Friday, April 13, 2018

EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS - BLU-RAY REVIEW

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

Produced the same year as Ruggero Deodato’s JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. The LAST CANNIBAL WORLD, 1977), with this outing 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 wouldn't be the last time that 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 also, that very same year, he directed the notorious if undisputedly awful PORNO HOLOCAUST, which pretty much plumbed the nadir of both genres. Despite its own innate stupidity, EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS remains an enjoyable bit of at times mean-spirited trash, 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, Severin’s newest Blu-ray is easily the best way to go.

A patient at an NYC Psychiatric Hospital takes a nasty bite out of a nurse’s breast; an incident which hard-working ‘on-the-scene’ photo journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) happens to snap a photograph of with her conveniently-hidden camera, which is housed inside a children’s doll. Later that night, Emanuelle sneaks into the room of the bitten woman – who, by the way, is confined to a straitjacket – and (ahem) ‘eases her tensions’ (so to speak!) in a way that only Emanuelle could. Upon snapping a few more gratuitous photos of the half-naked bite victim just for extra ‘coverage’, she then reports back to her editor. After looking over the photos for what seems like ages, they finally happen to notice a (quote) “strange tattoo above her pubic region”… where else?! Immediately 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 movie footage, also revealing that it’s the Yapiakas 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 crosscuts 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 outsider who has ever had any contact with the elusive Yapiakas tribe.  Also along for the ride are Wilkes’ daughter Isabelle (Monika Zanchi, co-star of Giuseppe Vari’s sinful nunsploitationer SISTER EMANUELLE [1977], also starring Gemser), who will be their guide for the trip, and Sister Angela (Annamarie Clementi), one of the nuns working at Morales’ mission (yes indeed, nunsploitation rears its unholy head in this one too!).  During their trek, they also come across Donald and Maggie Mackenzie (Italo-based Irish actor Donal[d] O’Brien and Spanish actress “Susan Scott” a.k.a. Nieves Navarro), a bickering dysfunctional couple whose deceitful and uncooperative relations are the least of the expedition’s problems when the cannibals strike.

D’Amato’s rather juvenile exercise is a far-cry from some of Italy’s other, harder-hitting and rather unpleasant jungle horrors, and is largely more typical of morally simplistic earlier jungle adventures like William Witney’s JUNGLE GIRL (1944), a 15-part Republic serial, albeit with plentiful ’70s-style sex and gore, that D’Amato delivers at predictably regular intervals, 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 real-life partners Gemser and Tinti go through their usual paces while managing to keep straight faces throughout 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 as they casually wash each other’s more intimate areas in a jungle river, this while a curious chimpanzee rummages through their clothes while trying to smoke a cigarette (?!).  Nico Fidenco’s enthusiastic easy-listening music definitely makes all the absurdity more digestible, and it is undoubtedly one of the film’s most appealing aspects; incidentally, much of this music was later reused in the original European edit of Marino Girolami’s ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D., 1980).  Another definite bonus here is the casting of Donal(d) O’Brien, a frequent D’Amato collaborator who was such a memorable presence as the badass mercenary leader in D’Amato’s own African-set war actioner TOUGH TO KILL (1979) and who herein adds a convincingly nasty edge to the almost playful and highly naïve narrative.  When asked why he’s trekking through the Amazon, his character 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 native guide (Percy Hogan) amidst the jungle fauna.  

Shot at Italian National Parks in and around Lazio, doubling for the Amazon (!?), not surprisingly none of the locations are all that convincing, but D’Amato nonetheless gives the film a handsome look – he was also its DP – despite his limited budget.  Many of the gore effects are also quite phony-looking, highlighting lots of rubbery latex as well as 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 notorious U.S. release title of TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM, this was released on DVD in 2003 courtesy of Shriek Show, whose edition featured a solid transfer (enhanced for 16x9) that was highlighted by quite robust colours and solid detail for an SD release.  This long out-of-print DVD included a generous stills gallery, a theatrical trailer, plus trailers for some of Shriek Show’s other titles.  As part of their “Italian Collection”, 88 Films’ Region B Blu-ray was the first out of the gate ever to present the film in full HD, and although it isn’t of sufficiently stunning quality to be used as demo material, the 1080p disc nevertheless looked quite satisfactory, and was noticeably sharper than the Shriek Show release; but that’s about it, as it left plenty of room for improvement.  The LPCM 2.0 Master Audio tracks also sound relatively fine, but unlike on earlier releases, 88 Films also provides an Italian language track with optional English subtitles. The original theatrical trailer and the film’s Italian opening and closing credits are the only extras related to the film, but the disc also includes trailers for some of 88 Films’ other product. A postcard insert with alternate art and a reversible sleeve round-out the extras.  

