One thing I have always regretted about reviewing cult movies is that I only get to talk about new releases, never the actual films that first inspired my tastes in cult film; the titles that lured me away from the mainstream fare to the darkest corners of the video store from where I would never be seen again. For this reason I honestly never thought I would get to talk about the ILSA films, the only decent (however incomplete) DVD boxed set of them ever to hit store shelves has been out of print for years, and commands prices in the hundreds of dollars. Yet, suddenly, a couple of them are being released again, and by none other than Cheezy Flicks. Here is a review I have waited years to write about the only fictitious femme fatale I have ever truly loved; Dyanne Thorne’s Ilsa, starring in ILSA THE WICKED WARDEN.
First some background story on Ilsa (which is odd as it is completely unnecessary), she is a tall, Germanic looking blonde (played by ex-showgirl Dyanne Thorne) who is always in command of some kind of camp, prison, or hospital which she rules with an Iron fist. Originally inspired by the female Nazi war criminal Else Koch, who ran Buchenwald, and the Olga soft-core S+M movies from the 1960’s, the character of Ilsa exists in a world all her own, devoid of any historical accuracy, timeline adherence, or continuity (she often dies at the end). Yet somehow, they are a beloved secret pleasure enjoyed by true cult fans everywhere, even getting a parody fake trailer of their own in GRINDHOUSE starring Sherri Moon Zombie.
ILSA THE WICKED WARDEN takes place in a South American women prison. After the disappearance of an inmate named Rosa, her sister Abby decides to go undercover by incarcerating herself in the sinister ward with the help of her confederate on the outside, Dr Arcos. Of course things go dreadfully awry, and sexploitation ensues. While this sort of story is hardly fresh by any definition, the use of Ilsa - a tall, beautiful, sexually precocious, psychotic dominatrix wearing military khakis and tall stiletto heeled boots - really gives this film legs (no pun intended) when the inclusion of yet another male warden would just come across as exploitative, sleazy, and blandly misogynistic. By making the worst possible character in a women’s prison movie also a female (the biggest most evil bloodthirsty bitch possible in fact), you actually create a film that intrigues and empowers both sexes of adventuresome cult film lovers and creates a three dimensional character full of intrigue that you can’t help but try and figure out.
Whether or not she is sexually deranged, sadistic, or just “butch”, the torments she inflicts upon other women in this thing are so overblown and awful that you may find yourself sickened, yet, at the same time, you might find yourself unable to look away. As for plot development, the action is stereotypical WIP stuff, but, as mentioned before, for $6.99 you get an extremely sought after sexploitation film that, for the last 10 years, could only be purchased as part of the three film Anchor Bay boxed set costing a few hundred dollars. While it doesn’t have the director’s commentary of that particular compilation, for this paltry sum you can own one of the nastiest cult films available for less than the price of a good boot polishing. I give this the highest rating possible.
I watched it again before writing this review just to see if I somehow outgrew it, and Ilsa still tore out my eyes and tugged on my heartstrings just as she did the first time I saw it a decade ago. Sensual, savage, and a little silly, Ilsa films are perfect examples of the three S’s that first drew me to cult film. All I can say is that no fan should be without this shameless work of sinister sexploitation, even if only so they finally can experience a powerful, capable female antagonist in a “woman in prison” movie that is more sadistic than any male warden could be or has ever been since this was released in 1977. If that isn’t equality, I don’t know what is. Buy this before it goes out of print again.
Extras include some Cheezy Flicks Trailers.