Black & White, 1964, 70m. / Directed by Joseph P. Mawra / Starring Audrey Campbell, Ricky Bell, Dolly Simmons, Ava Denning, Darlene Bennett / Synapse (US R1 NTSC)

What Ilsa was to the 1970s, Olga was to the '60s: the ultimate female embodiment of roughie cinema. Born as the sadistic protagonist of the successful bondage and domination film White Slaves of Chinatown, she immediately spawned a line of sequels which increased the sleaze tenfold. Portrayed by the formidable Audrey Campbell, the resourceful dominatrix/interrogator returned for Olga's House of Shame and the most widely distributed title, Olga's Girls, before switching actress personas for Olga's Dance Hall Girls and the elusive Madame Olga's Massage Parlor. Here Olga lends her cutting-edge skills as the kinky muscle for a crime syndicate intent on uncovering the rat who's been squealing on them to the cops. As it turns out, the guilty party is one of Olga's Chinatown ladies of the evening, so she embarks on a systemic plan of torture and sexual abuse before fate steps in to throw a few unexpected curveballs.

Though they sound absolutely sick and perverse in theory, the Olga films aren't nearly as disturbing in practice thanks to Campbell's iconic portrayal and a welcome adherence to typical early '60s softcore filmmaking aesthetics. Utilizing found locations (apartments, warehouses, etc.) and stark black and white cinematography, Olga's Girls feels more like a rough and tumble New York indie-art film that's somehow been cast with a bunch of S&M freaks. The nudity never escalates much beyond typical topless cheesecake exposure and a few bare thighs here and there; the perversion here comes much more strongly from the strength of its concepts rather than its lurid imagery. (Around the same time, the Findlay's Flesh trilogy was mining similar territory with a much more extreme visual agenda in mind.) Both profitable and influential, the Olga series continued to influence horror and sex films for years (most obviously Mark of the Devil, which lifts its most infamous scene from an Olga's Girls highlight), though video availability was limited before the advent of DVD.

With the other three extant Olga films compiled via Something Weird, Synapse completes the set with an eye-popping transfer from the original negative of Olga's Girls. For such a disreputable series, these titles boast a surprising visual polish in glittering black and white with skillful, noir-inspired use of shadow and perspective; on the other hand, the sound recording consists of that familiar "loop it later" technique later honed to demented perfection by Doris Wishman. In any case, Audubon Films (who made this their one-shot expedition into Olga territory) has kept this title perfectly preserved for future generations to enjoy, and anyone curious to see how good monochromatic titles can look on DVD would be well-advised to take a look here.

Apart from the lengthy theatrical trailer (which, like the film, makes delirious use of the classical standard "Night on Bald Mountain" before it became a horror staple), the big extra here is an audio commentary with Campbell herself. Moderated by Andre Salas (who also penned the useful liner notes), this discussion skims through some of the highlights of Campbell's surprisingly diverse career and offers a few tidbits about the making of the film, with some amusing anecdotes about various cast members and the ridiculously short shooting schedules. Most of this material could have also been condensed into a nice on-camera featurette rather than a full-length talk (which feels a bit padded even at barely over an hour), but it's a very welcome extra and nice to have for posterity.

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