Reviewed By-Kit Gavin Directed by Joe D’Amato [Aristide Masseccesi] Starring: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Riccardo Salvino, and Paola Senatore Released through: Blue Underground [United States] Region 0 NTSC
The beautiful Emanuelle [Gemser] is a photo journalist who alternates between shooting nude layouts for a magazine and seeking out sensationalist stories to publish in a newspaper. She lives in an open relationship with her boyfriend Bill [Salvino] who loves her but allows her to sleep around to further her career, as neither get the chance to see each other. Seeking a new scoop, having heard that shady goings on are taking place there, Emanuelle is introduced by a contact named Charlie into the harem of a wealthy businessman, Erik van Daren [Lars Bloch], who keeps twelve harem girls [one for each of their respective birth signs]. Having infiltrated the harem, and observed as well as participated in some of the various sexual shenanigans that take place there, which include splashing naked in the pool, being bedded by Van Daren, and a spectacle of one of the girls engaging in equine masturbation, Emanuelle uncovers a case of weapons smuggling.
Having discovered proof of the smuggling, Emanuelle buys her freedom after having successfully beaten Van Daren in a game of dice. She flees with the Duke [Tinti], a guest at Van Daren’s mansion. He then takes her as his guest to Venice, where he and his wife Laura [Senatore] are entertaining an unhappy marriage. That evening Emanuelle participates in a threesome with host and hostess before leaving the couple to enjoy each other and restoring the affection to their marriage. Whilst in Venice, she is invited to a party by her hosts which culminates in an orgy, and an old senator lapping icing and cake of a nubile young thing inside a cake (!). Whilst at the orgy, Emanuelle discovers a blond moustachioed gigolo who it turns out is part of an exclusive "stud farm" for sexually frustrated wealthy women, presided over by an ugly dyke called Diana. Laura explores the resort and photographs the various women and their "stallions" in various acts of (mainly hardcore) love play. Whilst doing this undercover "research" Emanuelle happens upon a couple having sex whilst violent snuff movies are being projected on a screen in the bedroom.
However our intrepid reporter is discovered as one of the stallions reads her magazine and she is held captive in the nude. Using her wits, and a phallic shaped cookie laced with powerful aphrodisiacs, she seduces and strips Diana and escapes in a car. After seducing the driver she returns to her offices in the US, seeking to expose the makers of the snuff movies. Along the way she seduces a corrupt senator who shows her the snuff movies, before drugging her and taking her to South America to view the various atrocities at a camp for real. Despite being under the influence of the drugs, the Senator still manages to screw Emanuelle whilst she takes photographs of the events in front of her, whilst in a daze. Emanuelle turns in her pictures to her boss who tells her that they can’t run the story (!!). Disgruntled, Emanuelle and her boyfriend head off for a tropical paradise before Emanuelle is seemingly captured by an African tribe. However, in the midst of this tribe arrives a film crew, and Emanuelle and Bill flee, their "Paradise lost", for fear of being roped in as extras for the film.
Laura Gemser stars as Emanuelle, the beautiful exotic seductive and bisexual photographer in the film. Gemser was a former photo model from Indonesia and was discovered whilst doing photo shoots and soon enough found her way into movies. Gemser was never the greatest of actresses, and most of her roles did not demand any real acting ability yet she was undeniably an erotic presence in most of the movies she made, not least because of her willingness to shed her clothes at any given moment. Gemser was cast as black Emauelle [with only one "M"] cashing in on the success of the blaxploitation craze in the mid 70’s as much as the international box office hit by Just Jaeckin of Emmanuelle, based on the memoirs of Emmanuelle Arsen, and her sexploits in Thailand, etc. Gemser in fact was to reprise the role of Emanuelle and make it her own, with the one exception being for Emanuelle nera 2, where the role was taken by the more buxom Shalusmith Lasri. Gemser seems to be unabashed and unafraid when it come to approaching her nude scenes, and here she actually performs quite well in a non too demanding role.
