Jump to content
TSM Forums
Sign in to follow this  
Guest TSMAdmin

An Exercise in Poor Taste - Olga's Triple Feature

Recommended Posts

Guest TSMAdmin



This is probably the fastest I’ve ever put out an AEIPT column. The reason for the rush is that I was expecting the release on this for a while, and preordered it literally as soon as it was announced (yea, I know, but I’ve really got nothing better to do), and as of now, though the DVD’s a whopping two weeks old, it still has yet to see a review on a major site (at least one that I’m aware of). So… I present to you, for the first and probably last time, a SmartMarks exclusive premiere review! Enjoy… ‘cuz I’m tired as hell and an irregular sleep schedule during midterms is probably NOT a good idea ;-)






Film (complete with minor plot spoilers!)

There comes a time in every grindhouse viewer’s life that nudie cuties just don’t cut it. Watching everyday attractive women doing everyday things (even if they are NAKED~!) becomes unexciting. To satisfy this market, sex producers in the mid-1960’s began producing loops and films known as “roughies”. Whereas nudie cuties were innocent, roughies were (at the cost of redundancy) rough, featuring more cynical themes, more devious characters (many of these films take “shades of grey” to the extreme with no characters living up to “moral standards” and all sharing their own dark secrets), and bleaker outlooks on life in general. They were also more apt to feature sleazy and delinquent characters, as well as kinkier sex.




Perhaps the most well-known of the early roughies were the “Olga” series. Produced by George Weiss (who also produced Ed Wood’s classic Glen or Glenda, Test Tube Babies, and Pin Down Girls, amongst others I haven’t heard of), the films featured shapely, sexy Olga (portrayed by the lovely Audrey Campbell for the first three films in the series) “taking care” of her girls, whom she employs as prostitutes. But Olga’s no den mother – rather than baking cookies, she tosses people in cells for days, and if they’re lucky, that’s all that’ll happen. An obvious influence on the later “Ilsa” films, the Olga films are enjoyably silly and remain watchable and entertaining today.


The first of the series, White Slaves of Chinatown, opens with a montage of headlines about dope pushers and plays out more like a scare film than the other two films. Set in New York’s Chinatown (obviously), omniscient narration introduces us to Olga and her “white slaves” – girls she pimps out for money she uses to buy and sell drugs for “The Syndicate”. The girls Olga employs come from many different situations, the majority being ex-criminals or rival pimps and pushers, but one, Frenchie, gathers her nickname from her status as daughter of a high-ranking French official. She keeps them wrapped around her finger by getting them addicted to dope and locking them in various torture devices when they’re out of line. And that’s pretty much the movie right there.




In terms of pure sadism, White Slaves of Chinatown is the tamest (barring Olga’s Dance Hall Girls, which I’ll get into more later). Most of Olga’s “punishment” consists of throwing Frenchie in the dungeon, or locking the girls into straight-jackets or other “torture devices”. Most of the film’s “horrors” consist of drug-use or “scandalous” making-out amongst junkies. The worst White Slaves gets is a laughable “thumb crushing”, enacted with latching one of the girls into the “torture device” and cutting from them squirming and screaming to close-ups of the “crushed” finger with more fake blood added. Besides the film’s tame nature, the other thing working against it is its soundtrack; though no film in the series uses anything other than cheap public domain music on the soundtrack (I’ll never look at “Night on Bald Mountain” the same way again), White Slaves features a decent jazz track that borders on idiotic because of its repetition and some very annoying stereotypical “Chinese” music. This music, accompanied by random shots of stereotypical “Chinese” storefronts to reinforce the setting and occasional ranting in the narration on Chinatown’s background in the opium wars, lends a subtle racist tone to the picture that perks the interest enough to be annoying but not terribly offensive. Rather deficient as far as shocking or offensive content goes, White Slaves is an “innocent” way to pass the time, but is best seen as a prototype of things that would come much better later in the series.


Olga’s House of Shame (the second title on the disc, but actually the third in the series) is much more polished. The plot is more focused; although it’s still a series of fairly random isolated incidents, they’re bound by a common motivation – Olga’s been betrayed, and Olga’s mad. It seems every girl has done something wrong, from Paula, whom Olga is jealous of for her “beauty” (err… apparently Olga’s never looked above Paula’s chest), to Susie, who was part of a group of “rebels” who ran away to deal on their own, to Elaine, who was featured in a minor role in the first movie, and has been ripping off jewels (yes, Olga’s expanded her horizons into jewel smuggling, dope-pushing, and prostitution, as opposed to just dope-pushing and prostitution). Elaine almost manages to get away (thanks to the help of another girl Jenny), but after a lengthy chase sequence, she makes a deal after her torture session, and becomes Olga’s protégé.




