Monday, February 15, 2016

EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS - BLU-RAY REVIEW

“This is a true story as reported by Jennifer O’Sullivan.” The hilarious, and patently false, opening blurb.

Produced the same year as Ruggero Deodato’s JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. The LAST CANNIBAL WORLD, 1977), the prolific Joe D’Amato decided to meld his successful Emanuelle films, starring his muse Laura Gemser, with the then-burgeoning, cannibal films.  Of course, this was not going to be the last time D’Amato merged sex and horror into a potpourri of sleazy thrills; in 1980 he directed The EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD, a fusion of hardcore sex and zombie gore, and then, that very same year, he directed the notorious, but undisputedly awful PORNO HOLOCAUST, which was pretty much the nadir of both genres.  Despite it’s innate stupidity, EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (1977) still merits a looksee, especially for fans of either D’Amato’s Emanuelle films or the Italian Cannibal genre, so if you’re gonna check it out or need to own it in your collection, 88 Films’ handsome Blu-ray is easily the best option.

A patient at an NYC Psychiatric Hospital takes a nasty bite out of a nurse’s breast, which the hard-working Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) happens to snap a shot of with her conveniently hidden camera, housed inside a children’s doll.  Later that night, Emanuelle sneaks into the woman’s room, who by the way, is confined to a straitjacket, and eases her tensions in a way that only Emanuelle could.  Upon snapping a few more photos of the half-naked woman, she reports back to her editor, and after looking at the photos for quite some time, they finally notice a “strange tattoo above her pubic region.”  Sensing a hot story (“The last cannibals! What a scoop!” Exclaims her overzealous editor.), Emanuelle is put in contact with Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), a curator at the Natural History Museum, who goes on to educate her about various cannibal rites across the globe via some scratchy B&W movies, also revealing that it’s the Toopinambas from the Amazon she is seeking.  Of course, as per the usual standards of the genre, Emanuelle also jumps into bed with Mark as the film cross-cuts them rolling around in the sheets with their journey to the Amazon (“Amazonia is a land that lives by its own rules”). 

Upon their arrival, they meet Wilkes (Geoffrey Copleston), who organizes their journey into the jungle to meet Father Morales, the only person who has had any contact with the elusive Toopinambas tribe.  Also along for the ride are Wilkes’ daughter Isabelle (Monica Zanchi), who will be their guide for the trip, and Sister Angela (Anne Marie Clementi), one of the nuns working at Morales’ mission.  During their trek, they also come across Donald and Maggie Mackenzie (Donal O’Brien and Susan Scott), a bickering couple whose deceitful and uncooperative nature is the least of the expedition’s problems when the cannibals strike.

Although modeled after JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, D’Amato’s rather juvenile exercise is a far-cry from Deodato’s hard-hitting and rather unpleasant jungle horror, which in actuality is more an Italian version of Cornel Wilde’s The NAKED PREY (1968).  EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS, on the other hand, is more typical of earlier jungle adventures like William Witney’s JUNGLE GIRL (1944), a 15-part Republic serial, albeit with ’70s sex and gore, that D’Amato delivers at regular intervals throughout the film and which certainly keeps things from ever getting too dull.  After appearing together in both EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (1976) and the infamous EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (1977), both Gemser and Tinti go through their usual paces and manage to keep a straight face through all the silliness.  In one of the film’s more blatant tip-offs to all those Italian ‘jungle girl’ adventures like Roberto Infascelli’s LUANA (1968) or Guido Malatesta’s SAMOA (1968) and TARZANA THE WILD GIRL (1969), D’Amato has our intrepid reporter getting it on with Isabelle (the rather insatiable Zanchi, who would go on to appear with Gemser in Giuseppe Vari’s sinful SISTER EMANUELLE [1977] the very same year) as they casually wash each other’s more intimate areas in a jungle river while a chimpanzee inadvertently rummages through their clothes trying to smoke a cigarette.  Nico Fidenco’s enthusiastic, easy-listening music definitely makes all the absurdity more digestible and is undoubtedly one of the best aspects of the entire film; incidentally, much of this music was later reused in the original European edit of Marino Girolami’s ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. DR. BUTCHER M.D., 1980).  Another definite bonus here is the casting of Donal(d) O’Brien, a frequent D’Amato collaborator, who adds a nasty edge to the almost playful and very naïve narrative.  When asked why he’s trekking through the Amazon, he reveals he is a hunter and that (quote) “if my game happens to be a human being, I don’t mind.”  Suffering from impotence, he also has to endure his wife’s infidelities with his local guide (Percy Hogan) amidst the jungle fauna. 
Canadian Ad-Mat.

Shot at Italian National Parks in and around Lazio, which doubled for the Amazon, none of the locations are all that convincing, but D’Amato still gives the film a handsome look – he was also the film’s DP – despite his limited budget.  Many of the gore effects are also quite phoney looking, and highlight lots of rubbery latex along with one laughable optical effect; Sister Angela’s demise, however, is actually quite gruesome, and one of the strongest scenes in the film.  

