Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (1975):
What's the Plot?
The first appearance of Dyanne Thorne's exploitation icon - the savage and sensual Ilsa of various employ. Set during World War II, the film takes place in an isolated prisoner camp used primarily for sadistic medical tests, as well as Ilsa's own private experimentations in search of supporting her theory that women are far more capable of dealing with pain than men (cue some rather graphic and disturbing brutalities). However, with an Americanised German native by the name of Wolf brought to the camp, an uprising is soon in the offing - as well as the chance for Ilsa to finally be sated between the sheets.
Numerous energetic sexual encounters between Ilsa and Wolf - who is capable of lasting as long as he wants - sometimes involving a couple of her female cohorts. Thorne fans get plenty of bang for their buck. Frequent nudity in general, too, albeit sometimes in rather distasteful contexts.
This is the most savage entry in the series with particularly nasty blood-soaked interludes in the medical wing throughout the film. Boiled flesh, ocular trauma, death-by-lashing, bodies ravaged by disease and so on. It gets pretty rough at times and even seasoned genre fans will find their limits tested.
What's the Vibe?
Quite nasty and rather tasteless, in essence, and yet understandably iconic in exploitation cinema. The fact that it takes place during WWII and inside a prison camp makes the tone particularly horrible and mean-spirited. What's more, the generally bleak tone sits decidedly at odds with the campy exploitation elements (e.g. the athletic bedroom antics in Ilsa's private residence). Even stranger is that this film, filled with such brutality, was shot on the same set as beloved American TV sitcom Hogan's Heroes. Exploiting Nazis and WWII for entertainment isn't anything new by any means, but She-Wolf of the SS frequently crosses the boundaries of taste that makes for an uneven viewing experience, stuck somewhere between grindhouse titillation and repulsive recreation. Even the sense of relieving triumph come the finale takes a swift beat-down.
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Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976):
What's the Plot?
Same character, different reality. Working for oil-rich desert despot El Sharif, Ilsa keeps her master's empire running smoothly, dealing with insubordination and fraternisation with harsh, crimson-splattered justice. Three famous beauties are kidnapped and transported to Sharif's lair to join his harem against their will, but are generally forgotten about when a visit from an American envoy (including a Henry Kissinger-alike) seeks to stabilise their nation's oil supply from this over-sexed nutjob. Again, Ilsa is sexually frustrated, but one of their American visitors (also looking to expose Sharif's crimes for national gain) is well up to the task before a mole in the harem is exposed and all hell (briefly) breaks loose.
An abundance of female flesh on display (including the likes of Uschi Digart, well-known from certain Russ Meyer movies), with a fair amount of Ilsa (but generally less compared to She-Wolf of the SS) exposed to the camera's gaze.
There are moments, such as a burlap sack of body parts being dumped as a warning to Sharif's new slaves, but there's certainly less blood-soaked violence this time around ... but there's still a fair amount, particularly during some torture sequences.
What's the Vibe?
Less nasty than the first movie, but still quite sleazy, and like the first it was directed by Don Edmonds. It's clearly a much cheaper production this time (the inevitable third act uprising is small scale and quite short-lived), and the sets either look re-used or about the fall over at times. There is more humour - particularly in relation to Edward Roehm's Kissinger-alike "Kaiser", who isn't exactly fond of sheep's eyes. At times it's pretty bonkers too - death by exploding diaphragm being the barmiest highlight - but it does end on a more satisfying, if incomplete note (what about the surviving slaves?).
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Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia (1977):
What's the Plot?
Again, same character, different reality. Its 1953 Russia with Ilsa the head of a snow-bound gulag for political prisoners. Lots of Cold War suspicion going on - subversion of the state, mind control and such like - and then half-way through there's a somewhat jarring time-jump to 1977 Montreal (i.e. present day production locale) where we now find Ilsa taking over an empire of massage parlours by force, only to come face-to-face with the one political prisoner who slipped out of her iron grip.
Mixing things up considerably, this time the prisoners are all male, but that doesn't stop the saucy moments. Ilsa regularly showers in front of her colleagues and pits them against each other to find out which two will have the honour of pleasing her sordid desires this night (while the losers are left to the soothing caresses of Ilsa's bisexual henchwomen). Fans of Dyanne Thorne get endless bang for their buck as she's stripping off throughout the entire movie, and this is all without mentioning the workers in her 1970s massage parlour.
Again, nowhere near as bloody as the first, but there's still gore galore via death-by-caged-tiger, headshots, impalement, head-meets-sledgehammer, chainsaw-arm-wrestling, and more.
What's the Vibe?
The easiest of the bunch to enjoy guilt-free. The mid-point time-jump and the initial setting of Cold War Siberia make for a fresh approach (the film was produced by Roger Corman and Ivan Reitman), with plenty of bare-arsed nookie tossed into the mix for a saucy good time. The plot is also probably the most consistent and well put-together of the three. It exchanges the more tasteless elements of the series for some interesting tweaks that pleasingly subvert expectations, while never losing the core essence, namely Ilsa's commanding dominance and insatiable sexual appetite. Fans of the more darkly graphic elements of the first two will probably be somewhat disappointed in this slightly more soft-ball outing, but others who are more forgiving will have a good time minus the intermittent guilt of the sometimes-troubling first movie.
N.B. Technically there's a fourth entry in the form of Ilsa: The Wicked Warden, aka Wanda The Wicked Warden, aka Greta The Mad Butcher, which was also made in 1977, but it wasn't originally intended to be part of the series - whereas She-Wolf, Harem Keeper, and Tigress are all commonly considered to be the genuine 'Ilsa Trilogy'.