Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee In The Devil's Triangle

Director: Luigi Cozzi, Ralph Tobias, others         
Dyanne Thorne, Bruce Li

Special guest review!

By Mike Sullivan


The term "lost movie" has become irrelevant. Thanks to the proliferation of DVD players and the competitive nature of bootlegging, more lost movies are being found. What's amazing is the fact that it's not just lost films that are being recovered, it's films that many have incorrectly deemed unmade. Thanks to the efforts of Death's Door Video, Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee In The Devil's Triangle makes its long overdue debut on (bootleg) home video.

So what happened to Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee In The Devil's Triangle (hereafter known as Ilsa or Devil's Triangle)? Why wasn't it released, and why have we heard so little about it? It's probably because the production was plagued with so many problems that by the time the film was finally in the can, its reputation as a disjointed disaster preceded it. Distributors avoided it and Ilsa's producers decided to cut their losses and bury it.

Production problems on Ilsa were so relentless they made Heaven's Gate and Inchon look like The poster worth a thousand printings!models of professional filmmaking. Since Lee had been dead for several years, beloved Bruce Lee imitator Bruce Li is the actual star of the movie. But a lack of communication resulted in thousands of posters being printed up trumpeting the actual Bruce Lee as the star. The producers were forced to include the awkward on-screen credit, "Bruce Li is Bruce Lee in Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee In The Devil's Triangle" in order to justify the outrageous title and to avoid litigation. Incredibly, this was the least of the filmmakers' worries.

Ilsa's bad luck continued when production was forced to shut down in Bermuda when inclimate weather made the elaborate "swim-fu" sequence unfilmable. With the whole Bermuda Triangle element discarded, panicking producers quickly regrouped and turned the Devil's Triangle concept into Ilsa's booby trapped-filled castle. This misstep caused even more delays as admittedly eye-popping sets were constructed. Production was shut down yet again by the FBI during the costly and inexplicable "slaughter of one thousand goats" sequence, which was forcibly removed from the final cut. If that wasn't enough, the film went through seven directors, two of whom became ill, and one fired for choking a stunt man. There's a story (probably not true) that Roberto Faenza was dumped after one day when he threw his dailies in the air and blasted them with a .45 because he, "didn't like the direction [the film] was going."

A total of 3 million dollars was plunked down on elaborate sets, aborted cameos from Lee Van Cleef and George Kennedy, animation (used in the Bond-like credits sequence and in out-of-place scenes depicting Asgard), and state-of-the-art prosthetics which were used effectively during the perverse twist ending. To say it was the most expensive B-movie ever made is a bit of an understatement. Considering this was going to be the final official Ilsa movie, the filmmakers should at least be forgiven for trying to leave the series off with a bang.

Much like Doctor Doom, Ilsa (Dyanne Thorne), the former she-wolf of the SS and Siberian tigress, is now the ruthless dictator of a vague Eastern Bloc country. When you're the ruthless dictator of a vague Eastern Bloc country, there's certain perks that go along with the job. Like the freedom to run down the elderly in a suped-up Rolls-Royce, or the ability to hold an orgy in a mousetrap-covered ballroom.

With limitless power at her disposal, Ilsa is bored. The increasing apathy disappears when she witnesses a lab rat frantically trying to get through a maze. Inspiration strikes, and soon she constructs The Devil's Triangle - a deadly obstacle course/maze she plans to use on political prisoners and dissidents. By an amazing coincidence, Bruce Lee's "world famous" acrobatic team The Xin Xian family just happens to be touring in Ilsa's charming little country at the same time the Triangle has just been completed. The family's amazing gymnastic and martial arts skills make them ideal test subjects for Ilsa's pet project.

After a Rififi-esque kidnapping (it's amazing what can be done with a duck, an eggbeater, and a bottle of mouth wash), the hapless family is sealed into the nightmarish yet elaborately mod torture chamber. The film turns into a campy version of Cube as the cast moves from deathtrap to deathtrap, occasionally stopping to mourn the grisly death of a teammate or to contribute over-the-top melodrama.