Available during the VHS boom on Twilight Video under its U.S. release title of TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM, this was released on DVD in 2003 courtesy of Shriek Show, which was a solid transfer (enhanced for 16x9) highlighted by fairly robust colours and solid detail for an SD release.  This long out-of-print DVD included a generous stills gallery, a theatrical trailer and trailers for some of Shriek Show’s other titles.  As part of their “Italian Collection” (this is number 13), 88 Films’ recent Region B Blu-ray is the first out of the gate to present the film in full HD, and although it won’t be used as demo material, the 1080p disc looks quite satisfactory and noticeably sharper than the Shriek Show release.  The LPCM 2.0 Master Audio tracks also sound fine despite the wonky English dubbing, but unlike earlier releases, 88 Films also provides an Italian language track with optional English subtitles.  The original theatrical trailer is the only extra related to the film, but the disc also includes trailers for some of 88 Films’ other product, including a very crisp-looking trailer for Deodato’s very politically incorrect poliziesco LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN (1976).  A postcard insert with alternate art and a reversible sleeve round out the extras.  Order EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS from DiabolikDVD here or from Amazon UK here.  This was a honest review of an excellent Blu-ray as reported by Dennis Capicik. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES - BLU-RAY REVIEW

A lone fisherman off the coast of some unnamed beach is killed when his boat is capsized by a strange beast, which resembles some sort of giant, mutated sea serpent.  Later that evening – even if it does look more like morning, due to some rather unconvincing “day-for-night” photography! – his charred boat washes ashore while his burned body becomes the focus of an investigation by Bill Grant (Rodney Bell) and Ted Stevens (Kent Taylor), a highly-regarded oceanographer who seems to have connections to Washington because he was one of the first to develop a “workable death ray.”  At the Pacific School of Oceanography, Professor King (Michael Whalen) has also been using “hydrogen isotopes in heavy water” in his laboratory, which mutates a harmless turtle into some sort of monster.  While wooing King’s daughter Lois (Cathy Downs), Dr. Stevens learns there may be some connections between Prof. King’s experiments and the creature, which has been terrorizing the local beach…

Released by American Releasing Corporation (ARC), which later morphed into the better-known American International Pictures (AIP), this super-cheap quickie was picked up in order to fill the bottom half of a double-bill alongside Roger Corman’s DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1955).  Advertising ace and co-founder James H. Nicholson (along with Samuel Z. Arkoff) of both ARC and later AIP came up with the snazzy, if nonsensical title, wonderfully lurid poster and ad-copy; which promise a lot but deliver a lot less.  Despite it’s success at the time, this very economical horror flick is pretty slow on the uptake, and even though everyone in the cast does a serviceable enough job, the relatively brief running time is filled with seemingly endless scenes of talking.  Kent Taylor plays the straight-laced, stuffy hero as expected, while Cathy Downs – who would go on to star in Edward L. Cahn’s The SHE-CREATURE (1956) and Bert I. Gordon’s The AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957, AIP productions both) is just another pretty face and she doesn’t add a whole lot as the concerned daughter and love-interest.  Michael Whalen as the shifty Professor King (“I’m working on breathtaking things!”) definitely adds some much-needed B-movie madness to the proceedings as he discusses utter nonsense such as “atomic mutations” and “death rays” while Vivi Janiss as King’s duplicitous secretary and Helene Stanton as Wanda, a curvy, blond “femme fatale” in league with some unidentified country trying to obtain King’s ‘secrets’, are also two of the more interesting, if still derivative, characters to grace this lowly film.
U.S. Half-sheet poster.

The shoddiness of the entire production is evident almost immediately, as the film’s key setting, an eerie, desolate stretch of beach, only exhibits such desolation – not because they were trying to invoke some potential “atmosphere” – but because the producers simply couldn’t afford any extras outside of the film’s players.  The threadbare interior sets are also indicative of the production’s decidedly thrifty nature; the so-called Oceanography school is especially cheap, and seems to consist of merely a single outer room with a secretary’s desk and some filing cabinets.  King’s small, overcrowded laboratory is equally as economically furnished.  Even Ted Stevens, who is apparently backed by Washington, also doesn’t have the resources to properly study this menacing creature, and other than for a couple of scuba gear tanks and a paltry rowboat, his ‘research’ isn’t very substantial, to say the least.  In fact, the whole chintzy production looks like it reuses the very same rowboat time and time again, including during a scene where the obligatory amorous teenage couple have their brief encounter with the beast.  This rip-off of Jack Arnold’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) does actually feature some decent underwater photography, but unlike the athletically agile Ricou Browning as the Creature in Arnold’s film, this monster merely floats in and around the surface attacking (off-screen, yet!) anyone that wanders into its neck of the beach.

Director Dan Milner was a prolific editor of low-budget films, such as Richard C. Kahn’s SON OF INGAGI (1940) whose career stretched back to the ’30s.  He only directed three films, including FROM HELL IT CAME (1957), which features yet another less than agile monster – a demonic tree!  The present film was one of Lou Rusoff’s early writing assignments, and he would go on to become a prolific writer for AIP in their early years, which also included William Asher’s phenomenally successful BEACH PARTY (1963), which spawned a number of sequels.

One of the many public domain DVD's.
A public domain mainstay since the dawn of DVD, this was initially released by Retromedia in 2001, but it wasn’t until September 2007 than an ‘official’ DVD was issued through MGM/Fox as part of MGM’s popular Midnite Movies line, which paired it up with David Kramarsky’s equally cheap The BEAST WITH 1,000,000 EYES.  Earlier this year, Kino Lorber Studio Classics issued this on Blu-ray in a newly remastered 1080p transfer, which is a massive improvement over those earlier DVDs.  Framed at 1.85:1, detail is excellent throughout but still very film-like while the DTS-HD Master 2.0 Audio track sounds terrific for such a low-budget film.  As for extras, the disc includes a very solid, informative commentary from TCM/Movie Morlocks’ Richard Harland Smith who discusses all sorts of interesting tidbits about the production, its players and even the genesis of American International Pictures.  The only other extra is a “Trailers From Hell” trailer with Joe Dante commentary and bonus trailer for Arnold Laven’s The MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957), which is also available from Kino, and is yet another recommended Blu-ray.

While certainly far from good, anyone with a fondness for ’50s monster movies will undoubtedly still find something to appreciate here, especially via Kino’s excellent Blu-ray, but relative newcomers may still by put-off by the lack of production values, action or a very satisfying monster.  Order it from Amazon here.