Ilsa, Harem-Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) Ilsa, Harem-Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976) -***˝

     And now, to climax my most recent descent into the filth pit, I give you Ilsa, Harem-Keeper of the Oil Sheiks. This was the first of two sequels to Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (the “fourth” entry in the series, Ilsa the Wicked Warden, is really the totally unrelated, but thematically similar Greta, the Mad Butcher with a new title and all [well, most] mention of the title character’s first name clumsily erased from the soundtrack), and is far and away my favorite of the bunch. When you get right down to it, it’s a funny way to approach a series. The personality of Ilsa is always the same, and her character undergoes more or less the same evolution in each film, but there is absolutely no continuity of plot whatsoever between the three movies. In fact, the stories of each are written in such a way that continuity wouldn’t even be possible. The original had her as the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp during the waning years of World War II. In the third film, Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia, it’s the late 1970’s, and Ilsa is a former KGB agent running a brothel in Montreal. And in this movie, she’s... well, the harem-keeper for an oil sheik somewhere on the Arabian peninsula.

     The film begins with a truck convoy bringing a trio of big wooden crates to the palace of Sheik Hakim (the pseudonymous Victor Alexander, who is frequently rumored to be a heavily made-up Spalding Gray), where Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne again) takes delivery of them. Naturally, they each contain a beautiful young woman, naked but for a brass chastity belt. (And by the way, just you try to tell me those crates don’t look exactly like the ones used by Sardu and Ralphus to ship their brainwashed slave-girls to the Middle East in Bloodsucking Freaks/The Incredible Torture Show!) The girls in the crates are all named as Ilsa’s lesbian kung fu-mistress sidekicks, Satin (Tanya Boyd, from Black Heat and Black Shampoo) and Velvet (Marilyn Joi, from Naughty Stewardesses and Cheerleaders’ Wild Weekend), unpack them, but we needn’t concern ourselves with that, because the script loses all interest in these characters after about fifteen minutes. They’re really in this movie only in order to establish the means whereby Sheik Hakim keeps his harem stocked with fresh meat, and to give Ilsa somebody to mistreat for the first few scenes. Oh, and to provide for the first display of naked breasts— we can’t forget that!

     Meanwhile, on an airplane flying across the Atlantic Ocean, a pair of American diplomats— Dr. Kaiser (Wolfgang Roehm, who played the Nazi general in the previous installment) and his assistant, Commander Adam Scott (Michael R. Thayer, of Planet of the Dinosaurs)— happen to be discussing Sheik Hakim, whom they will be visiting when their plane lands in what some incredibly incompetent editing will make seem like at least a couple of days. Hakim is fairly Mickey Mouse by international standards, but he does have one thing going for him: his tiny country is positively soaking with oil. At the moment, Hakim is going along with the oil-export policy of his next-door neighbor, so to speak, Sheik Umar, who, from the sound of it, is toeing the OPEC line. Kaiser and Scott hope to convince Hakim to be a little less stingy with his petroleum, and to that end they currently have an agent operating inside his harem, trying to snoop out anything that might give the US some leverage in dealing with the sheik. Scott is an old hand at the spy game, and the bugging device he has given his agent is concealed inside a large, red jewel of the sort that belly dancers sometimes use to adorn their navels. It sounds like a pretty good plan.

     Not good enough, though. Hakim has his own agents, and they have informed him that Commander Scott is really an intelligence operative. Not only that, Satin and Velvet happen to catch Scott’s agent while she plays back her tapes of the sheik’s conversations with Ilsa, and they bring the woman’s duplicity to their master’s attention. Having her tits squeezed in an enormous vice and her feet skeletonized by fire ants eventually loosens her tongue, and the unlucky spy fingers Kaiser as her boss stateside. With that in mind, Hakim resolves not to yield the tiniest bit of ground in his negotiations with the Americans. And while he’s at it, he also resolves to fuck with Kaiser a bit while he’s at the palace, feeding him his spy’s right eye in place of the traditional sheep’s eye given to honored guests at dinner, and sending a teenage boy to his room to, uh, see to his comfort when he refuses the offer of a female servant.

     Kaiser still has an ace in the hole, however, in the form of Adam Scott’s dick. Scott gets real chummy with Ilsa on his first night at the palace, and he proves to be such a fantastic lay that Ilsa pretty much forgets all about that whole he’s-working-for-the-enemy thing, and falls in love with him, inventing an excuse for him to stick around for a while even after Kaiser goes home. Hakim still recognizes the commander for the threat that he is, however, and he continually presses Ilsa to do away with him over the next couple of days. Finally, when she ignores a direct order to kill Scott before the next sunrise, Ilsa is seized along with her new American lover, and is punished by being forced to let a leprous hunchback have his way with her. Adam, meanwhile, is locked up in the dungeon with his head in a tarantula cage. Ilsa’s humiliation is so great that she immediately stages a coup with the help of Satin, Velvet, the eunuchs of the harem, and the harem girls themselves, which frees Adam, and ultimately succeeds in deposing Sheik Hakim. She then releases the pubescent Prince Selim— Hakim’s nephew, and the rightful heir to the throne of whatever piddly-shit country this is supposed to be— from his confinement in the deepest dungeon of the palace. Ilsa thinks she and Adam Scott will now be able to rule together as regents for the young prince, but there are two things she hasn’t taken into consideration. First, Scott doesn’t really like his women evil, and has no intention of sticking around now that Hakim is out of the picture. And second, what makes Ilsa so sure Prince Selim is going to want to keep his former chief jailer on staff now that he’s in charge?

     There are a few subplots in there, too, but they mostly don’t make any sense, and exist solely to provide an excuse for sleaze set-pieces that couldn’t easily be worked into the main storyline. There’s the big slave auction, for instance, which officially gives Scott’s agent in the harem something incriminating to discover about Hakim, but which is given such short shrift by the script that it serves no real narrative purpose. Its true function can be summed up by quoting one of the participant sheiks, who has just spent 100,000 dinars on a slave-girl with some of the most intimidating dentition I’ve ever seen: “There is still one thing that needs to be done— I do not like the scrape of teeth.” You guessed it— the camera cuts immediately to a shot of the girl’s feet, tied to a chair while bloody incisors rain down from the top of the frame. There’s also something about Hakim’s plans to assassinate Sheik Umar (and if the screenwriter doesn’t know why Hakim would want to do this, why the hell would you expect me to?) by selling him a slave girl whose vagina has been rigged with a goddamned bomb! Naturally, Hakim is forced to fuck her instead once Ilsa has seized power.

     It’s strange. I had an extremely hard time sitting through Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, but I’ve enjoyed this movie immensely on each of the several occasions when I’ve watched it. I think the setting makes all the difference. The Holocaust was real, and the brutality meted out to Ilsa’s victims in She-Wolf of the SS is disturbingly similar to things that really were done to people in the concentration camps. But the vision of Arabic sex-slavery depicted in Harem-Keeper of the Oil Sheiks is so ludicrous, and so far removed from the real experiences of harem women— as bad as those real experiences might be— that it drops the series back into the territory of just-a-movie. And since Harem-Keeper of the Oil Sheiks is just a movie in a way that She-Wolf of the SS is not, I have no qualms about reveling in the over-the-top sleaze that gluts its every second. Is that sensitive of me? Is it civilized? No, of course not. But you know what? Tough shit. Bad taste is what we’re all about here.



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