As the dead teammates start to outnumber the living, Ilsa laughs at their predicament from the comfort of a cramped closed circuit television-filled room. These moments provide some of the film's most bizarre imagery, from a love scene performed on a revolving ceiling fan to Ilsa massaging herself with a ferret. It doesn't get much weirder than this, that is until the 20 minute finale featuring a bloody kung-fu battle in a room made completely of crystal, and in the film's most startling twist (** Spoiler Alert **) it's revealed that Ilsa is actually a hermaphrodite, and taking a cue from Jamaa Fanaka's Welcome Home Brother Charles, proceeds to mercilessly beat Lee with her massive erect penis. With his life hanging in the balance, Lee is left with no choice but to fight fire with fire.

With the exception of Ilsa, Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks, the Ilsa movies had a reputation of being relentlessly grim, yet uninvolving and dull. Ilsa always seemed to appeal to the same drooling creeps that count the Guinea Pig series and Last House On Dead End Street as personal favorites. Mind you, there isn't anything wrong with senseless violence or debasement only when it's used solely for shock purposes. In this final Ilsa installment, all that changed. Sure, the violence is overflowing with gore, but the onscreen violence is cartoonish. Heads are squished pancake-flat, eyeballs are ripped out and used as dice, there's a working piano made up of discarded body parts (I especially got a kick out of the fact the keys were black and white fingers.) And check out the married couple who obliviously argue about their rotten sex lives as they're being crushed by a ceiling.

Then there's the various deathtraps the family encounters. Rooms have pianos hanging precariously from the ceiling, boob traps are set off by the simple act of blowing dust, there's even a revolving room filled with spinning rip saws and a giant hourglass brimming with acid (and mannequins, for some reason.) Everything is outlandish and looks like they were plucked from the wet dream of a Batman villain.

All this sounds like some prime sleaze, right? Well, not so fast. Despite some classic moments, this is a disjointed mess. The traps are great eye candy, but there's simply too many of them, and after a while the forced weirdness starts to wear thin. It also doesn't help that almost half of them have the look of wobbly cardboard (probably because they were.) Throw in some atrocious editing, porno level cinematography (if you take a shot of Night Train every time the camera cuts someone head off, you'll pass out long before the film hits the 30 minute mark), a criminal use of padding (at one point, a solid five minutes is devoted to the sweaty emotionless faces of the cast), inexplicable animated moments that involve figures from Norse mythology discussing what should be done to Ilsa, add some misfired attempts at satire (Ilsa has a portrait of Nixon hanging above her bed), and you start to understand why this epic was never released.

In real life, Dyanne Thorne was nothing like her sadistic alter ego. A charming and intelligent woman, Thorne suffered the tragedy of typecasting. She was so closely identified with her Ilsa character that the only roles she could find where in women in prison films or (*gag*) Jess Franco films. In Devil's Triangle, Ilsa's still a cold-hearted uber-bitch, but one with some interesting character developments. For one thing, she's crazier, more perverse, and less hands-on with her sadism, preferring to dish it out via her death traps like an evil female version of Howard Hughes. She's also developed a sense of humor and even smiles a couple of times. Whether laughing hysterically in a Mexican wrestling mask or smirking at the prisoners writhing in pain beneath her glass-bottomed dining room, Thorne is a blast, and even manages to look dignified while wearing a foot-long rubber penis.

As good as Thorne is, Li is a joke. Not a good actor to start with, Li sleepwalks through his role. It's rumored that he was upset over being the second choice after another Bruce Lee imitator the producers picked earlier bowed out of the project at the last minute, and refused to showcase what little ability he had. Nonetheless, Li is horrifyingly bad, and the only time the guy comes alive is during the various fight scenes sprinkled throughout the film, especially when he uses a throw rug to knock down a wall. It's possible the filmmakers intended to use this film to bring Li into the American mainstream, but it's doubtful it would have succeeded, considering that Li has all the crossover appeal of SARS or Cantinflas.

Alternately mind-blowing and tedious, this is a misguided mess of epic proportions. Even within the forgiving world of B-movies, it's obvious why this misfire was indefinitely shelved. Sprinkled with twisted gags (I got a kick out of the occasional cutaways to a faux promotional film in which the inhabitants of Ilsa's country gush over how great it is to live there, until the camera slowly pulls back to reveal they're being head at gunpoint), this is a surrealistic must-see and is quite possibly the best film to feature a Nazi hermaphrodite, and that includes Mannequin.

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