Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali / Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals / Emanuelle's Cannibal Adventure / Trap them and Kill Them

Whilst working undercover, posing as a patient in a mental hospital, Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) is understandably shocked by the sight of a nurse running screaming into the corridor, blood gushing from where her right breast used to be.

Yeah, and Marlboro-smoking chimpanees might fly out my butt...

Investigating further, Emanuelle discovers that the nurse, whose habit of making unwanted lesbian advances towards her patients seemingly precludes much in the way of sympathy, was tending to an unidentified and mute patient who had been found in the Amazon rainforest.

Even more intriguing is the distinctive tattoo above the young woman's pubic region – a placement which naturally also allows for the a convenient bit of full-frontal female nudity – identified as the mark of a cannibal tribe believe to be extinct for the past half-century.

This time round Emanuelle conceals her camera in a giallo-style doll

D'Amato regular Dirce Funari appears as the white cannibal girl

Convicing her editor that this could be the scoop of the century, presumably thus trumping her earlier exposes of white slavers and snuff film producers, the ace reporter seeks out the assistance of Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), an expert on the subject of cannibalism, to mount an expedition into the Amazon.

A touch of the old mondo snuff footage as two African adulterers are punished for their sexual transgression

Arriving, Mark and Emauelle rendezvous with an old friend of the anthropologists, Wilkes (Geoffrey Coplestone) who knows the area and its tribes well. Though unable to accompany them, his daughter Isabelle (Monica Zanchi) and her tutor Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi), whose convent lies upriver, join the expedition along with a couple of guides, Felipe and Manolo; that night Isabelle watches Emanuelle and Mark as they make love and masturbates, while later the two women wash each other in the river.

As the party pulls ashore to make camp for the night Emanuelle is attacked by a snake and is saved by the timely intervention of Donald McKenzie (Donal O'Brien), who invites them to join him at his camp inland, along with his wife Maggie (Susan Scott / Nieves Navarro) and their guide Salvatore (Percy Hogan).

Donald explains that he is on a hunting expedition but also proves to be a voyeur, looking in on Sister Angela and Isabelle as they sleep, half-naked. Meanwhile Maggie and Salvatore go off into the undergrowth for a tryst.

All the while none of the group notices none of the group notices that they are being watched from the undergrowth by the waiting cannibals...

The next morning one of the guides goes missing while the party's boats prove to have been cut loose from their moorings. Continuing on foot, they then discover the remains of one of the nuns from the convent...

One things about the cannibal filone which I'd never really thought about until watching Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals again was its unusual production pattern. Though enough films with cannibal themes were certainly made in the ten year period between 1972 and 1981 there doesn't seem to be any obvious rise and fall to their production, with a fairly steady flow of productions from the same few directors – Lenzi, Deodato, D'Amato – instead and only the occasional opportunistic interloper on the territory, most notably Sergio Martino with the at-times not dissimilar Mountain of the Cannibal God.

Seen in retrospect the thing that distinguishes D'Amato's forays into the filone, whether through the character of Emanuelle Nera as here or in his other pornotropic ventures without the character such as Papaya Love Goddess of the Caribbean and Orgasmo Nero, is his emphasis upon sex over violence and gore.

Is it just me or did anyone else half expect to see Captain Hagerty's zombie surfacing behind them here?

Thus, in addition to all the sexploitation material outlined above, the opening New York also sequences present Emanuelle fantasising about making love to Lester and saying farewell to her current boyfriend in her own special way, presumably for anyone in the audience who felt that only one display of Gemser's naked form every five minutes wasn't enough already.

This said, once the cannibals finally make an appearance in the final half-hour the nastiness quotient does increas significantly and, moreover, should not disappoint the horror audience – excepting those who are regrettably sufficiently jaded to need their random animal killings – with D'Amato also handling the shock moments well, using rapid cuts, zooms and stinger sounds to augment their effectiveness whilst also conveying something of the subjective experience of the characters.

Some of the gore

In his analysis of the Black Emanuelle films, Xavier Mendik suggests that they existed primarily to allow Italian audiences to see Emanuelle degraded and objectified on account of her monstrous non-whiteness. While a sophisticated theoretical analysis, it arguably downplays the extent to which the character is displayed as desirable – surely the main reason for the success of the franchise – and the way that the white / non-white boundaries are more complex than a simple attraction / repulsion dynamic would allow for.

Can we honestly say one of these women is presented as desirable and the other as monstrous?

It's hard to square the sheer popularity of the Emanuelle series and character with the idea that Italian audiences went to see these films primarily out of a perverse, sadistic desire to see Gemser and the other non-white characters humiliated, degraded and generally 'put in their place'.

