s sister’s murder – or even to acknowledge it as a murder – so it’s up to Laurie to take the law into her own hands. And I do like vigilante stories.

I’ve watched Vendetta (1986) several times over the years, and was very pleased to recently pick up a Blu-ray edition from the good folks at Shout Factory. The film just seems to get better with age, and certainly this is the best it’s ever looked and sounded. It may not be the most famous WIP, it may not be the most loved WIP, it may not even be the best WIP – but it is definitely a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic, and one one my personal favourites. I would be happy to watch it on any (and every) #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Chained Girls (1965)

Chained Girls is a phrase that has immediate connotations and resonance for me. When I see it on a movie box – or poster – I assume that I am looking at a Women In Prison film (or WIP as some people like to abbreviate it). This is a genre that I have a particular interest in – and connection to – as I once wrote an important essay about it when I was a film student, and subsequently wrote an entire musical play poking fun at it (which was called  Bad Girls Jailhouse and was first produced in 1994). That play started me on a long path of writing, producing and directing crazy musicals, which was my main focus for over ten years – but that’s another story.

Chained Girls (1965) is an old exploitation movie that is NOT about women in prison. It is, as stated in its own publicity materials, “A daring film about lesbianism today!” If that wasn’t shocking enough for audiences in 1965, Chained Girls also claimed to be a documentary. That’s right. A documentary, as opposed to a sleazy sexploitation drama that one might typically have seen at certain drive-ins and grindhouses back in the day. Chained Girls wasn’t a cheap exploitation picture, it was EDUCATIONAL, so… uh… back off censors and other rule mongers. We have to show the public what lesbians do so that honest, morally upright people can LEARN something. This movie is good for them, like eating granola. It can help prevent tragedies and poor life choices by showing what happens to people who who’ve made those poor choices.

Poster for Mom and Dad (1945), perhaps an influence on Chained GirlsI suppose this suggests that Chained Girls is part of that unique exploitation genre, most popular in the 1930s and 40s, which includes infamous movies like Mom and Dad (1945), Marihuana (1936), Child Bride (1943) and She Shoulda Said No! (1949). On the other hand, it was probably influenced by the emergence of mondo movies, like Mondo Cane (1962), Mondo Cane 2 (1963) and La donna nel mondo aka Women of the World (1963). These movies were pseudo documentaries that purported to show shocking but true (and often sleazy) stuff from around the world. Many of them contained footage that was “fake”, or at least explained as being something other than what it was. For example, a film could show footage of a bunch of Poster for Women of the World (1963), perhaps an influence on Chained Girlsmen standing around in a foreign country while the narrator says “These men are here to buy female slaves…”. I suppose it could be true, but there is no actual evidence of slave-buying visible in the footage.

Chained Girls uses this technique often throughout its scant 65 minute running time. One of my Twitter friends (hello Peter) pointed out this questionable gem uttered by the film’s narrator: “Most teenage lesbians are prostitutes or drug addicts.” As I recall, we are simply looking at shots of young women interacting when the narrator says this. I could be wrong, as this movie (despite its claims of being a documentary) is a full production featuring actors who appeared in other exploitation pictures. I don’t think that it contains any Poster for Joseph P. Mawra's Olga's House of Shame (1964), which shares stylistic similarities with Chained Girlsactual “documentary” footage of people living their own lives. Having said that, there might be stolen shots of real people on the streets of the city. But the “scenes” that we witness throughout the film are all staged.

The movie was directed by Joseph P. Mawra, who is best known for his Olga films, such as Olga’s House of Shame (1964), Olga’s Girls (1964), and White Slaves of Chinatown (1964). 1964 was a very busy year for Mawra. As I recall, all of these movies use the same stylistic approach (silent footage of women doing stuff while a narrator says lurid things – and the narrator is often the same guy, Joel Holt, who also acted in and directed a few films as well). Both Mawra and Holt seem to have played out their entire filmmaking careers in the 1960s. Perhaps the arrival of hardcore sex films in the 1970s put them out of business. Who knows?

