Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia

The third in the official trilogy (ie. produced by Mount Everest Enterprises; a Jess Franco knock-off constitutes a fourth entry in the cycle), ‘Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia’ takes place – conceptually, anyway – between ‘She Wolf of the SS’ and ‘Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheikhs’. Or at least the first half does.

Ilsa is now a Colonel in charge of a Siberian gulag. Leaving aside the likelihood of a former Nazi landing a high-ranking position in the Soviet army, she’s nonetheless doing a bang up job: escapees are swiftly hunted down and made examples of, either by water torture or finding themselves on the menu when it’s feeding time for Ilsa’s pet tiger. She’s also benefiting from job satisfaction. Her nights are spent watching her Cossack underlings fight over her; the last men standing are permitted to join her in a threesome.

New inmates arrive, including “political thinker” Andrei Chekurin. When attempts to recondition him (involving electric shock treatment) fail, Ilsa takes it upon herself to seduce him. All it takes for a quick tumble is complete allegiance to the state and the acceptance of Josef Stalin as the father of all Russia. Chekurin, unmoved at the sight of Ilsa’s buxom charms (the phrase “dead heat in a zeppelin race” comes to mind), refuses the offer. Insulted, Ilsa decrees that Andrei be thrown to the tiger.

Events are interrupted by the news that Stalin is dead and a Ukranian battalion, almightily pissed that one of their number has been imprisoned and mistreated in the gulag, are en route and not likely to respond to a glass of vodka and an offer of a room for the night. Ilsa gives the order that the encampment is to be razed to the ground. During the melee, prisoners fight back, the gulag burns and most everybody dies. Except for Ilsa, who escapes with her trusty henchmen Ivan and Leve. Chekurin also gets away.

Here endeth the Siberian bit.

The second half of the film is set in Montreal in 1977. According to a title card, anyway; a line of dialogue less than a minute later states that it’s 1976. But, hey, this is an ‘Ilsa’ film, why the fuck am I worrying about continuity? Besides, it’s suggested that she headed straight for Montreal after the fall of Stalinism and set up a brothel with Ivan and Leve and put a few rival mob guys out of business using a mind-control technique pioneered by Leve, so that pretty much negates her Arabian misadventures in ‘Harem Keeper’ as far as the timeline is concerned.

Chekurin, meanwhile, is apparently no longer an enemy of the state and is providing security to a Russian hockey team visiting Montreal. Some of the players evince an interest in visiting a brothel. It’s here that Chekurin is captured on a security tape and Ilsa recognizes him. Fearing that her new identity is about to be uncovered, she has Chekurin taken captive and decides to finish the job she started 24 years previously.

Leaving aside the same avoidance of the ageing process demonstrated between ‘She Wolf’ and ‘Harem Keeper’, here we have a less mean-spirited outing. Yes, there’s a couple of graphic torture scenes in the gulag sequence (including an arm-wrestling contest involving chainsaws that Eli Roth is still probably gnashing his teeth for not thinking of first), but once the setting shifts to the late-70s the emphasis is more on brainwashing a la ‘The Parallax View’ (that’s “emphasis on” as in “plagiarised from”, by the way). With Chekurin in Ilsa’s hands, the next bit of narrative development comes from Moscow as Chekurin’s failure to return with his team is interpreted as defection and Russian agents in Montreal are mobilized in search of him.

‘Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia’ is completely bonkers. Illogical even by the standards of the other films, absurd in its political imperatives, and chock-full of stereotypes (think the Jerries in ‘She Wolf’ were clich├ęd? Wait till you get a load of the Russkies in this one!) Not that any of this matters. It’s good unclean fun, all gratuitous nudity (and better still, gratuitous nudity that doesn’t involve rape), bargain-basement thrilleramics and a couple of halfway decent action set-pieces.

In a series not really marked by quality acting performances, Thorne plays Ilsa more as a hissable Bond villain than the stern, riding crop swishing bitch from hell of the earlier films. She’s more grand dame than dominatrix here. The directorial approach (Jean Lafleur calling the shots instead of Don Edmonds) is geared more towards excitement than exploitation. It’s certainly the most satisfying of the trilogy.

But will Jess Franco’s ‘Ilsa, the Wicked Warden’ best it? Somehow I don’t think so, but we’ll find out later on during this Winter of Discontent. Tomorrow, though, we’ll be standing to attention for a different sexploitation icon.


Erich Kuersten said...

wow, you make me almost want to watch this one,as it seems by your comments much less traumatizing then the others.

Watch out for the Franco 4th, aka GRETA THE MAD BUTCHER... it's well made and genial but has cumulative traumatic power, and left me in a state of disturbed sorrow for days after... I wont give anything away, but...

Neil Fulwood said...

Just caught up with the Franco flick.

Yeah ... I see what you mean ...