Olga’s House of Shame changes the setting from Chinatown to a hide-out in the New Jersey countryside (is there countryside in NJ?), and because the film was shot on location in a run-down abandoned mill, this setting adds a great deal of dangerous isolation to the mood. It seems as if the girls will never get away, because there’s no safety to escape to. The other major change is a new character, Olga’s assistant and brother Nick. Though similar characters existed in small parts in White Slaves, Nick is one of the primary players in House of Shame, and a salaciously sleazy portrayal by W.B. Parker brings much to the character. Nick’s character is interesting because although he lusts for Olga’s girls and assists in capture and some torture, he’s still stuck with the position of second fiddle, giving him enough power to be disgusting, but keeping him weak enough that he can be “foiled” (his desires of the girls are never achieved). This unique position makes him the closest thing the film has to a true antagonist. The biggest question for me when watching these films is whether or not Olga is intended to be a villain; sure, she tortures and forces her will upon her girls, however the narration also shows she has doubts and regret for her action, and that she loves (physically and emotionally) her girls (there’s also the fact that if the appeal of the film is “vile” actions, wouldn’t such a traditionally “vile” person become the protagonist by default for providing the desired sights?). The Nick character gives us someone we can unconditionally and unquestionably despise, particularly as the only male character, he’s generally accepted as more malicious and sexually frustrated (ahh, stereotypes, where would we be without you?) and thus comes off as more dangerous and disturbing than Olga, even if he physically does less.




Olga’s House of Shame also works better than White Slaves not just because the sadism is “justified”, but because more sadism actually happens. Now, compared to some of the videos floating around the internet today (even if I desired to, I wouldn’t get away with publishing any reviews of Astaroth Entertainment titles!), Olga’s House of Shame still appears quite tame. Sure, there’s a barrage of whippings, spankings (from a board with a nail in it!), bindings, gaggings, and electrocutions, but, as in the first film, the direct contact is never portrayed, rather the “before” and “after” (e.g. the shot will start with Olga heating up the iron and moving it towards the nipple, then cuts away to a shot of the victim’s face screaming pain, then cuts back to the “burnt and bleeding” nipple). This implied violence is much more tasteful (though is taste really what one looks for in a film like this?) and was undoubtedly much easier to shoot (there was only one injury in the filming of the entire series, and interestingly enough, it wasn’t even really related to the actual film). Regardless of whether you enjoy these “atrocities” (as I do), think they’re lame because they’re not “hardcore” enough to “show anything”, or are disgusted by the idea of them existing in any form in any film, there are more of them in Olga’s House of Shame, and the pacing between them is much better (in the first film it was almost like “The audience is getting restless… quick, show some torture!” whereas the “story” of this film allows them to flow in sequence much better and appear more frequently).




So assuming one’s not a fan of roughies or simulated torture, why would they want to watch either of these films? They wouldn’t, plain and simple. If you’re such a person, I’m sorry to say that you wasted your time, for although there are two things the films do really well that set a new criterion for how roughies should have been (and most never were), it’s not strong enough to recommend on the basis of that alone. For those that are fans of roughies or are interested, however, there’s much more than just simulated torture to recommend these films on. First off, the films are shot well. Most exploitation films that I’ve seen tend to use fairly static camera, and especially since time has rendered the “controversial” content that was expected to carry the film into silliness, the films come off as very plain and boring to watch. Joseph Mawra, director of the two films, however, chose to shoot these as “real films” rather than simple exploitation fare. White Slaves of Chinatown, for example, makes constant use of shadows and darkness in the “dungeon” scenes, giving them the bleak feel of real claustrophobia, sadness, and imprisonment. Olga’s House of Shame, on the other hand, has a more fluid camera, that zooms (granted, this is no amazing thing as far as direction goes, but it certainly makes those few “excessive talking” scenes that plague every exploitation film a lot easier to swallow) during some of the longer in-door scenes, and during the “whipping” scenes cuts away at just the right times to keep the film legal (as I believe at the time of these films’ release it was still legally “obscene” to show a woman’s vagina or any of these “morally bankrupt” acts in all their glory on film) while keeping a sense of intrigue and sensuality about it (I’ve seen many clips of simulated sex scenes that are shot improperly and just look silly, and although these films touch on this with unnecessary “lesbian love” scenes featuring Olga, these are fairly short and in the long run are well made up for by the rest). There are also plenty of camera movements during the outdoors scenes, such as the chase scenes, or even something as simple as a dizzying POV shot from when one girl, Nadja, is leashed and forced to run in a circle (the narration claims this is training her “like a horse”… beats me). This emphasis on producing a film, rather than just “garbage” for a quick buck is, in my opinion, part of the reason the film has stayed in the minds of its viewers for over 35 years.


