Sunday, 2 October 2016

Halloween 31 For 31: Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

Director: Joe D'Amato
Screenplay: Romano Scandariato and Joe D'Amato
Cast: Laura Gemser (as Emanuelle); Gabriele Tinti (as Professor Mark Lester); Nieves Navarro (as Maggie Mackenzie); Donald O'Brien (as Donald McKenzie); Percy Hogan (as Salvadore)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #27

Returning to the Italian Emanuelle films, this is far more a horror movie than Emanuelle in America (1977) was in terms of the packaging, following on in the same world as Laura Gemser's titular character goes into the deepest of South American jungle to report on a presumably lost tribe of cannibals. It's also unfortunate however that this film is clear evidence to Joe D'Amato's less than impressive critical evaluation to some viewers. He's capable as a working director of solid, lurid B-movies but alongside a danger of merely showing empty filth, his work here is perfunctory to a lazy extreme.

Once the story is set up and Emanuelle is trekking through the jungle sets with a small band of fodder around her, it's a lot of utterly bland characters stood around under the tree canopies. Whilst many Italian genre films can have one dimensional figures, the best use them as pieces part of an elaborate or gruesome moment which startle and fascinate the viewer. No such thing happens here, hampered by a snail's pace and only redeemed by an atmospheric score by Nico Fidenco, a new voice for me as a composer who now stands out as a potential creator of gems, bringing a greater depth to a pretty tawdry softcore cannibal film that doesn't deserve the quality. Particularly with the unintelligible mutterings that appear in the score, signposting cannibalistic natives watching in the bushes at unsuspecting victims, it's a quality audibly greater in every way to the drab results visually onscreen.

Drab but also distasteful even for a schlock film meant to sicken. Emanuelle in America had troubling content - including real horse wanking (for a lack of a polite metaphor) thankfully censored from every UK cut and the jarring shift from softcore sex to a snuff film subplot - but it felt like a fictitional mondo documentary which intended to provoke viewers. The Last Cannibals, not surprisingly, was a desperate attempt to rejuvenate the Black Emunuelle franchise by latching onto the growing cannibal sub-genre in Italy, becoming merely crass as a result. Having only seen only a handful, I confess that whilst I'm still curious about them I will likely view the Italian cannibal films as being very unappealing. Barring the obvious xenophobic content in their premises, the other issue with this and Sergio Martino's The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) is that they're average turn-of-the-century jungle adventure plots in dire need of better plot twists than more guts being shown being munched. When seeing the footage shown to characters within this film of an African tribe punishing adulterers, including a full on rubber prosthetic castration, it feels like D'Amato merely showing shocking content without the kitsch transgression of Emanuelle in America or the atmosphere of Anthropophagus (1980). As a result the film merely leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, scenes of a nun merely existing in the cast to be butchered, sexual related mutilation of both genders, and a ritual gang rape arbitrary, idiotic schlock scenes next to incredibly dumb characters standing around like prats doing nothing in a forest for an infinite amount of time.

That this is also a softcore sex film mixed with the cannibal subgenre actually comes off as a worse tonal shift than for Emanuelle in America; the later at least felt like an unintentional kicking of the titillated viewer in the groin, especially as it was erotic in the beginning, whilst this is an utter failure in both camps. The horror is something Eli Roth managed to do better in his tribute to films like this, regardless of modern day practical effects in The Green Inferno (2013) because of its characterisation, and of course Cannibal Holocaust (1980), whilst morally problematic for its killing of real animals, is a cut above that was both a vomiting of utter nihilism with the likelihood that director Ruggero Deodato lost his mind during the jungle shoot. As softcore, it's not titillating and, horribly, Gemser is reduced to a cipher with none of the sex appeal or charisma she had before, the red haired busty vamp that is Maggie (Nieves Navarro) having far more sexual chemistry, able to get away with openly sleeping with a native guide in front of her impotent husband due to their ability to talk about it and their greater lust for treasure lost in the jungle.

This doesn't mean I'll damn D'Amato. He's capable of good work and producing Michele Soavi's debut Stage Fright (1987) is automatically applauded, but there's a clear Jekyll and Hyde scenario at hand. At one side, I'm gnashing my teeth for the up-coming UK release of Beyond the Darkness (1979) just for the hypnotic Goblin score; hell, even The Blade Master (1984) looks fun even in spite of its negative reputation. On the other side Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980), mixing porn with zombies, looks like D'Amato creating empty grim without even any of the technical competence he's clearly capable of. Because of this he's going to be both an interesting and painful individual to shift through the filmography of...

...oh, and I nearly forgot that you see a chimpanzee smoke a cigarette for real onscreen. Something you wouldn't be able to get away with now but it spins memories of old PG Tips tea commercials with monkeys playing human beings into a strange cavity of my mind now. 


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