Sunday, February 9, 2014

Emanuelle In America (1977)

Written by: Ottavio Alessi, Maria Pia Fusco, Piero Vivarelli
Directed by: Joe D'Amato
Starring: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Roger Browne

I'm watching these things all out of order. For a series of virtually plotless sexploitation movies, it's starting to seem like that matters more than you would expect. I'll grant you, you're not exactly going to be lost if you don't watch them chronologically, but judging by the two I've seen so far, there is a certain amount of character development going on with Emanuelle. Contemplate this shit on the Tree of Woe: Joe D'Amato, one of the most notoriously sloppy directors in a film industry famous for nothing if not sloppy directors, advanced his main character more over the course of five movies made in two years than the entire James Bond franchise has in over six decades. That may seem like comparing apples to Walther PPKs at first glance, but the comparison is a fair one. Think about it; both characters are morally vague heroes who operate undercover to bust international bad guys on a series of adventures that take them to exotic locations all over the world where they have sex with everything that moves whether it's trying to kill them or not. Hell, Emanuelle Around the World featured a white slaver with an extremely distinctive deformity that practically made him a Bond villain!

D'Amato and Gemser's first collaboration with the character, Emanuelle in Bangkok, is supposed to be the least violent of the bunch, more a straight up softcore sex flick (and the way things are going I'll probably end up watching that one last, sort of like if Irreversible was a franchise, where we finish up seeing our heroine happy and relatively innocent, as far as that term applies to someone whom we see have sex with about seventy-five people in 90 minutes, but we're fully aware of the horrible things that await her) without most of the rough, nasty exploitation elements that would come to define these flicks. D'Amato starts getting serious stretching his evil bat wings out in that direction in Emanuelle In America, but not til the movie is two thirds of the way over.

We join Emanuelle at her side job as a glamor photographer, taking pictures of a bunch of nekkid chicks. One of them is complaining about how her new boyfriend is a prude and she's getting quite antsy in the pants. On the way home, a man who was concealed in the back seat of her car sits up, pulls a gun on her, and forces her to pull into a secluded area. It's the model's boyfriend, who is clearly batshit insane, bent on murdering Emanuelle for corrupting his woman into showing her body for money and – horror of horrors – wanting to have sex with him! She disarms the situation by blowing him and he runs screaming into the street. Ludicrous as all this is, it really sets up just how much of a badass Emanuelle is. With no weapon other than sex, and not once losing her cool, she disarms a madman with a gun to her head bent on killing her without batting an eye, keeps control of the situation the whole time, and regards the whole thing with nothing more than an, “Oh, you!” smile before driving off and never even mentioning it again! Clearly this is a woman who can handle herself and doesn't need a big strong man to protect her. You know, the more I think about it, I really would love to have seen Emanuelle and James Bond cross paths.

Her assignment (I use the term loosely because her editor never actually tells her to do any of this stuff, and it's not entirely clear if she's actively following the trail of the snuff movies she winds up confronting or just sort of blunders into the situation) begins in earnest by getting into the harem of some big beardy Dutch guy who has a girl for every month of the year, and even calls them by their star signs and has them wear red bikini bottoms with a gold zodiac symbol to denote which is which. The girls inevitably have sex with each other more than they do the beardy Dutchman or any of his wealthy friends who he has over for fuck parties, but the real high point (if you want to call it that) of this segment is Pedro. When Emanuelle is introduced to the other girls, they tell her one of them has found a new lover to keep her occupied when her services aren't required, and say she hasn't been the same since she met Pedro. And then during one of the aforementioned parties, everyone goes to the outbuildings to spy on her jerking off Pedro. And Pedro is a horse. Yeah.

Next it's off to Italy with a duke. Maybe the Duke of Earl, I don't know. Anyway, he takes her to a big party which ends with a girl covered in frosting popping out of a cake, and then everybody has sex. I just assume this is every night in Italy, it's probably not that big a deal.

Somehow this leads her to a top secret sex resort on a Greek island where bored, extraordinarily rich women while away their lonely lives being jackhammered by burly men in a variety of fantasy situations. I guess it's possible that the point of all this is she's just doing a think piece on how far people will go to get their jollies when they get bored with missionary, but if that's the case it could have been elaborated on a little more. Look at me demanding plot development from my smut. This segment surprised me by having some hardcore shots that seemed to have been filmed as part of the movie rather than inserts shot later. My copy of Emanuelle Around the World is the X-rated cut, with the porn inserts re-inserted (huh huh huh) and is advertised as such. This flick made no such claims, and not only do the film quality and actors from the hardcore shots match the rest of the movie, they're considerably more graphic than in the other movie! Thankfully the money shots were in this segment and not back in the horse barn...

