When Varla discovers there's a buried fortune on the land, all manner of hell breaks loose.
The dialogue is furious, packed with trash-talk innuendo. The camerawork is sharp and the editing - Meyer's true forte - inspired. Until Bonnie and Clyde
(1967) and The Wild Bunch
(1969) no American filmmakers equaled Meyer's dexterity in creating exhilarating montage.
And, of course, there were the women. Could anything have been further from the 1930s image of cowering females, meekly succumbing to their lecherous patriarchs? Today, Tura Satana is an icon to bawdy feminists: a lusty leather goddess, kicking ass and not bothering to take names.
Critics who lambaste Meyer as a sexist missed a vital aspect of all his films: he esteemed women who had, as he simply put it, "guts." Headstrong women with huge appetites that matched his own. In the sexual battlefield he depicted, women didn't lie back and take it; they dished it out - but good.
An idling car waits curbside at a Women's Correctional Institution. It quickly swallows up a just-released young wastrel and spirits her to a nondescript walk-up in the bowels of New York's Chinatown. Before she can experience her newfound freedom, the unlucky woman is manacled and disciplined by New York's most dreaded dominatrix: the leering, laughing Olga Petroff!
So begins White Slaves of Chinatown (1964), generally regarded as the first film in a genre that would become known as "kinkies." The rest of the film pretty much repeats the same scene over and over, with graphic escalations. A narrator, who sounds like a news anchorman reading one of Ed Wood's sleazy porno paperbacks, explains the shocking facts behind what we are seeing: despite the rope burns, metal bridles, flagellation, and overt lesbianism, the ersatz raison d'Ítre of the film was merely an update of an old vice racket script: Olga is a Red sympathizer, working with the Syndicate to distribute narcotics from mainland China, thereby softening up America for the eventual Communist takeover.
To understand more fully the severity of this social problem, the audience is presented with numerous scenes of bound women having their clothes ripped off, being slapped, whipped, and burned with cigarettes. The worst torture of all is the deeply enervating score, an endless loop of Chinese parade music that would make Mother Teresa confess to robbing the church coffers.
American Film Distributing, maker of White Slaves of Chinatown, probably was unsure how this particular brand of sex show would play on grindhouse screens; it certainly didn't spend one penny more than necessary creating it. The film is shot in dingy tenement basements, mostly without any synchronous sound recording. Like many nudist camp movies before it, budgetary limitations are "hidden" beneath the verbose, sanctimonious, and non-stop narration. Of course, the paucity of production values was irrelevant. White Slaves of Chinatown was the guiltiest and seamiest of pleasures for sensation-seekers in the mood for something with a bit more sting than a roughie.
Olga (played by Audrey Campbell, the wanton mother of Sin in the Suburbs) proved so popular with the Raunch Row crowd that producer George Weiss (no relation to the Screen Classics producer out in Los Angeles) and director Joseph A. Mawra soon cranked out Olga's Girls, Olga's House of Shame, and Olga's Massage Parlor, each one sleazier than the last. Dozens of other "kinkies" - Violated Love, Confessions of a Psycho Cat, Slaves of Love, Take Me Naked, Spiked Heels and Black Nylons, Love My Way, The Brick Doll House, Invitation to Ruin - followed in Olga's wake.
Kinkiness didn't begin with these films, of course. Throughout the century there had been a niche for esoteric fetish material. Underground magazines such as Bizarre and Exotique, published in New York, offered fetish fantasies primarily to mail-order customers. The intense visual stylings of artists such as John Scott Coutts (who published Bizarre and created the bondage serial "Sweet Gwendoline" under the pseudonym John Willie) and fetish illustrators such as Eric Stanton, Eneg, Jim, and Gene Bilbrew had a large, loyal - and clandestine - legion of fans.
Irving and Paula Klaw, a brother and sister team, produced a staggering amount of fetish and bondage photos and films for mail-order sale through men's magazines. Much of it featured charming and vivacious Bettie Page, trussed up like a Cornish game hen or dangling from elaborate block and tackle in her silk undies. Klaw's brand of kinkiness extended to short films of spankings and scantily clad women wrestling. (All this recreated in 2006's The Notorious Bettie Page.)
Most fifties mail-order kink seems tame, even innocent, by today's standards. It was intended to satisfy a particular visual craving. But by and large, those stagey antics seemed more playful than harmful. That changed in the sixties however when the focus shifted from fetishism to fanaticism. Women no longer paddled each others' bottoms daintily - they laid on the whip with a wicked vindictiveness.
In kinkies, the battle for sexual power that underlies much erotica came surging to the surface, generally in stories predicated on dominance and submission. Typically, women spent most of the time submitting. But just as often, it was another woman meting out the discipline. In Obscene House and, to Invitation to Ruin, two Olga clones, the dominatrix on duty is a gargantuan "mama" - Fat Mamma and Mama Lupo respectively. Invitation to Ruin blurred the line between kinky and ghoulie, so repulsive was its sadism. The insertion of a hot poker into a tortured woman's vagina is no less revolting for being performed off-camera.
On a rare occasion, as in The Daughters of Lesbos and Slaves of Love, the women dominated. In the former, a secret society of angry women meets weekly to recount all the sexual indignities they've suffered at the hands of brutish males. They exact revenge by castrating the janitor who tried to rape one of them. Slaves of Love depicts the not uncommon boyhood fantasy of being help captive on an island by a band of sex-starved Amazons who don't stint on the whip when their demands go unsatisfied.
Just dipping a toe into the mire of aberrant psychology, it's fairly easy to see what was going on here. Along with the nastier thrills came a heavy load of guilt. To excuse their desire to see women subjugated, men preferred to witness a woman in the role of punisher, thereby distancing themselves from the sordidness. Payback was often taken to the extreme: plenty of kinkies climaxed with castrations, as though allowing women a slice of retribution for all the humiliation.
One producer who had no such qualms about his kinky product was Bob Cresse, who apparently never cast an actress he didn't want to whip. His most notorious film, Love Camp 7 (1968), again relied on the exploitation rubric of "Everything you are about to see actually happened." Cresse tells the tale of a Nazi concentration camp in which Jewish women are turned into sex slaves for the Reich. Despite bookending his production with as much historical military trapping as he could muster, the film was nothing more than a series of torture scenes in which the women suffer their lashings nobly until, in the last reel, they exact bloody revenge.