Opposite Gemser is Riccardo Salvino, who plays Emanuelle’s companion Bill, with whom she entertains an open relationship with in order to further her career as a photographer in the quest for stories. Salvino’s part again doesn’t require for much other than to occasionally undress Gemser and engage in some softcore sex scenes. Also cast is Gemser’s late husband, Gabriele Tinti, as a Venetian nobleman, who had been the toy-boy of Anna Magnani until her death in 1973. Gemser and Tinti met on the set of their first film together and fell in love, their marriage and careers together to last many years until Tinti’s death from cancer in 1991, which was to cause Gemser to give up her screen career. Paola Senatore, an attractive redhead actress who’s B movie career would cover many genres even with her final appearance being in hard core pornography, having become addicted to heroin, appears as the glamorous Duchess, who’s marriage Gemser spices up with a threesome. Indeed, Senatore’s appearance in the film was to cause her legal problems, and she was levelled with a charge of obscenity for her participation. Given that many of the other players participate in similar or stronger scenes, the charge seems bizarre. Other cast members include uncredited appearances by the future queen of the Italian hard core circuit, Marina Frajese (in her first hardcore appearance), and the French/Australian Lorraine de Selle, as a harem girl who has a steamy sex scene with Gemser in a sauna.
Fans of Eurosleaze can at last rejoice! Initially Emanuelle in America was announced by Anchor Bay Entertainment at the start of the decade, only to have it withdrawn, with the reason being given that it was "due to unacceptable elements". Whether these "unacceptable elements" were the actual elements that the film could be struck from or elements within the context of the actual film was never elaborated on. And one of the most eagerly awaited, and controversial, releases on DVD was shelved. However, after breaking away from Anchor Bay and setting up his own DVD distribution company, Bill Lustig started has started to release some of the more daring titles, this one included on his label, Blue Underground. Not only has this seldom-seen in an uncut format release film been released fully uncensored, but is presented in a beautiful widescreen format, complete with extras too.
The DVD, which has been created from a number of different source materials to make the most complete version, remains an attractive product throughout from start to finish. Most all of it seems to have been taken from the original elements, with a few insertions where the stock presumably has been damaged. Nothing major, I only picked up on one insertion in fact lasting a few seconds during a sequence at the party in Venice where the picture changes quality, but surprisingly all the scenes which have caused the controversy, namely the sex and the violence seem to be taken from source.
Outside of the controversy concerning the actual footage itself one of the main problems is that director D’Amato shot additional footage for markets outside Europe, namely the hardcore footage. The film, prior to this release, has been issued all around the world but with numerous cuts made here and there, ranging from the bogus snuff films being left intact but the sex scenes being trimmed and/or the hard core footage excised. Or vice versa. The longest versions out there seemed to be an impossible to find Venezuelan video cassette which was in horrible condition, and a Danish budget release [my mother picked me up a copy in a supermarket for $1 – new!] but which was in French, and missing, for no reason, five minutes of footage during the film.
The film itself is ultra sleazy and extreme, especially for it’s time and probably will still have the ability to shock. Reputed to be the first Italian hardcore film, this in fact is not true. An earlier brief hardcore insert had been shot by Sergio Bergonzelli for Christiana monaca indemoniata, and Renato Polselli was reputed to have shot hardcore scenes for various films, the first apparently being for La verita secondo Satana, now seemingly lost. Also, whilst alive, D’Amato denied having shot any hardcore footage in interviews, and then, eventually he would ’fess up and say he had shot footage with Marina Frajese in a beach hut. All the hardcore footage in the film seems to have been shot by D’Amato, in the main hardcore montage of scenes all the women participating are seen earlier admiring the men, and there are trademark D’Amato hardcore shots, such as film the actress participating in the sexual act from underneath whilst she is on all fours and from close ups of the penetration to her face. This style of shooting scenes would surface in his other hardcore efforts, such as Orgasmo nero.
