Jun 292021

Before there was Dyanne Thorne as Ilsa, there was Audrey Campbell  as Olga. 

The Olga films were a series of exploitation “roughies” or “kinkies” released in the 1960s, all directed by Joseph P. Mawra, and starring Audrey Campbell as the sadistic mob boss, Olga. These films were released under several different titles and release dates. 

For the sake of simplicity, I’m working with the titles and dates from the Something Weird DVD release. This includes:

  • White Slaves of Chinatown (1964)
  • Olga’s House of Shame (1964)
  • Olga’s Dance Hall Girls (1969)

IMDB lists two other “Olga” films directed by Mawra: Olga’s Girls (1964) and Mme. Olga’s Massage Parlor (1965), the last without Audrey Campbell. This may be a case of re-titling a film to cash in on a better known property, much like the latter two Ilsa/Dyanne Thorne films.

Olga (Audrey Campbell, right) and victim in Olga’s House of Shame

Most histories of American pornographic film say that the post-stag era was kicked off by Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). What followed were “nudies” or “nudie cuties”, generally pretty tame stuff by modern standards, distributed to independent film theatres. 

About the same time Russ Meyer’s early films were losing their shock value, other exploitation moviemakers were turning hard, crude, sex-and-violence pictures– lowbrow items known in the trade as Ghoulies, Roughies, and Kinkies. They feature rape and murder, dismemberment and disfigurement, torture and kidnapping, domination and flagellation, bondage and leather orgies. […] These products of the dark underside of the erotic imagination have been deplored, cut by the censors, and sometimes completely forbidden. But they have made money, and they continue to be made […].       

Turan, Kenneth, and Stephen F. Zito. 1974. Sinema. Praeger Publishers Pg.19

Some of the roughies that followed were crude morality plays, which provided a narrative frame and a justification to the viewers. Others were barely coherent spectacles with varying mixtures of sex and violence, such as the Olga films.

Publicity photo for White Slaves of Chinatown

The American Film Distributing Corporation in Manhattan made three of the most violent and vulgar Kinkies of the ‘60s– Olga’s Girls, Olga’s Massage Parlor, and White Slaves of Chinatown— all of which were produced by George Weiss and directed by Joseph A. Mawra. The sadistic story of White Slaves of Chinatown is typical: There is Chinese water torture, bondage, and whipping; women are put in stocks, beaten with rubber hoses, hung by their wrists, forced to endure the pain of a metal bit in the mouth, strapped down, and thumbscrewed by Olga petroff, a brothel-keeper, and her sinister Chinese assistants.

Turan 1974, Pg. 24

The Olga films are a series of unconnected scenes, mostly of torture and captivity of women, plus non-sequitors like a belly-dancer performing, women changing their clothes, or Olga just sitting at a table with men and talking. The scenes are strung together into a loose narrative by a male announcer, who sounds like he’s narrating a cheap nature documentary, while detailing the operations of Olga’s multi-faceted criminal empire. Most of the scenes are without sound, combined with narration or cheap classical music recordings. Sometimes, Audrey Campbell provides narration for her character’s inner monolog.

Audrey Campbell as Olga

Tall and striking in a simple white men’s shirt and black pants (possibly coding her as a lesbian), Olga is the only commonality of the films. Most of the torture she inflicts is to discipline her minions or get information. The torture itself is actually not very convincing. The marks are clearly makeup, and the lack of sound like heavy breathing or screams makes everything detached. 

Unlike the bondage and fetish loops produced by Irving and Paula Klaw in the previous decade, these films do sometimes show exposed breasts, but no lower nudity or explicit sex. Needless to say, it’s only women who suffer in these films. You also get reflections of early 1960s cultural anxieties like Olga’s Russian-sounding name, young women getting involved in sex and drugs, and Chinatown being portrayed as rife with opium addicts and exploited women.

The third film on the Something Weird disk is Olga’s Dance Hall Girls (1969), which is actually a disappointment. It features tedious conversations about sex work, and no torture scenes. The kinkiest things that happen are two women catfighting in bras and panties, and the revelation that Olga’s sex work racket is actually a front for her witch coven. It isn’t even a “real” Olga movie, as the title role is played by Lucy Eldredge (the George Lazenby of Olga films).

The Olga films are hard to watch. They’re too cheap and shoddy to take seriously, and they’re too sadistic, yet boring, to appreciate through a camp lens. They can be taken as a distillation of the kind of action you’d see in mainstream films, without any pretense of artistry.

Paradoxically, these grotesque films, featuring neither complete nudity nor loving sexual contact, were largely exempt from the wrath of the censors, possibly because the United States has traditionally been a country that censors sex but tolerates violence.

Turan 1974, Pg. 25

  One Response to “The Olga series: The Celluloid Dungeon”

  1. I really appreciated the cinema history information in this article about the Olga movies. I tried to watch one once, I can’t remember which one, and just turned it off and returned it to the movie rental place… that tells you how long ago it was.

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