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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Olga's Girls
Olga's Girls
Synapse Films // Unrated // April 26, 2005
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted April 19, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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They are perhaps the most notorious movies in the entire exploitation genre. For those unfamiliar with the genre lingo, a kinkie is a kind of ultra corrupt roughie, a type of film that features a more violent mode of sexual expression. Unlike other offerings in T & A heavy grindhouse cinema, nudity and ersatz nookie was not enough. A kinkie was exactly that, an uncompromising, melodramatic look at life on the seedy, sleazy side of sex. Now there are several notorious titles in the strange S&M oriented sub-category of roughies: The Defilers, Bad Girls Go to Hell, and perhaps the most memorable of the lot, the slasher film predecessors by Michael and Roberta Findlay, The Flesh Trilogy (made up of The Touch of Her Flesh, The Curse of Her Flesh, and The Kiss of Her Flesh

But if one had to pinpoint an icon to represent the kinkie form of troublemaking movie, Olga the white slaver would be numero uno on most lists. As essayed with cold, calculated bitchiness by exploitation stalwart Audrey Campbell, the five films that made up this mangled menagerie, are considered classics by the more reprobate portion of the raincoat crowd. Beginning with White Slaves of Chinatown (often referred to as Olga's White Slaves to avoid racist arguments) and moving through Olga's Girls, Olga's House of Shame, Madame Olga's Massage Parlor and Olga's Dance Hall Girls, each film found bigger and better ways to shock an audience with its combination of pulchritude and pain.

Campbell only appeared in the first three features, but she left a memorable impression in the process. Last year, Something Weird Video release three of the surviving four films (sadly, Massage Parlor is MIA, and is feared lost forever) and the result was something a little underwhelming. While offering exactly what one would expect from the series, the films seemed incomplete, missing key elements that would help us understand Olga, her operation, and her incestual links to organized crime. Thanks to Synapse Films, however, we now have the long lost link in the Olga canon. With the second film in the series, Olga's Girls, new to DVD in an amazing transfer, we finally can figure out what makes this mad madam tick – and why fans have flocked to her for years.

The DVD:
Olga runs a combination drug dealing enterprise and house of prostitution in the biggest sin capital of them all – New York City. With the help of Johnny Gordon, also known as "The Pimp", Olga trades in human flesh, and does a damn good job of it. In Olga's enclave, all the gals obey, or they are taken to the dungeon (actually, the basement of a brownstone) where the mean madam dons the "cape of persuasion" and tortures the back sass out of them. Naturally, this leads to a little dissention, and Olga soon finds herself in hooker hot water. First, the syndicate indicates that Olga has a snitch amongst her snatch, and needs to flush out the rat or they'll take over her business. Naturally, everyone is placed in the torture chamber in a painful process of elimination. No longer able to tolerate the treatment, a splinter group of sluts overthrows the mistress, giving her a little of her own miscreant medicine. They then set up their own sex for hire business on Park Avenue. But Olga isn't defeated so easily, not when she has girls still willing to sacrifice their shame for her.

At first glance, anyone whose seen one – or all – of the other Olga films will probably argue that Olga's Girls is nothing special: just a lot of the same old bondage and discipline served up by a heartless bitch whose got a way with a blowtorch. And for those who know nothing of the series, they may be wondering if all those who champion these titles as classics aren't smoking out of the same crooked crack pipe. Indeed, these movies are as bare bones as possible. They contain little or no dialogue (the only voices we hear are that of a very serious narrator, and Olga herself, offering memories and her own static storytelling), have very little narrative drive (it's a vignette oriented experience) and repeat themselves in both mannerism and meanness. By the end, you'll probably understand why Olga is such an icon of the insidious, but you may not be one of her hopelessly devoted fan club.

That being said, Olga's Girls is a great little bit of gratuity, perhaps the perfect combination of the carnal and the cruel that the rest of the films fail to achieve. If you don't enjoy this middle movie in the series, then the other films will leave you colder than Audrey Campbell's stare. Chinatown has more plot, House of Shame ups the nastiness, and Dance Hall Girls is on another exploitation plane all together (it was made without the participation of Campbell, or original Olga master Joseph P. Mawra). Girls is the perfect combination of all of the Olga elements. There is plenty of tit, lots of ass, and ample torturing of both. While the actresses all have a hardened, hooker look that adds to the authenticity of the film, there is a surprising lack of sex. Campbell does get a single lesbian moment with her black assistant, but the rest of the wicked storyline is taken up with beatings, brandings and other atrocities, metered out with flat, matter of fact ferocity.

If you are familiar with the horrible horror film (and MST3K staple) The Creeping Terror, you know how this movie tells its tale. The voice over motif provides a kind of educational short principle to the production – especially when the whole "drugs as a scourge of Communism" enters into the discussion – and the filmmaking is fairly dead and lifeless. Thanks to a stellar black and white transfer from Synapse, the grit and grime of the urban setting is translated across the decades. You really do feel as if the skuzzy side of big city life is being radiated from the screen. Campbell makes an interesting symbol, possessing one of those wide, depraved mouths that seem to open into a smile filled with endless, malevolent teeth. Her eyes are also large pools of perversion, never once showing a single ounce of sympathy. With her long hair and stark wardrobe, she comes across like a runway model as big bull commandant. This helps a great deal to sell the rest of her clan as comely lasses. Indeed, don't pay too close attention to the cast, or you might find your exhausted barmaid tolerances tested.