The other reason, obviously, is Audrey Campbell’s performance as Olga. As mentioned earlier, I’m still uncertain as to whether Olga is supposed to be perceived as a true antagonist or not, but Campbell’s performance oscillates between the two. She smiles with sadistic glee in some shots, but passionately embraces her girls in others (that doesn’t even include the “lesbian” scenes…the only scenes I dislike in the film because they seem disconnected in the story and tacked on for cheap appeal). In her voice-overs, she often wishes she didn’t have to commit such acts against her girls, but that for whatever reason it’s “for their own good”. The Olga character also gains a lot of credibility by Campbell’s straight portrayal of her – rather than be just another depraved slut, Campbell carries herself with class and confidence, which makes her more daunting to the audience (how can someone so respectable commit such vile actions?) and more believable as the “taskmaster”. Though her physical acting is dead-on, however, Campbell’s voice could use a bit of work; most of the scenes in Olga’s House of Shame (and all the scenes in White Slaves) are dubbed over with narration, but Campbell seems to stumble with her dialogue a bit in her “live-action” scenes, taking a bit away from her cool demeanor, as if she’d suddenly lost it for a second. Campbell’s not the only good performer in the series however; as mentioned earlier, W.B. Parker’s sleazy Nick gives us a slimy character we can unconditionally hate, and Alice Linville’s performance as Elaine, initially so innocent, but slowly cracking under the torture and becoming just as sadistic as Olga by the film’s end. The tortured girls (though most, if not all, are hiding behind pseudonyms) also deliver fine physical performances. Since most of the film consists of dubbed over narration, the screams are inaudible on the soundtrack, and their convincing physical actions are what makes the film (one girl in Olga’s House of Shame sells one of the most embarrassing “electric chairs” I’ve ever seen so effectively one can overlook how goofy it really looks). As fake as the “beatings” and “torture” actually is, it’s all sold as dead serious, and that gives the film a convincingness that could only possibly be otherwise achieved with legitimate beatings (which would’ve been illegal anyway).




The astute reader would note that up until now I haven’t even mentioned the third feature, Olga’s Dance Hall Girls. The reason for this is, plain, bluntly, and simply, it sucks. Although a description of it sounds as if it’d put an intriguing twist into the series – the sadism is traded for Satanism, the film is literally all talk until the final five minutes. As such, it has the most solid plot (a housewife and a friend join up with Olga’s to make money, never realizing it’s a front for a cult that’s planning on using them as human sacrifices), but the never-ending talk is such a bore that it’s still difficult to follow or care about any of the characters. Even in the end, when one of the girls is “sacrificed”, it consists mainly of a topless Olga (with the camera pointed at her breasts of course) in a cloak and bad make-up carrying wielding candles and the like over the tied down woman. Then the film ends… the sacrifice is alluded to in the narration, but not a drop of blood or torture or anything is shown on film. However, that’s not the only let-down in the film; this is the second film without Audrey Campbell as Olga (Madame Olga’s Massage Parlor, at the current moment lost to the sands of time and poor storage, featured Elaine and Nick as the main characters), and the film really suffers because of it. The “new” Olga comes off as whiny, immature, and spoiled, completely opposite of Campbell’s calm, collected, and sometimes just plain creepy Olga. However, Olga’s not even the focus of this film, rather it’s on the two women, and their talk talk talk. Gah, only an hour long and yet so boring – what is it trying to top Monster a Go-Go on my personal worst films list? Olga’s Dance Hall Girls is a travesty that removes every single element that made the earlier Olga films enjoyable; it’s no wonder it was the last Olga film. That and the obvious reason that, until Ilsa (a character obvious inspired by Olga) would come along a few years later, the large market for roughies had run dry…


Body Count (because every good movie has at least one death in it!):

White Slaves of Chinatown - one human (off-screen, alluded to in narration of “abortion scene”)

Olga’s House of Shame - none (probably the “best” exploitation film I’ve ever seen where nobody dies)

Olga’s Dance Hall Girls - one human? (death alluded to during ending narration, but how could one sensibly provide narration if she’d already been sacrificed?)




Wrestling Moves/References (because after all, this IS a wrestling site!):

Olga’s House of Shame - the lame-o “electric chair” would make WCW’s “Chamber of Horrors” proud. Or is that the other way around? At least at Halloween Havoc they had pyro.


