“Ilsa, The Wicked Warden”: S&M, sick scenes of pretty girls being tortured, lurid lesbianism fetishism and more!

By on October 27, 2016

Ilsa, The Wicked Warden — currently streaming on Night Flight Plus — features all of the NSFW sleazy sex and brutal violence that audiences want out of an exploitation picture (particularly one from Jess Franco) but it also presents a lasting matinee idol for women who are into the grimier side of cinema.

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The ‘70s really were a wonderful time for sleaze. The free love movement had encouraged people to “think more European” and by decade’s end, Bob Guccione’s Caligula looked like it was going to finally blend mainstream filmmaking with pornography.

Then, Ronald Reagan made is way into the Oval Office, setting sleaze back at least ten years and ushering in a new wave of Puritanism. The ‘70s marked a glorious time for exploitation of all sorts, and former Las Vegas showgirl Dyanne Thorne’s Ilsa was one of the premiere villains for the grindhouse set, her powerful image adorning one-sheets and VHS boxes for decades to come.

The Ilsa character is sort of an evil James Bond of the sexploitation sub-genre. While the character meets her doom at the end of each film, Dyanne Thorne re-emerges in each sequel no worse for wear as if the previous films events never occurred.

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Lina Romay as Juana, and Dyanne Thorne as Greta/Ilsa/Wanda

Each Ilsa film is its own adventure, with knowledge of the previous film unnecessary to enjoy the next one.

Ilsa, The Wicked Warden is an unofficial entry in the Ilsa series, the official canon being She-Wolf Of The SS, Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks, and Tigress Of Siberia. Think of The Wicked Warden as the Never Say Never Again of the Ilsa films, featuring an older, not so much wiser, but just as sadistic Ilsa this time out.

Ilsa, The Wicked Warden would end up going by many titles as most ‘70s exploitation trash did: Wanda, The Wicked Warden, Greta, The Mad Butcher, and many variations thereof.

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The Wicked Warden — as the film is listed on Night Flight Plus — was originally shot in German and released in 1977 as Greta: Haus Ohne Männer. When dubbed for the English-speaking market, some edits were made, dialogue was changed, and Dyanne Thorne’s Greta was re-christened Ilsa to ride on the coattails of the success of the popular Ilsa series.

According to 1000 Misspent Hours, this was done in 1987 to capitalize on Thorne’s Ilsa films by the company that owned the video rights to Greta.

Franco more than likely didn’t mind his vision being altered, as he famously was a workman like director, most times shooting another film while on the producer’s dime. Considering the similar cast and locations to The Wicked Warden, it’s rumored that Barb Wire Dolls was shot simultaneously.

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The film features Dyanne Thorne as the cruel warden of a psychiatric hospital for young women located in an unnamed South American banana republic.

Wicked Warden is less a traditional Ilsa film, eliminating some of the campier elements and much more of a women in prison film. A group shower opens up Wicked Warden, a familiar and enticing trope of the sub-genre, but even during her bathing routine, Dyanne Thorne is the star of the show.

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Being the head villain in charge, she of course has her own private tub and plenty of bubbles to writhe around in, bare naked save for a cute little bow in her hair (even Ilsa has a softer side).

The rest of the prisoners wash up under the watchful eye of Ilsa’s minions, creating a distraction to kickstart a daring escape attempt.

There’s plenty of running t Wicked Warden wastes no time letting the audience know exactly what kind of film they’re in for.

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The escape is a success, and the young escapee incites an investigation into Ilsa’s cruel clinic, which has been “established to for the purpose of treating sexual deviations in women; harmless abnormalities such as nymphomania, lesbianism, prostitution.”

In a nod to Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor (which is exactly what Jess Franco was doing, right?), a young woman by the name of Abbie (Tania Bussilier) commits herself to the hospital in order to track down her missing sister that she believes is being held against her will by the evil Ilsa and her minions.

Franco doesn’t waste any time getting Abbie into the flimsy prisoners garb, which is little more than a flimsy hospital gown that shows off just about everything.

The typical butch lesbian guards fondle her and roughly undress her before hosing her down.

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Abbie is then introduced to the rest of the prisoners, including Juana, Ilsa’s main squeeze and spy. Juana takes a shine to Abbie informing the fresh meat that she will “maul you whenever I feel like it.”

Ilsa and Juana — played by Lina Romay — are involved in a sadomasochistic love affair, with Ilsa ordering Juana to undress her before giving her a sensual (and very naked) massage. Ilsa engages Juana in a game of who can sit still the longest as she uses Juana as a literal human pin cushion.

The scene is tense, exciting, and quite erotic, ending with Ilsa breathily declaring to Juana “now you can scream” as she lays down on top of her, pushing the needles with her.

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Dyanne Thorne is fetishistic vision in the film, marching around with a powerful, Dominatrix like vibe in her uniform, tall leather boots, fingerless leather gloves, and long, red nails. Thorne exudes power and sexuality, barking orders with her harsh German accent, which the actress must have picked up in Connecticut.

The half-hour mark brings us to our first girl fight, which being a Jess Franco film, takes place in a shower, with a gaggle of bare breasted women egging on Juana and Abbie.