As well as the hardcore sequences between men and women, D’Amato shot a sex scene between a woman [Maria Renata Franco], and a horse. The scene, although it didn’t involve any penetration involved Franco masturbating a horse, in close up, in a stable. Although this act became a bit more mainstream in the fringes of Euro-porno Italy in the 1980’s, and again, Renato Polselli had shot footage of actresses fiddling with dog’s genitalia, D’Amato was quite daring with the move. The actress, Maria Renata Franco, had a short lived acting career, and after appearing in a couple of movies for Rino di Silvestro, vanished into complete obscurity, unusual given the Italian porno-boom was about to take place and she seem uninhibited in what she was prepared to do.
However what has made the film most controversial, other than scenes above, is that of the supposed "snuff footage" which both the viewer and Emanuelle watch. I say supposed because it is just that – supposed i.e. FAKE, however it is shot with such unpleasant realism that many have and continue to believe it to be real. To digress briefly, the footage seems so out of place within the context of an erotic/hardcore porno film it is actually difficult to see what D’Amato was trying to achieve other than to shock his audience further. It would truly be a disturbed mind to find the bogus footage erotic, created by SFX wizards Gianetto de Rossi and Maurizio Trani [who went on to work with Lucio Fulci]. Indeed the footage is similar to effects created for the equally infamous Cannibal Holocaust and Pasolini’s Salo. The still disturbing footage consists of women being raped, beaten tortured and mutilated, and though the effects are not especially unconvincing, the tone is unpleasant and unsettling, and having been shot on 8 mm film which, according to D’Amato, they then set about deliberately damaging and scratching to give it that feel, coupled with lots of blood and the extremity of the barbarity of the acts taking place, makes for unsettling viewing indeed. Again, D’Amato had created bogus film fottage before, but much tamer, in the black and white film which Patrizia Gori participates in to help pay her boyfriend Carlo’s debts, in the earlier Emanuelle e Francoise: le sorelline [released as Emanuelle’s Revenge Stateside.]
So, perhaps falling uncomfortably between the two stools of hardcore sex and bloody horror is what has made Emanuelle in America notorious. The film opens deceptively with it’s saccharine but catchy pop song by Nico Fidenco [who would collaborate soundtracks and enjoyably cheesy songs to most all the Black Emanuelle series starring Gemser], playing over the beautiful Laura Gemser strolling round New York intercut with her shooting a photo layout, albeit of mostly nude models. The hardcore and the pseudo-snuff footage lasts take up roughly a tenth of the films running time combined, and actually most of the film is taken up with softcore fondlings, mostly with Gemser participating in them, and with, shock, the storyline above. Indeed the movie is not irredeemable by any stretch of the imagination, and given it’s cheap low budget origins in fact looks surprisingly polished and does not give off the air of being a porno film owing to it’s high production values throughout. Masseccesi started his career as a cameraman, working with numerous directors, such as Massimo Dallamano on the masterfully shot giallo What Have You Done to Solange?, Alberto De Martino on The Antichrist and many more, before becoming a director in his own right. Although D’Amato was never to quite achieve master-craftsmanship as a director, his camerawork always remained solid and superior [he shot a large of his own films himself], and preferring profit over fame, quite a number of his efforts from the 1970s still prove entertaining viewing. By the early 80’s, nearly all of D’Amato’s output was porno, mostly featuring unattractive women and Mark Shanon, interspersed with a few horror movies [such as Absurd and Antropophagus] and adventure movies [the "Ator" films].