Less than a year later, Severin Films debuted the film on North American Blu-ray in yet another of their superlative packages, featuring a crisp new transfer and an excellent assortment of extras. Scanned in 2K from (quote) “original vault elements”, Severin’s new disc is far more detailed than any previous release, featuring a healthy amount of proper film grain, and while it does feature some imperfections that were inherent in the original source material, the clarity and depth of picture is superb. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 is also offered in both English and Italian and both sound clear and free of distortion despite the rather wonky dubbing on the English track. Happily, Severin have also included properly-translated English subtitles for the Italian track, which doesn’t have nearly the same unintentionally comedic feel of the more well-known English-dubbed version. Closed captions are also included.

The copious extras begin with The World of Nico Fidenco (27m04s), a career-spanning interview with the film’s music composer, who collaborated with Joe D’Amato a number of times. Initially studying to become a director at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografica, this ambition was cut short when Fidenco had to do his mandatory military service, but upon his return, he started singing and playing guitar instead. This led to him singing the title song “What a Sky / Su ne cielo” in Francesco Maselli’s SILVER SPOON SET (1960), which subsequently launched his musical career. Through further (quote) “coincidences”, this fortuitous event also initiated a prolific career composing film music, beginning with his sparse if highly-memorable score for Giovanni Grimaldi’s spaghetti western IN A COLT’S SHADOW (1966). Additionally, Fidenco goes on to speak of his long working relationship with D’Amato and his ability to make (quote) “three movies with the budget of one”; a piece of advice he took from famed composer Henry Mancini to (quote) “make one theme (or two, if necessary) that will be remembered” (which is most certainly the case with this film’s catchy score!); and finally touches on working with Gemser, Tinti, director Marino Girolami, and how his life is a (quote) “never-ending surprise”. Solid stuff, indeed! In Nocturno’s A Nun Among the Cannibals (22m53s), Annamarie Clementi talks about how she got into the business through her friend and agent Pino Pellegrino and how her life at that point was much akin to a (quote) “spin-dryer”; she also discusses her nasty demise in the film under review and found it (quote) “amusing”, but was less amused when she found herself covered in smelly offal on the set while shooting the scene. Next up, in Doctor O’Brien (18m47s), Donal(d) O’Brien discusses his early years at the Dublin Gate Theatre; his breakthrough on John Frankenheimer’s THE TRAIN (1964) – in which he memorably portrayed a stubborn Nazi NCO opposite the film’s protagonist Burt Lancaster – and his migration to Italy where he (quote) “fell in love with Italy and its people”; he also goes on to call D’Amato’s nasty-nun shocker IMAGES IN A CONVENT(1979) a (quote) “semi-masterpiece”! In From Switzerland to the Mato Grosso (18m40s), Monika Zanchi talks of her turbulent lifestyle before she was ‘discovered’, which led to a brief film career that began with Pasquale Festa Campanile’s crimeslime road movie HITCH-HIKE (1977) and the aforementioned SISTER EMANUELLE; she also speaks warmly of maverick director Alberto Cavallone as (quote) “the most-human, the most-creative” director she ever worked with. The featurettes conclude with I Am Your Black Queen (11m25s), a reedited audio interview with the Indonesian-born Laura Gemser (full name Laurette Marcia Gemser), which originally appeared on Blue Underground’s DVD of Joe D’Amato’s EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (1976). In it, she talks about making a living in Belgium while modelling, as well as her first foray into film with Pier Ludovico Pavoni’s FREE LOVE (1974) and eventually appearing in Adalberto “Bitto” Albertini’s BLACK EMANUELLE (1976); she also talks about getting naked on film and how she found her many lesbian encounters (quote) “embarrassing”, also citing director D’Amato as a (quote) “born comedic actor”; and, in a funny anecdote, she talks of her infamous snake dance from BLACK COBRA (1976), co-starring a seriously slumming Jack Palance, and how she ended-up getting covered in snake-piss as a result! Things finish off with the film’s theatrical trailer. 

In a nice gesture, the first 3000 copies of this Blu also include a soundtrack CD of Fidenco’s memorable score, which runs 59m04 and houses a grand total of 31 tracks. To top it all off, Severin have also seen fit to include reversible cover art, as well as a very colourful – and naughty! – slipcover depicting the film’s German poster art. For those wishing to splurge, it’s also available as part of “The Laura Gemser Deluxe Bundle”, but whichever edition you choose, this colourfully outrageous jungle romp still remains one of Joe D’Amato’s most consistently entertaining pictures, which Severin Films have finally provided fans in the nicest-looking edition to date. Pre-order it from Severin, DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

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