Jock hilarity comes with consequences in Ilsa’s clinic, however, and Abbie is strapped down to a medical apparatus and subjected by the Wicked Warden in order to sate Abbie’s preoccupation with sex.

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In previous Ilsa adventures, men felt Ilsa’s wrath, but this time around Ilsa is all about the ladies, using various methods of torture, including electrocution and her trusty single-tail whip, which Thorne wields with wide-eyed glee.

Abbie’s infiltration plan eventually falls apart when the doctor (who is also a revolutionary leader) is killed by Ilsa and her gang of thugs, leaving Abbie at the mad butcher’s mercy.

Will Abbie escape Ilsa’s clutches, or will she continue to be tortured with vicious shock treatment by Thorne’s vile villainess?

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The Wicked Warden contains just about everything anyone tuning into an Ilsa or Jess Franco joint would want: sadomasochism, analingus, sick scenes of pretty girls being tortured, boot worship, and lurid lesbianism fetishism that can appeal to a certain kinky cross section of audiences, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Thorne’s husband Howard Maurer appears in the film as the Governor.

“I didn’t want her to play an evil character like Ilsa,” stated Mauer. “I threw the script against the wall. Dyanne and I talked about it and you can’t turn down work as an actor unless you’re a huge star, so she decided to do it. I supported her all the way.”

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The character of Ilsa first appeared in Ilsa, She-Wolf Of The SS in 1975. As portrayed by Dyanne Thorne, Ilsa is known as the as the deadliest Nazi of them all, even the high ranking male members of the SS fear her.

While Ilsa met her fate by the hands of her Nazi lover at the conclusion of She-Wolf, she returned with a slightly softer persona (softer than an SS officer at least) in Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks.

“Ilsa was meant to be a soldier of fortune,” Thorne told Horror Cult Films UK in 2011. “Everyone seems to treat her like she was a Nazi which she wasn’t. She was only a Nazi in She-Wolf Of The SS. A Nazi once, nasty always!”

Both of these films blend action adventure style plotting with gory torture sequences and of course plenty of fun and sleazy sex. Harem Keeper even finds Ilsa almost turning face as a sort of anti-hero, but she does get her comeuppance in he end.

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The third official entry, Tigress Of Siberia, finds Thorne’s Ilsa — along with her man-eating tiger — is in charge of a Siberian gulag during the 1950’s. When the prisoners revolt, Ilsa escapes, relocating to 1977-era Montreal where she comes across a former prisoner who now manages the Russian Olympic Hockey team.

With Ivan Reitman acting as producer, Tigress Of The Siberia is the most Canadian of all the Canadian produced Ilsa films. Even the methods of torture seem a little bit nicer, concentrating on psychological horrors rather than whippings and castrations.

It was intended that Thorne would return to the role at least one more time in 1976, this time taking on the Master himself in Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee In The Devil’s Triangle.

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This combination of women in prison, sexploitation and martial arts, could have found drive-in films reaching critical mass. The only thing that would make it more perfect would be an appearance by Jim Brown or Fred Williamson.

Alas, Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee never made it past the pre-production stage, despite what this “review” of the film would lead you to believe. When asked about the existence of Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee, Thorne told Horror Cult Films UK, “There was never a script. It was only discussed.”

Thorne did study martial arts for the film. When Bruce Lee passed away, there was talk of hiring Brucesploitation favorite Bruce Li for the role. However with a scheduling conflict and a lack of a script, the film was never shot.

According to Thorne, the Washington Post published pictures publishing the possibility of the film. “It would have been fun but it didn’t happen.”

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While Thorne notes that Ilsa was only a minor part of her career, the character has made a lasting impression on anyone who has been transfixed by Thorne’s powerful image and is worshipped by men and women who know what’s up as a sort of exploitation Audrey Hepburn. However, Thorne may have played the role of the villain a little too well.

“If you do too good a job of playing a villain, you will suffer for it. Well-known friends of mine in the industry reprimanded me for it,” Thorne has stated. “They said the film would hurt my Hollywood career and that people would hate me personally for playing Ilsa — and they were right. It caused me to lose a good deal of film work. I could no longer get in to see the major studio casting directors and I couldn’t even get an agent to represent me. They were scared to handle me.”

These days, Thorne and Maurer are non-denominational ordained ministers and can be hired to perform wedding ceremonies with musical accompaniment. Having The Wicked Warden herself enter you into marriage may be a little on the nose, but for a certain kind of cinephile it’s quite romantic.

Ilsa, The Wicked Warden — also co-starring the lovely Lina Romay! — is now streaming on Night Flight Plus!

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About Mike Vanderbilt

Mike Vanderbilt is a freelance writer and contributor based on the south side of Chicago. He has written for The A.V. Club, The Chicago Reader, and Daily Grindhouse, tackling a variety of subjects ranging from Cheap Trick, George Lucas' Red Tails, and for better or worse he knows a thing or two about online dating. A bartender by trade, when not mixing cocktails, Mike hosts and produces the Drinks On Monday With The Strike Team podcast, as well as Revenge Of The Pod People. He can also be seen performing with his power pop band The Romeros and punk act Modern Day Rippers.