Living abroad as a youth certainly had its advantages; the Odeon theatre in Mandeville, Jamaica showed everything from Hollywood blockbusters to Shaw Brothers’ Kung Fu epics to Italian exploitation and horror. Of course I took in as much as my ten year old mind could possibly take; I’m sure a film like Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) played there, but alas, I missed it. Thanks to Severin Films, this Joe D’Amato sleaz-o-rama is finally available for my (still) ten year old sensibilities to behold.
And while my inner adolescent should be jumping up and down at what is accomplished here - it is essentially soft core adventuregrue porn – the sum does not quite equal the parts for my grumpy grown up persona. The sex and the slaughter don’t sit particularly well together, and I sure could have used a lot more of the latter. But what’s it all about, Alfie? Read on!
Emanuelle (Laura Gemser – Confessions of Emanuelle), that globetrotting photojournalist, discovers a young woman in a mental hospital who has a propensity for eating the flesh of the nurses, and upon further investigation discovers that the young woman has just returned from the South American jungle. So against her editor’s wishes (natch), she heads for the Amazon with noted anthropologist Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti – Endgame) in search of the lost tribe whose emblem is tattooed above the institutionalized woman’s pubic area. Once they arrive, they meet up with Donald McKenzie (Donald O’Brien – Zombie Holocaust), his wife Maggie (Nieves Navarro – The Rip-Off), Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi – Operation Orient), and daughter of another explorer, Isabella (Monicha Zanchi – Eyes Behind the Wall). As the tribe closes in on the group, Emanuelle realizes that the story will be coming to her…
It took one film into the world-wide success of the Emmanuelle film series (starting in 1974) for the Italians to capitalize on the craze – lose an ‘M’ and there’s no lawsuit, yes? – and of course D’Amato was there to offer his unique talent for the decadent. While the Sylvia Kristel original films were steamy affairs in exotic locales, D’Amato sent his Emanuelle into more provocative settings; basement torture, harems, slave rings and snuff films (oh my!) occupy the screen in his four previous films about her before this one.
Credit should be paid, however; while Umberto Lenzi’s Man from Deep River (’72) set the modern template for cannibal films, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals sets the story formula in cement – big city folk completely out of their element who run into the one thing they can’t control – mankind. Future efforts such as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (’81) would capitalize on this social aspect, while D’Amato is content to show female topiaries and simulated copulation. His worldview (or what I’ve seen of it thus far) consists of exploitation, which I’m completely on board with. But other than the mental institute nipple nibble and some archival footage shown by Mark of the tribe the film is light on horror until the third act. (All is fair in love and war, and genital mutilation too.)
I understand D’Amato’s intent; much seduction and titillation so that when the horror does hit, it hits hard. For me, however, they’re such separate beasts that by the time the cannibals do attack (an hour into the film), I’m not shocked at the disparity between raw lust and raw flesh; I’m merely shaken awake because I came for the latter. My previous D’Amato viewing, Beyond the Darkness (1979), mixes kinkiness and depravity into a much more satisfying elixir, and does so with a crooked smile on its face; Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals never hits those dizzying heights for me, but I’m intrigued by D’Amato and I will keep chasing that high. There is a liberation in his “go for broke”-ness that I find intoxicating.
Where I never have to chase that high is in Severin Film’s Special Features, starting with a clear and vivid new 2K remaster, and I promise the print at the Odeon wouldn’t have looked anywhere near this good. Supplementary material is always key to a great Severin release, and once again they drag you through the jungle (because you deserve it, ya perv):
The World Of Nico Fedenco – a 27 minute chat with the engaging composer, from his start as a successful pop singer to advice from Henry Mancini (!);
A Run Among the Cannibals – a lively 23 minute talk with Sister Angela, who is quite frank about nudity in a career that has featured much of it;
Dr. O’Brien MD – 19 minutes of great stories from the storied character actor;
From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – another 19 minutes and another fun chat, this time with young Isabella all grown up;
I Am Your Black Queen – 11 minutes of audio commentary with Emanuelle herself, Laura Gemser;
And of course, no Severin Film release would be complete without the original trailer, which definitely probably played at my beloved Jamaican theatre.
There are a lot of people that Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals will cater to, and by the seedy gods of cinema I salute all of them; and while this particular D’Amato didn’t win me over, Severin continues to have me firmly ensconced with every release. Until then, I’ll be eagerly waiting in the sticky recesses of the Odeon if you need me.
Movie Score: 2/5, Disc Score: 4/5