Chained Girls (1965) is not for everyone, but for those with a taste for its unique brand of antique sleaze, it’s pretty darn entertaining. For those with a sensitivity to out of date, inappropriate and offensive material, it would likely be much less fun. On the one hand, it’s a “documentary” with a lot of misinformation & stereotyping in it. But on the other hand, I kind of believe them when they say they got their facts from recent (in 1965) research. Probably some biased, 2nd rate studies by would-be Masters & Johnson types. This makes it a fascinating window into the crazy beliefs of the time. And it’s the over-the-top inappropriateness of what the narrator is saying that makes the movie a jaw dropping good time (for those who can stand it). John Waters is apparently a fan of this film, and I can see why. In some ways, it’s kind of a distant relative (and perhaps an influence on) Waters’ A Dirty Shame (2004). it’s been a while since I saw that movie, but I recall Waters educating the audience about different types of unusual sexual practices (a plate job, for instance). I really need to see that movie again soon…

One reviewer on the IMDb says “For what it is “chained girls” is one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve ever had… Rarely has a movie made me laugh so hard and so deeply… Really this film is a treat if you are in the right frame of mind and/or watching it with someone who truly has a firm grasp of irony.”

I first saw Chained Girls with my friend Brian during one of our all day movie marathons. We had no idea what we were getting into, and I think we both spent the entire 65 minutes with our jaws hanging open in disbelief (when we weren’t laughing, of course). Watching it again now only confirmed our original impression of it. I remember turning to Brian halfway through the film and saying “This movie could be turned into a brilliant fringe musical.” As I mentioned earlier, I spent many years working on crazy musicals and I had a pretty good eye for material that was ripe for adaptation. “I don’t think I could do it, however,” I said. “The playwright and/or composer needs to be a woman – and preferably a lesbian.” I made a mental note to mention this idea the next time I ran into the right person, but alas, it never came up. So, if any of my lesbian playwright friends are reading this, here’s an idea for you…

As for the rest of us, we can still enjoy Chained Girls (1965), for what it is, on any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn on which the spirit moves us, grabs us, or otherwise chains us to our seat. It’s the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that must be seen to be believed.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Attack of the Robots / Cartes sur table (1966)

I became interested in Jess Franco while studying film at university. That may be a sentence that’s never been written before. Let me explain… I did not study Jess Franco, or his films, at university.  I’m quite sure that none of my professors would have considered Jess Franco’s films to be worthy of study. They may have been wrong about that, but that’s beside the point. Franco was not taught alongside Fellini, Truffaut, Antonioni, and Scorsese. However, I did write a major essay for one of my classes that focussed on the Women In Prison genre – not exactly a typical FIlm Studies topic, either, but that’s what attracted me to it – and that’s how I became aware of Jess Franco and his strange oeuvre.

The story of my relationship with the Women In Prison genre is one I will have to save for another day. Suffice it to say that I randomly rented a Jess Franco movie called Hellhole Women (1981), and then later read about it in what would become one of my favourite books, Video Trash & Treasures Volume II by L.A. Morse. It was, in fact, part of a mini section called Jess’s Jungle Frolics. The overarching chapter was called HOT CAGES, NAKED CHAINS: A Cell Block of Women Behind Bars. One of my fellow film students, and a connoisseur of cinematic trash, had recommended that I buy the book and read this chapter when he found out my major essay was about the WIP genre.

In the mini-section, Morse first reviews Women In Cell Bloc 9 (1978), noting that it contains “what is probably the only all nude jailbreak on film”. Then, in his review of Hellhole Women, Morse says:

“While it must have been a challenge to top the all nude jailbreak, old Jess was not daunted, and here provides us with an all topless prison camp — inmates, guards, and dragon-lady warden included.”

When my friend Ian and I first watched Hellhole Women, we recognized it as a crazy, over-the-top sleaze fest that had a lot of camp humour value. We did not know anything about the makers of the film. Thanks to L.A. Morse, I now knew that the genius behind it was Jess Franco, and that he had made other must see cinematic atrocities. In fact, Morse would comment throughout the book every time that Jess Franco was involved in a movie. Admittedly, the comments were most often negative. Morse was not a fan of Franco. He would say things like “old Jess has reached the point where he can effortlessly make nudity and violence seem boring.” But I was intrigued. And the worse the review, the more I wanted to see the movie. I started to rent, and later buy, any movie that I came across that had the name Jess Franco on it (or Jesús Franco as he is sometimes called). Some of them were, by any normal means of evaluation, bad – but there was always something interesting about them. And some of them were downright delightful. One of my favourite surprise discoveries was Kiss Me Monster (1969).

Those were the days of VHS and no internet, so unearthing a rare Franco film did not happen very often. He made over 200 hundred movies in his lifetime, and to this day I still haven’t seen anywhere near all of them. With the right online connections, it’s not as hard to locate the movies now – but it’s also not as special. I haven’t made it a mission to relentlessly download or stream every title in his filmography. I’m old school, so I still get excited when I find a physical copy of one of his movies – and if it’s a reasonable enough deal, I buy it. Of course, if I’m really lucky, someone will give me a nice edition of one of his films on DVD or Blu-ray for my birthday (or some other event for which gifts are appropriate). This is how I came to be the owner of a nice, shiny new Blu-ray of Attack of the Robots AKA Cartes sur table (1966).

