A fleshy embodiment of lust, sexual anxieties, and exploitative adventure, the now notorious Emannuelle series celebrated the human expression of sexual hijinks in a manner both physically raw and emotionally intensive. It also rose more erections than Viagra, celebrating 'classy' filth, sleaze, and erotic adventure, often merging soft/hardcore porn with other bankable grade-B genres. The history of Emmanuelle as a series is itself noteworthy for the film buff. The phenomena began life as Io, Emmanuelle (1969), starring Erika Blanc. But it wasn't until the 1975 version starring Sylvia Kristel that the series provoked moral outrage by embracing its X rating, enjoying its scandalous nature without apology. Several Kristel follow-ups ensued, including the notable Black Emanuelle (2) (Joys of a Woman). At the same time other spin-offs were being made throughout Europe, most notably in Italy. After a few sequels, Kristel gave up her part, realizing that she was becoming older. It was the 'Black Emanuelle' films that found the most fanatic favor. These scandalous incarnations starred Laura Gemser, whose first involvement with the series saw her playing journalist Mary Jordan, known to her fans as just 'Emanuelle', in Emanuelle Nera (Black Emanuelle), directed by Albert Thomas. When D'Amato took over the series, retaining the name change (altering Emmanuelle to Emanuelle for legal reasons), the result was the attractive if uneven Emanuelle in Bangkok. (1976). And whereas the earlier stories revolved around a sexy young model encouraged by her photographer-husband to indulge her desires, the evolving series would come to embrace rape, incest, lesbianism, and -- cripes! -- bestiality.
Such graphic honesty encouraged raunchy sex and varying degrees of sadism, taking the Emanuelle character to increasingly queasy territory. Exploring practically every taboo known to man, each of these films, regardless of director or starlets, helped redefine the exploitation genre. Emanualle herself is both character and caricature, 'type' and 'individual,' and within her smoldering gaze, ripe flesh, and liberated nature is a shout for personal freedom. On a simpler note, these films are excuses to see women enjoyed as sexual animals, something that sounds offensive at first but which, after some thought, is precisely how nature intended men and women to use each other. The thematic elements and moods of each Emanuelle film reflects something of the cultural bias and taboos of the time in which it was produced. Thus we skip from tender school girl romps to harsh political satire, heavy petting sessions in brothels to torture shows of death and desire in snuff factories. Yet despite differences of quality or plot, one thing remains the same -- Emanuelle uses a careful, winning formula of sex and sleaze and adventure to peddle its starlet's luscious wares. Despite the reams of social critique the careful viewer can identify, the main reason to watch these pictures is titillation, something which these films excel in . . . when they can be found in their appropriate uncut condition. For the first time ever, Severin, a champion of eroticism, presents three of the Emannuelle films in all their sleazy glory in Black Emanuelle's Box, a three disk set that includes Emanuelle in Bangkok, Sister Emanuelle, and Emanuelle Around the World uncensored.
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The first film, Emanuelle in Bangkok, is a heady stew of carnality and playful action. Directed by Aristide Maccaessi under his Joe D' Amato byline, this entry is surprisingly restrained -- at least compared to the maestro's other Gemser efforts. Forsaking the perversions and fetishistic violence that would color many of his other films, D'Amato still manages to invest enough skin and sin into the uneven narrative to warrant a look, especially for fans of the seductive Gemser who, as usual, plays both wide-eyed innocent and wild whore with strangely touching tenderness.
In the threadbare plot, which is at best simply a skeletal outline upon which to hang as many sex scenes as possible, journalist Emanuelle travels to the Orient where she wishes to interview a close relative of a King. Once there, she comes too close to official state secrets for her own good, and finds herself victimized by a frightening and wrathful system. When her hotel room is invaded and her passport stolen, she finds herself trapped in a friendless, exotic land. Worse she is left to the designs of a group of rapists who are agents of the corrupt government. Of course, this only heightens her powers of seduction, as she bumps and grinds her way out of danger in expected if highly provocative fashion.
Lacking the outrageousness of violence and depravity that fuels D'Amto's best work, this chapter attempts to interweave both a personal and political storyline at the expense of both. A coup occurring in Bangkok and the turmoils/freedom of Emanuelle's relationship are slight threads upon which to drape the sexual content, and Gemser's character struggling with free love doesn't convince. Neither silly or fun spirited enough to be considered a typical soft-core romp nor horrific enough to be considered a genre outing (on par with Emmanuelle and the Cannibals, for instance), Emmanuelle in Bangkok is a rather unique contribution that exists outside easy labelling. Dealing somewhat sensitively with such issues as race, gender, and repression, Gemser's character is still primarily milked for enticement and cheap thrills. Exploitation is the name of the game! In this the film delivers, offering up heated amounts of sex and a silly romance along the way. The general plot and theme creates a sense of friction between race and gender, love and ownership that encourage thought along with the usual goggling. Direction is competent if not stylish. An uneven ode to physical and emotional love, this film isn't quite capable of evoking empathy in either the general story or characters, lacking the careful blend of physical titillation and emotional involvement required. On the other hand, it lacks the sadism and explicitness which one expects from D'Amato. Still, the title will be of definite interest to D'Amato fans, because it was his first hand at this series.