Nevermind that Gemser's character is presented as a model of sexually liberated, desirable womanhood or that D'Amato seems to have regarded the actress with far greater respect than many of white Italian actresses he also worked with for her straightforwardness, professionalism and refusal to do hardcore material.

Indeed, if anything I would argue that a film like the actioner Tough to Kill, in which Percy Hogan's comedy negro Wabu evenually turns the tables on all the whites – nominal pretty boy hero Luc Merenda included – who have regarded him with outright contempt or benign indifference throughout, comes closer to being a joke at the expense of the white racist who has laughed along with them and at Wabu than anything else.

Though there's nothing quite so pronounced here, we do have Mackenzie's critique of African safaris of the sort represented in Africa Addio, as safe, predictable and inauthentic, as he stresses that knowing that there is genuine danger, that the hunter can become the hunted, is fundamental to the real experience.

Another interesting scene is that in which Maggie gazes on Salvatore and his phallic weapon whilst masturbating, before instructing him to come with her into the undergrowth for that one-on-one encounter. Salvatore is presented as being able to fulfil Maggie's needs in a way that her impotent husband cannot, without there being any obvious racist element to their mutual lovemaking scene. Though we might certainly question if Salvatore is really in a position to refuse Maggie's demands, there's no indication that she is out to humiliate him by playing slave mistress Mandingo type games.

Which of these female and male desiring gazes is barred?

Nor is either lover really punished for the act, such that is cannot be understood as any more transgressive than anything else on show for our delectation – with the notable exception of McKenzie's decidedly non-consensual mauling of Isabelle.

Basically, in D'Amato's pre-AIDS world the message seems to be that anything goes – except perhaps male homosexual activity, as the one type that still retained that element of “monstrousness” even in the work of more avowedly progressive directors – just so long as no-one gets hurt.

Likewise the very fact of having a white middle bourgeois woman as the active bearer of the gaze against an objectified black proletarian man here again challenges classical formulations of this theory and exposes some of their own unspoken assumptions and blind-spots. ('Let she who is without sin cast the first stone,' as it were.)

Though D'Amato's depiction of the cannibals themselves can no doubt be criticised from an ethnographic or anthropological perspective – as can the factual error of having an African chimpanzee in a supposedly South American rainforest – to do so omits the film's exploitation nature and that it is first an foremost a fiction intended to entertain.

It also arguably implies that the vast majority of fiction films should be likewise criticised for their factual inaccuracies or liberty taking or else the imposition of a double standard whereby excuses are conveniently found and made for those films whose politics and representations the critic agrees with. (Where are relativism and respect for the ways of the other here; does an “obvious” cinema also suggest that we would be better using obvious empirical material rather than theoretical sophistry to make sense of what it offers its implied audience it in the first instance?)

The acting, with all the members of the cast D'Amato regulars, is acceptable and in some cases – Navarro, O'Brien better than might be expected – the dubbing relatively poor and Nico Fidenco's engagingly trashy music present and correct.

Enough said, really...


Anonymous said...

Probably a somewhat unrelated comment, but I'm fairly certain that (male) homosexuality has always been regarded in Italy in a fairly unique way - no big deal as long as it happened between young boys/males (the just fooling around thing), but unacceptable if it involved any older males.
Apparently this has been the predominant attitude for centuries, so I think an "anything goes" descriptionis probably too simplistic a term for D'Amato's movies and the same applies for the ides of audiences wanting to see Emanuelle humiliated - both are essentially definite, resp. mutually exclusive interpretations and I think an examination that focuses on the tension between hedonism and discipline might yield better results here (and would also fit a predominantly Catholic better in general).

K H Brown said...

Thanks for your comments. Stephen Thrower's analysis in Beyond Terror would certainly accord with what you say with regard to male homosexuality. I also think that there's that general thing about homosexuality as a nineteenth century pathology and type of person (man) against the longer history of same sex sexual practices which couldn't always be situated within the same framework, though the power element might provide for a degree of continuity - homosexuality between two male youths or two female is okay, because they don't have power, but when one man fucks another man there is an implied dominant/subordinate top/bottom power dynamic kind of thing.

The hedonism / discipline one sounds good, though maybe there could be another term instead of discipline, which I would tend to think of more as a Protestant idea. Whatever the case, it's clear that an outsiders' approach like mine has its problems.

Bradley Burnie said...

I think that there's that general thing about homosexuality as a nineteenth century pathology and type of person (man) against the longer history of same sex sexual practices which couldn't always be situated within the same framework, though the power element might provide for a degree of continuity.