This is an early Jess Franco movie, and as such, does not contain the kind of over-the-top sleaze that a movie like Hellhole Women does. However, it does contain a lot of the elements that Franco would remain obsessed with over the course of his 60 (!) year career as a filmmaker. There are scenes in nightclubs, featuring sexy dancers. There are women in chains. Franco appears in the film, as he often did. And this is the first of seven films that Franco made about a private detective character named Al Pereira. In this one, Pereira is played by Eddie Constantine, who was famous for playing a hard-hitting private detective named Lemmy Caution in a series of films. His portrayal of Al Pereira in Attack of the Robots could be seen as more comedic send up of his image from the Lemmy Caution films. Or maybe it was just simple exploitation of a well known actor in a similar role. Who knows? Whatever the case, Constantine is great in this movie – and it’s a shame that it’s the only time he ever got to play Al Pereira. The next time Pereira was seen, he was played by Howard Vernon in Les ebranlées in 1972. 

Attack of the Robots is a delightfully fun movie. It’s a post James Bond spy spoof that contains elements of science fiction, as a mad scientist finds a way to essentially turn people into robots if they have Type O blood. It’s beautifully shot and feels like a lush production compared to some of Franco’s later films. Sure, it’s light on sleaze and violence, but it’s played for laughs and for the most part it gets them. If you’re in the mood for  something light and fun, with the kind of stylistic flourishes that only a filmmaker like Jess Franco could provide, Attack of the Robots might just be the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that you’re looking for. It’s not too far removed from another Franco film I wrote about a while back, Dr. Orloff’s Monster AKA The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll (1964). That one is more of a monster movie, and less of a comedy, but it’s also an early, more restrained version of Franco. Each of them, in their own way, make for a mighty fine #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Bad Girls Jailhouse

A Musical, Set In A Women’s Prison

A heartwarming story of an innocent woman’s adventures in the big house. Featuring a strip search, a riot, and a shower scene – all set to music (!) – it is surely only a matter of time before this play wins a major award for it’s contributions to society.

When Bad Girls Jailhouse made its debut in Angus Kohm’s hometown of Winnipeg, the critics said:

“Twisted toe tappin’ tunes… Kohm is the Andrew Lloyd Webber of women’s prison musicals!” – Kevin Prokosh, Winnipeg Free Press, (1994)

“Hilarious!  Four Stars!” – Riva Harrison, Winnipeg Sun (1994)

“Rejoice! The Rocky Horror Picture Show now has a true, if illegitimate, heir!” – D.G. Valdron, The Jenny Revue (1994)

One of the critics (hello, Den) liked Bad Girls Jailhouse so much he went on to design the posters for the debut of the UNCUT version of the play in 1996.

         

Bad Girls Jailhouse

Book, music and lyrics by Angus Kohm

A crooked warden, sadistic guards, bloodthirsty convicts, and one innocent woman clash behind bars in a white hot story of violence, revenge, and singing and dancing. Yes, it’s a musical spoof of women’s prison films!

Performance Rights and Other Details For Potential Producers:

Bad Girls Jailhouse
90 Minutes, 2 Acts, Musical Comedy;
7 Actors (7 Female);
NOTE: It would be possible to cast more prisoners as a chorus if so desired
Running Time: 90 – 100 minutes (could be done with or without intermission);
Originally produced on a bare stage with one mime cube.
Few props; simple costumes;
Music scored for piano and voices;
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Copies of the script are available for $7.95 each.
Single Perusal Copies of the score are available for $29.95 each.
A Demo Recording of the 1996 Cast of  Bad GIrls Jailhouse
is available on CD for $19.95.
Professional and Amateur Performance Rights are available.
Royalty Fees will be applicable, but the exact amount will depend on the details of each individual production.

To find out more, contact the author (address below).
Please include information such as:
1) Where your production would take place
2) When it would take place
3) How many performances there would be
4) How many seats there are in the theatre
5) Ticket prices

To Order Scripts, Scores, CDs, etc.,

from the Black Hole Theatre production in 2000, at the University of Manitoba

or for information on obtaining the professional or amateur rights to Bad Girls Jailhouse contact:
Angus Kohm c/o SWAK Productions:
205 – 21 Roslyn Road
Winnipeg, MB
R3L 2S8
Canada
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Or send an e-mail
Make cheques (or money orders) payable to Angus Kohm.
Shipping charges may be applicable, and may vary due to shipping location and size of order.
E-mail or snail mail to find out more.