Featured in anamorphic Widescreen, Severin brings Emanuelle in Bangkok to us in a ratio of 1.85:1. The picture is wonderful considering the soft, hazy image of past releases. Visual integrity is maintained well throughout. Colors are bold and vibrant, skin tones realistic. The only mark of the film's rarity and age are very few scratches that appear here and there, due, I expect, to the rough condition of the original print. Audio is superb, without distortion, bringing the melodic score into your living room with no fuss. Dolby Digital and Mono sound options are both clean and effective, although, surprisingly enough, the English track feels more natural.
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A scandalizing combination of Nunsploitation and the earthy sexuality successfully exploited by Gesmer in the series that forever burned her naked, brown skinned image in the hearts of fans the world over, Sister Emmanuelle is a celebration of sin and skin that never attempts to do more than entertain. It accomplishes this by focusing on fetishistic sensationalism and erotic laced action, largely ignoring any attempt at logical storytelling in favor of pure sensationalism. Never a series known for narrative coherency or dramatic aesthetics, this Emmanuelle entry adds to the established exploitative fervor the further element of the Catholic Sisterhood, delighting in the sexual deviancy and liberation imagined within a religious context. Severin's treatment of this rarely seen Grindhouse goody is respectful and impressive, showing an impressive attention to detail and preservation.
In a plot devoted to cutting the meat from the gristle, Sister Emmanuelle gets to the sweat-and-cum basics with startling rapidity. When Emmanuelle (Laura Gemser) repents the sinful crimes of her past life, she enters a convent and dedicates herself to a life of service -- and, man, does she deliver! When Monica, the sexed up, free-loving nymphet arrives, Emmanuelle is given the task of caring for her. Problem is this daughter of a wealthy baron has appetites as big as her father, and Emmanuelle isn't up to the moral task. Soon she allows herself to become swayed by the younger girl's sexual abandon, and questions her own sexuality -- and in no time at all both clothes and inhibitions are shed!
Celebrating smooth curves and the sharing of vital bodily fluids, Sister Emmanuelle exchanges the traditionally tragic, emotionally shocking emphasis of the more effective Nunsploitation films for a more innocent tone and theme of sexual liberation. Largely ignoring the subversive themes of the sub-genre in favor of a surprisingly tender emphasis on relationships, love, and personal truth, the story focuses on Emanuelle's earnest attempts to aid her fellow sisters while battling her own internal conflicts between flesh and vows. In other words, sex-soaked eye candy is wed to real drama. Lesbianism, grinding hips, and lusty girls in habits fill practically every frame, the visual spectacle reinforcing dramatic structure. While the Emmanuelle series is rarely recognized for its sensitive plots or the emotional resonance of its socially conscious themes -- the be all and end all for each film admittedly the amount of sexual lewdness and, in some cases, the violence injected within its formula -- this entry is determined to spin a real story with its exploitative elements. Many Nunsploitation films emphasize some basic element of social injustice or hypocrisy in the tyrannical machinery of the Catholic Church but Sister Emanuelle does so more through its celebration of choice and devotion than through the violence usually resorted to. Giuseppe Vari doesn't depend on the brutality or outrage of, say, either D' Amato's Convent of Sinners or Bruno Mattei's The Other Hell to evoke emotion, and one walks away enchanted rather than sordid, feeling as though he has watched an honest-to-God story, not simply skin. In addition, the physical beauty of the film cannot be denied. The earthen presence of the actresses is sure to be the deciding factor for sexploitation fans, successful at capturing sexual tension and indulgence in her most heated moments.
Again we have a clean print of an underground film with little scratching, no grain, and realistic colors. Severin again preserves the 1.85:1 aspect ration (anamorphic compatible). Audio is in English and Italian with optional English Subs, which are easy to read. The Dolby and Mono tracks are easy on the ears without any distortions worth mentioning, making for another enjoyable movie experience.
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EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD
Joe D'Amato was a one man definition of exploitation throughout the 1970s -80s, crafting some of the genre's most cynical, violent, and morose films. Devoted to breaking taboos of cultural taste and aesthetic acceptance, this cinematographer-turned-director soaked his minuscule budgeted explorations of physical carnage and excess in blood and sex, merging horror and eroticism (or more often, plain old smut) long before it had become a Hollywood cliché to do so. Lacking the fine tuned technological principles of Bava and the poetic lyricism of Argento, D'Amato was admittedly more interested in exploiting primal human hungers and fears than in developing subtle characterizations. Bloody spectacle was his meat and drink, and on such grim pleasures as Blue Omego and Anthrophagus he fed well. Revelling in the intimate exploitation of such basic, animalistic human behaviours as violence, and sex -- and in such emotions as repulsion and desire -- D'Amato found a perfect franchise with which to spin his cum-drenched spectacles with Emmanuelle. Massaccessi was responsible for not only Emanuelle in Bangkok but also Emanuelle goes Japanese, Emanuelle's Revenge, and Emanuelle in America. D'amato found in the seductive yet earthy Laura Gemser a physical embodiment for his aesthetic principle -- a living peep show -- whose mixture of raw sexuality and free-spirit he deftly (if with broad strokes) injected into down-and-dirty cinematic stories of prostitution, snuff films, and cannibalism. In Emanuelle Around the World, he indulges his taste for exploitation with sheer recklessness and joy, diving into sleaze with characteristic (indeed, almost childlike) innocence. Severin rescues this delightfully demented homage to sex and slavery with a first rate transfer and intriguing extras, with the polished color and compositions arousing a disturbing contrast when compared against the grim imagery and sordid subject matter.