Emanuelle gets busted taking pictures and is taken to the...what, concierge? I keep wanting to call her warden for some reason. Anyway, the woman who runs the place seems to be on the verge of having Emanuelle killed (can't really call the cops to complain about someone taking pictures of your illegal sex business), when our heroine all but force feeds her one of the aphrodisiac-laced dick-shaped cookies from a jar on the counter (I couldn't make this shit up if I tried) and essentially rapes her 'til she likes it, then scarpers while the warden is still basking in the afterglow.

Then it's finally back to America for the last fifteen or so minutes, where Emanuelle hooks up with a sleazy senator. She seems to be fully aware that he's got something nasty going on, and again it would have been nice to see her do a little more investigating and digging up clues that would have made this seem like she did more than walk by this guy on the street and have a psychic flash that told her he was running snuff movies. She jumps into bed with him and keeps telling him that she wants to try something really intense, until he finally shows his cards and rolls one of his snuff reels. He then drugs her and takes her to the facility where they're made.

Up until now this has been an extraordinarily goofy and tacky sex flick, but still fairly innocent stuff (apart from the horse masturbation, anyway), but here it takes a serious turn for the nasty. The reel the senator shows Emanuelle is a silent, black and white thing on really low grade film, and it looks every bit as horrific and convincing as the worst stuff from Cannibal Holocaust thanks to the same trick of hiding less convincing effects with the shitty film quality, coupled with the fact that you really only ever get quick glimpses of it, so the images burn themselves onto your brain and then are gone before you have a chance to scrutinize them too closely. I'm not sure exactly where this studio is supposed to be, it looks like it might be in Cuba or maybe South America somewhere, but the atmosphere of it isn't so much a little back room black market job like you would expect, but something more akin to a slaughterhouse. It's pretty awful. On the one hand, this stuff is so strong that I really wish the movie as a whole had been more focused on this element. D'Amato missed an opportunity to make what could have been one of the most upsetting exploitation movies of all time. On the other hand, it's possible that it has the power it does precisely because it comes so out of left field after the rest of the movie being so light-hearted. It's kind of like getting a really nice blow job, and then just as you're about to come she stops sucking and smashes you in the face with a cinder block.

Emanuelle takes what she is sure is the story of a lifetime back to her editor, only to be informed that the owners of the magazine refuse to print a single word or photo of her story. Fed up, she quits on the spot and runs off to a tropical island with her boyfriend to live a free and simple life. Out of nowhere, a movie crew shows up to make a documentary about the tribe they joined, and so, unable to escape the modern world even in a primitive paradise, they wander off down the beach to make a raft out of coconuts and sail off to Caprona or something, I guess. The end.

Emanuelle Around the World is the entry immediately following this, and picks up right after the events of this movie, with Emanuelle ditching her boyfriend on the island and hitching a ride back to America, where she apparently picks up her old job with no trouble and goes back on the trail. Whereas at the end of tonight's movie, she gets fed up and leaves the country in frustration when her editor won't help her bust the snuff movie ring (and I can't help but think she maybe should have shopped the story around to a few other places – I can't imagine no news service in the country would be uninterested in high ranking politicians murdering women on camera to get off), in the next flick she's a lot more focused, tougher, and doesn't stop chasing her story until the police cars show up to cart the bad guys away. It's interesting to see her grow from worldly-but-out-of-her-depth reporter to aggressive, full-on badass who won't take no for an answer. I have a feeling if her editor had told her he wouldn't help with the sex slavery ring in Around the World, she would have wound up using his balls as a key fob.

That's what I was talking about before, actual character growth, learning from the experiences in one movie and seeing that learning put to use in the next installment. They don't just hit the reset button and go back to fucking, the conflict and violence get ramped up between the two movies with one having a direct effect on the other. Even when Bond gets a little character moment like mourning his dead wife, within a couple of movies he seems to have forgotten to whole thing and gone back to being a smarmy womanizer. I enjoy Bond flicks, mind you, I just thought they made a particularly good comparison in this case. So yeah, proper attention given to the dramatic journey of a character in a series of Italian smut movies. It's unexpected surprises like this that really make watching these kinds of movies fun. Well, that and all the greasy, grimy sex and violence.

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