The film itself, to be totally honest, is not really very good. It contains lost of soft core gropings, and various scenes which may or may not be shocking depending upon the sensibility of the viewer. The story line is very convoluted and, truth be told, rather thread bare to say the least, ending in one of the most unsatisfying conclusions yet to come out of Italian cinema. Although the plot is thin, the pacing is generally good and the film never drifts into tedium during it’s approximately 100 minutes running time. Despite numerous urban myths about the extremity of the violence and the hardcore, the film still holds up today for fans of sleazy Eurotrash movies. Watching the film without hardcore and "snuff footage", which pretty much was the UK theatrical and later (now deleted) video release, it might all seem to be rather light hearted, kitschy soft-core fun. It is alleged that the "snuff footage" and it’s sense of voyeurism was an influence on David Cronenberg and his masterpiece Videodrome. The film has very good production values and certainly fans of B-movie Italian cinema should spot a number of familiar faces dotted throughout proceedings. Also there are two infectious (most of all the main theme) songs, with out and out lyrics, but none the less, added entertainment. The films main appeal without doubt is the engaging performance delivered by the starlet Laura Gemser who is winning as much as attractive eye candy. The film has a lurid compulsive viewing smuttiness about it, yet has an edge in the nastiness of some of the scenes. Viewers with a jaded outlook will lap it up and enjoy, though some may flinch at close-ups of the horses erection and some of the scenes involving hooks and a woman’s breasts being mutilated during the phoney snuff footage. Indeed one of the "actresses" during the aforementioned footage took D’Amato and co to caught, suing him for trauma. And she won, preventing D’Amato from being able to leave Italy for a number of years afterwards.
Taking excerpts from Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut, an Italian documentary, Blue Underground have put together their own documentary which features footage of D’Amato, who died in 1999 from a heart attack, talking about his vision of eroticism, his love and appreciation for his frequent collaborator Laura Gemser, and his early precocious sexuality and how he used to enjoy women descending from their cars would stir his sexuality. The late director seems good humoured and genuinely enjoying to discuss his work over a cigarette and a laugh with the interviewers. He also relays an amusing anecdote about Marina [mis-subtitled as "Maria] Frajese’s co-participant, Ercolino in their sex scene, and his latter participation in a scene with trash superstar Ajita Wilson.
Also included is audio interview with star Laura Gemser, recorded in the mid-Nineties by the editors of Nocturna magazine. Indeed the whole interview seems to the original taped footage which was to become the attractive booklet featuring an interview with Laura Gemser called Io Emanuelle. Nowadays Gemser is reluctant, almost elusive when it comes to giving interviews, on or off camera, despite repeated efforts by Blue Underground, including through myself and several conversations with Laura Gemser, she would err between wanting to do an interview and not. In the end she decided against it. So Blue Underground have included an attractivive stills gallery, regrettably most of the photos and fotobuste are in black and white [again, taken from Io Emanuelle] but also included are color posters and lobby cards from the film. Gemser speaks honestly, thoughtfully and in clear fluent Italian about her experiences, and it is enjoyable to hear her speak about her career. No trailer is included as Blue Underground were unable to track one down but no great loss there. Rounding off the extras is an essay by David Flint, a recognised underground writer who has written intelligent academic pieces about pornography and extreme cinema.
Both audio and video on this DVD are splendid, especially as discussed above given that Blue Underground have created a clean composite print from the best possible sources including the elements to present the film uncut. The audio is clear and crisp and I didn’t detect any pops or background hiss. The gloriously kitsch of the songs can also be truly enjoyed without any distortion. Also included are the French and Italian soundtracks for the film, but unfortunately (possibly due to licensing issues) Blue Underground have not included English translated subtitles. But this again is a minor aside, and as the film was shot in English, certainly nothing is going to detract from not being able to watch the Italian version subtitled.
Certainly this film is by no means for everyone, in fact many would be appalled, horrified or disgusted by various scenes which take place on screen. The film is still powerful today with it’s imagery and most definitely has the power to shock. The presentation of the film however, and immaculate print used to show some of the more disturbing scenes actually take some of the power away from those grainy old VHS copies that were in circulation, and actually show that the special gory effects are just that, effects. However for trash fiends, Euro Cult fanatics, and even horror enthusiasts, this film is an essential part of anyone’s collection. One of the best genre releases out there, and comes most highly recommended, albeit with caution for those unprepared.
Story: 3.5 BITCH SLAPS Audio: 4 BITCH SLAPS Video: 4 BITCH SLAPS Extras: 3 BITCH SLAPS Overall: 4 BITCH SLAPS
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