ONE Redeeming Scene (SPOILER WARNING!):

Between White Slaves and House of Shame, there’s no one singular torture scene that’s so much bigger and badder than the rest that it immediately stands out as better than all the others (although I enjoyed the serious selling of the “electric chair” mentioned earlier that transcends the silliness of it essentially being a pot nailed to a wooden chair). In Olga’s Dance Hall Girls, however, quite obviously the only part worth staying awake for are the last few minutes with the “Satanic rite” (if for no other reason than to make the crack about the new Olga’s breasts being the “eyes of the Devil”… if you ever have the misfortune of seeing the film, when the close-ups of her torso without her face attached come, just picture fangs and warts and such painted on her lower torso for a laugh, it’s the only way I could survive the scenes).



The three films are presented in black and white, full-frame (as per the original aspect ratio, I’m assuming) presentations remastered from the original 35mm prints. The first two films have flawless transfers, but Olga’s Dance Hall Girls, possibly because it was just recently found for this DVD release (apparently, it’s not in Something Weird’s VHS catalog like the other two), lacks a little bit, with a few lines and extra scratches appearing on the screen, and a few scenes where it becomes a little darker contrast for a short while. The sound is glorious mono, and nothing else of note in that department.




Special Features:

Given that this is a TRIPLE FEATURE as opposed to the regular double feature, there’s understandably not the super-duper-extra-packed DVD one expects from Something Weird. The features it does have, however, stick to its source film to make it the company’s “truest” special edition since their 20th Anniversary Basket Case Special Edition, in that all but one of the features are strictly related to the series (don’t get me wrong, I love Something Weird DVDs packed with a bunch of random trailers and featurettes, and I usually revisit these more than the main features, but at the same time it feels like just throwing a bunch of random crap onto the disc to see what sticks). There are trailers for all five films, and comparing these to the main features really shows the effort that Something Weird puts into remastering their titles; the contrast is all off, and many of the trailers are much lighter and considerably more worn than the main features. The two films not included on the disc, Olga’s Girls (not included on this package because Synapse films has the rights, and will be releasing a special edition, although a street date’s not available yet) and Madame Olga’s Massage Parlor (not included because elements are at this moment in time lost) are represented via trailers. Both look very promising. Olga’s Girls still takes place in Chinatown, so would probably still feature the annoying “Chinese” music, but also has a lot more “hardcore” stuff compared to White Slaves of Chinatown, so it would probably be an enjoyable “stepping stone” between the first and third films. Madame Olga’s Massage Parlor looks to be a real treat; although it has Elaine in the reins instead of Olga, it at least has a connection to the earlier films in the series, and the twisting of common health club equipment into instruments of “torture” and “death” looks to be more sadistic fun. I hope it’s found some day, and some day soon… because if they put all that energy into finding Olga’s Dance Hall Girls, I have to say they wasted their time with the wrong film.




The other two featurettes are a 20-minute segment from Mondo Oscenita that couples footage from the first four Olga films (including some more tantalizing footage from the lost Madame Olga’s Massage Parlor) with narration that briefly explains the origin of the Olga series and the roughie. It’s actually rather interesting, though the rest of the film, a mondo about obscene films (hence the title’s translation to “World of the Obscene”), is apparently a mess. Mostly it’s great to get a few more teases of the lost Olga film. The second featurette, “Audrey Campbell, Art Lover” is a clip from a color nudie cutie (probably Barry Mahon’s 1000 Shapes of a Female) that shows the lovely Ms. Campbell in color. That’s really all there is to it, the clip, as short as it is, still suffers from the laziness of Mahon as the camera just hangs on Campbell’s body for one of the longest two-minute stretches in history. Plus, as mentioned earlier, Campbell isn’t as competent in her live vocal delivery as with her Olga voice-overs for whatever reason. The easter egg, the bonus with the weakest tie to the film (it features Gigi Darlene, who’s one of Olga’s girls in House of Shame, though credited there by her birth name of Leonore Reine) is a trailer for Barry Mahon’s She Should Have Stayed in Bed. I guess it serves to represent the kind of dull nutie cutie that the roughies replaced.


Well, it came, it saw, it conquered. Probably my most (and so far only) super-hyped highly anticipated release ever since I debuted “An Exercise in Poor Taste”, and although it’s not totally what I expected (then again, that’s half the point of an exploitation film), Olga’s House of Shame is enough to keep me satisfied. If you’re not as hypnotized from the trailer as I was or into roughies, I’d recommend renting or borrowing this one (if you have any sources) and viewing the first two films. Don’t even bother with Olga’s Dance Hall Girls, unless you want to skip up to the last few minutes. Don’t let its pseudo-scientific babble fool you!



‘Til next time, you can’t spell misogyny without “mmmmmmmmmmm!”

Edward Robins

[email protected]

Missed a column? Now you can catch up!

My Collection (DVDAF, since Guzzlefish still doesn’t have everything yet)

My Collection (Guzzlefish, missing some titles due to their incomplete database)

Wishlist (Amazon… ‘tis still better to give than receive)

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this