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Retro Review: EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (1977)

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EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS
aka TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM
(Italy - 1977/US release 1984)

Directed by Joe D'Amato (Aristide Massaccesi). Written by Romano Scandariato and Aristide Massaccesi. Cast: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Susan Scott (Nieves Navarro), Donald O'Brien, Percy Hogan, Monica Zanchi, Annamarie Clementi, Geoffrey Copleston, Dirce Funari, Cindy Leadbetter. (Unrated, 93 mins)

The penultimate entry in the Joe D'Amato/Laura Gemser "Black Emanuelle" series, EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS is a mash-up of the softcore porn that defined the films to that point, fused with the burgeoning cannibal craze that would explode in Italy over the next few years. Umberto Lenzi's MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972) got the ball rolling, but it was more of a MAN CALLED HORSE ripoff that kept its extreme gore limited to very small doses. It was Ruggero Deodato's JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (1977), aka THE LAST SURVIVOR and his landmark CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) that really established the subgenre as it would come to be known, along with Sergio Martino's MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978) and Lenzi's double-shot of EATEN ALIVE (1980) and CANNIBAL FEROX (1981), the latter being pretty much the last word in the purely exploitative nature of the Italian cannibal gut-muncher cycle. To that end, D'Amato (real name: Aristide Massaccesi) was a bit ahead of the curve in 1977. Over the course of 1976 and 1977, he'd already sent Gemser's intrepid, globe-trotting, and sexually adventurous photojournalist Emanuelle to Bangkok in EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK, America in EMANUELLE IN AMERICA, and around the world in EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. After the snuff film and bestiality extremes of EMANUELLE IN AMERICA, D'Amato probably figured the cannibal subgenre was the only transgressive depth to plummet. That is, until he decided necrophilia was a viable horror film subject with 1979's BEYOND THE DARKNESS.






But for its first half, it's mostly a standard EMANUELLE affair: there's one gratuitous sex scene after another, with a pretty ballsy one on the banks of the East River in broad daylight, between the Brooklyn and the Manhattan Bridges, with locals and some tourists on a passing ferry presumably getting an eyeful (this scene is shot in the same spot as the opening of Lucio Fulci's THE NEW YORK RIPPER and Yul Brynner's introduction in Antonio Margheriti's DEATH RAGE). Emanuelle is first seen undercover doing an expose of a NYC mental institution (an obvious Rome studio interior, with signs reading "Farmacy" and "Phisical Therapy") with a typically conspicuous camera, this one hidden behind the blinking eyes of a doll. One patient (Cindy Leadbetter) bites off the breast of a lesbian nurse, prompting Emanuelle to graphically grope her for information, discovering a tattoo just above her pubic region that's the sign of the Tupinamba, the last cannibal tribe still present in the Amazon jungle. Teaming professionally and sexually with anthropologist Dr. Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti, Gemser's real-life husband), Emanuelle ventures to the jungle where Lester's old missionary pal Rev. Wilkes (Geoffrey Copleston) has his virginal daughter Isabelle (Monica Zanchi) and nun Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi) accompany them on their quest to find evidence of the Tupinamba tribe. They eventually cross paths with impotent hunter Donald McKenzie (Donald O'Brien) and his sex-starved, nympho wife Maggie (Nieves Navarro, under her "Susan Scott" pseudonym), who's getting it on with their guide Salvador (Percy Hogan), before running afoul of the Tupinamba who, to the surprise of no one, start hunting, killing, and eating them one by one.




Factor out the plethora of sex scenes, and the set-up of EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS is virtually identical to DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. (both films were written by Romano Scandariato), where a group of New Yorkers make their way to the jungle only to encounter cannibals and zombies, thanks to the experiments of the titular doctor (played by the busy O'Brien). Other than the bit of gore in the opening sequence of LAST CANNIBALS, D'Amato waits about an hour before the horror really gets going. Until then, it's a slightly more explicit than usual EMANUELLE outing, with one surprisingly creative bit where D'Amato skips the initial coupling of Emanuelle and Dr. Lester, merely implying it until he flashes back to it later during a cab ride to the airport. It's a like a softcore porn precursor to the non-linear editing style Steven Soderbergh would use to memorable effect with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in OUT OF SIGHT. Given the context, it's an unusual and inventive decision, demonstrating the kind of pure cinema that one usually doesn't expect to see in a Joe D'Amato joint, whether it's traditional genre fare like THE GRIM REAPER or his ATOR films, his horror/porno crossovers like 1980's EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and 1981's PORNO HOLOCAUST, or the straight-up hardcore porn he'd churn out near the end of his career.




Just out on Blu-ray from Severin, EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS is a film that gives the devout Eurotrash exploitation fan everything they want: near-constant T&A, laughably bad dubbing, misspelled English-as-second-language signs, extreme gore, incredible 1977 NYC location work, a supporting cast filled with Eurocult stalwarts, a catchy Nico Fidenco theme song with "Make Love on the Wing," bullshit claims that it's a true story (citing the work of a fictitious reporter named "Jennifer O'Sullivan"), and the iconic Gemser, who looks even more gorgeous than usual here. And as an added bonus, unlike most of its type in the cannibal cycle, there's no graphic onscreen animal violence, which has always been the biggest obstacle in the "enjoyment" of this stuff (the closest it gets is a friendly chimpanzee helping himself to a Marlboro). It took the film seven years to make it to America, where the short-lived Megastar Films gave it a spotty release on the drive-in and grindhouse circuit in 1984 as TRAP THEM AND KILL THEM, a retitling obviously designed to capitalize on the notoriety of MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, the rechristening given to Umberto Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX when it hit the US in 1983. D'Amato and Gemser would make one more EMANUELLE film with 1978's EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE, which features copious amounts of redubbed stock footage from earlier entries (Emanuelle's meeting with her editor and shots of Gemser and Tinti driving around NYC--complete with a theater showing KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE--are lifted completely from LAST CANNIBALS), plus an amazing newly-shot bowling alley brawl. Though the D'Amato-run "Black Emanuelle" series would wrap up after WHITE SLAVE TRADE, Gemser starred in a few offshoots as a character named "Emanuelle," most notably a pair of wonderfully nasty and batshit Bruno Mattei women-in-prison classics with 1982's VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON (released in the US in 1984 as CAGED WOMEN) and 1983's WOMEN'S PRISON MASSACRE (released in the US in 1985). Gemser retired from acting following Tinti's death from cancer in 1991, though she worked behind the scenes as a costume and wardrobe designer on several Filmirage productions, most notably the cult classic TROLL 2. She's spent the last 25 years almost completely out of the public eye, resurfacing only for a few audio interviews and one on-camera interview for a 2000 British TV documentary on Sylvia Kristel's EMMANUELLE movies.





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