That being said, you really do have to be a fan, or understand the exploitation groove to get into this movie. When Olga is cutting out the tongue of a stoolie, or when the gals are applying a weird bed of nails clamp to their baneful boss's breast, the level of sadism can be a bit much. And since the film is nothing but talk and torture, you can quickly find yourself turned off and uninvolved. If fake agony and faux persecution don't bother you however, or if you can successfully divorce yourself from the unease such scenes create, you can enjoy the film as a twisted time capsule. The combination of the fashions, hairstyles and body types are enough to wash the post-modern waif figure female out of your personal proclivity permanently. While they are not sexy by any far stretch of the imagination, the gals here do give good gratuity. This is also a pre-beaver production, so don't be expecting any full frontal moments from this film. More or less an S&M magazine come to life, Olga's Girls will be reminiscent to anyone who remembers walking past a 42nd Street sex shop, the oily hucksters standing on the sidewalk, or the tainted images plastered in the windows as an icky brand of enticement. There is nothing subtle about this film. This is "wham bam" without a lick of "thank you ma'am".

Thankfully, Campbell is the glue that holds it all together. She can say more with those big deep doe eyes of hers than other actresses can convey with a monologue and a set of Method mannerisms. Her voice is throaty without being harsh, and she has the whole frigid freak show regality down pat. Without her, an Olga film would merely be a collection of uncaring clips. With her, they are elevated to a strange, surreal level of entertainment. Still, Olga's Girls won't be for everyone. The proto PC mindset that makes up modern society would scoff at such a film if it were made today (and that's the least of the legal ramifications it would face), and many without a knowledge of the grindhouse will believe that they somehow stumbled upon an early example of a snuff stag film. Yet for any devotee of the series, or someone with more than a passing interest in the variety, this is an exercise in brutal babe bashing that can be enjoyed as a novelty – or if you are so inclined, something naughty. Individuals less than impressed with the previous Olga DVD can now rejoice. Olga's Girls is something to relish, not remand to the pile of disappointing diversions.

The Video:
Synapse does a sensational job with Olga's Girls, giving it a wonderful monchrome image that resonates with raw, realistic power. The 1.33:1 full screen transfer is not some muddled, shades of gray experience. Instead, this is one of the few black and white transfers that can give Something Weird (the masters of the shadows and light dynamic) and Criterion a run for their remastering money. There are a couple of age defects and bad splices along the way, but the overall picture is nearly perfect. Anyone upset with how some companies treat old titles will LOVE what Synapse has done here. The visuals are vibrant on this DVD release.

The Audio:
Sadly, there is not much that can be done with Dolby Digital Mono, especially with a movie that is all talk and classical music backing (public domain equals free, remember). Still, the aural attributes here are crystal clear and fairly well modulated. There is little distortion and hardly any shrillness. Of course, this also means there is equally no warmth or depth, but the overall sonic situation is professional and acceptable, especially for a film as rare – and rarely seen – as this one.

The Extras:
If Synapse can be faulted for one aspect of this release, it's the lack of substantive contextual bonus features. While it does contain a commentary track with Campbell, as well as a trailer for the film and a brief essay insert, it would have been nice to add some discussion of the other films in the series, as well as information on the cast and crew. Still, getting to hear Campbell speak about herself and her performance is a treat. Along with film historian Andre Salas, the star gives a sporadic, anecdotal discussion of her role as the ultimate madam. Campbell's memory has faded over the years and she can barely remember most details (like the names of her co-stars), but she still lets us recognize that, no matter what we saw onscreen, this was a fun JOB for all involved. Salas seems a little lost, offering what minimal knowledge he possesses while simultaneously goading Campbell along. While not the best alternative narrative track ever created, it is still amazing to hear Olga's own thoughts about the origin of her legend.

Final Thoughts:
Occasionally, an exploitation film will pass into legend, using its hype and its past notoriety as a way of feeding a false sense of anticipation. Usually, these films don't live up to their myth, and when Something Weird unleashed the other Olga films, many were hard pressed to understand what all the baneful ballyhoo was about. Thankfully, Olga's Girls fulfills its sullied promise. It's nasty and completely nonplused by its own iniquity. It features a weird alternate reality of Mafiosos, pimps and hardened call girls that recall the soiled, sick underbelly of a pre-Summer of Love society. This is gritty, grindhouse cinema at its most bleak and brazen. And, oddly enough, it's a lot of fun. While one can't champion the cruelty that makes up its mannerism, there is a lot of undeniably craven campiness to be had at the hands – and torture devices – of this hot-tempered bitch. Just remember to stay on her good side, otherwise, Olga can and will lash out at you, literally. It's a place she LOVES to languish in for hours on end.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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