In a plot devoted more enticingly to contrasting moments of pain, perversion, and sexual ecstasy, this more engaging story finds Emanuelle attempting to penetrate and expose an all too real evil of exploitation and death. Travelling the world still again, she stops along her crusade against female degradation to suck, swallow, and cavort with various members of both genders. Exploring the treachery of male ran organizations that harm women, she meets George Eastman's character in India only to discover that he has found the talent of prolonged sexual pleasure. Progressing from this to a temple, she finds fresh meat in Brigitte Petronio, and rest assured D'Amato doesn't miss a chance to pair these two together. Finally, reaching Rome, Emanuelle discovers Karin Schubert, who leads her to a white slavery ring, a vicious cartel of tyranny that she vows to destroy.
If Sister Emanuelle is the most poetic entry in this series, than D'Amato's Emanuelle Around the World is one of the most shocking. Effective on an undeniably crass, immediate level, this is the kind of cinema that drips animal savagery and pleasure, and exactly the type of subversive cinema that has moral police gasping in the isles -- while the rest of us are shouting with glee! Following the formula of all these films, this story includes the expected exotic locations, copious nudity, and occasional raunchy hardcore action. More importantly from a thematic standpoint, this entry examines the tension between sexual freedom and excess with abusive power. This theme is mirrored by an unsettling mixture of violence, eroticism, and drama that raises it above the typical Emanuelle outing.
Emanuelle Around the World is given a four start treatment, including a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, enhanced for anamorphic televisions. The picture quality is for the most part superb (as have been all the discs), with only a few scratches in the beginning to disturb the otherwise sparkling transfer. Again, colors and skin tones are effectively depicted, realistic and bright. Background details are easily discernible. Audio is in Dolby Digital and Mono English or Italian with optional English subtitles. These tracks are no less coherent and professionally rendered than the other two discs, doing their job well.
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Even the packaging for Black Emanuelle's Box is impressive, featuring a front flap that opens to reveal Laura Gemser in full frontal glory. Once Gemser's box - ahem!- is opened, you'll also find a package of color lobby cards printed on durable cardboard. Besides the obvious visual and audio technical quality, this set is worth obtaining for the bounty of extra materials. These supplements are informative and fun, including serious examinations at D'Amato, Gemser, and the Emanuelle phenomenon. Free of fluff, Severin's supplementary material provides exciting and educational contexts for the films, encouraging greater appreciation. First up on this beaver hunt are the extras for Emanuelle in Bangkok, which features a rare interview/appearance with the Man himself in Joe D'Amato at Eurofest. This rare interview is divided into two sections: first big Joe weighs in on his career and the censors during his brief public appearance at Eurofest, wherein he was a featured speaker shortly before his death. D'Amato is in great form here as he jokes and takes things in stride. For a more informative chat, the second portion -- a set-down chat -- really delivers, exploring his subject matter preferences, goals, and opinions on both his own work and the genre at large. This is an engaging feature, painting a portrait of the director as a professional and craftsman, rounded out with brief glimpses of David Warbeck, Ingrid Pitt, and Catriona MacColl. A "Theatrical Trailer' for the feature follows. The second disk, Sister Emanuelle, sports another salacious 'Theatrical Trailer' and four "Deleted and Alternate Scenes." These latter offer tantalizing glimpses of skin and hardcore action. While hardly necessary, this footage adds more smut for the buck. Severin saves the best for last, including the most impressive supplements in the 102 minute softcore version of Emanuelle Around the World (their XXX version is sold separately). "Black Emanuelle's Groove: An Interview With Composer Nico Fidenco" is a revealing, personable discussion with this musician. This segment revolves around the composer's work and inspiration, from his early days composing the soundtrack for In A Colt's Shadow to his first interactions with Bitto Albertini and Ennio Morricone. This is a short history of the genre, in the Emanuelle series, and includes personal remembrances and analysis of his work. Finely conducted and balanced, this interview depicts its subject as a professional devoted to his craft. The Theatrical Trailer is next, but you may not have time for it, wanting to grab straight for the crowning piece of this box set -- "Getting Down with Black Emanuelle," which features Nico Fidenco's score! This 20 track score is alone a collectible item, containing music from a variety of Emanuelle's distinct moods and encounters, with soaring wind-pipes, blistering drums, and exotic harmonies evoking images of palm infested jungles, palace orgies, and a freedom of spirit most delicious. A wonderful, appropriate way to honor the films and their fans! Wonderful films, inventive packaging, and insightful extras. Buy it, watch it, and listen to it with someone you want to mount, baby!
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Severin Films|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|