Thursday, February 9, 2012

Emanuelle in America

Emanuelle in America (1977)
Dir. Joe D’Amato
Starring Laura Gemser, various Italians, one memorable horse

    So what we have here is something which I think can be accurately described as an Italian softcore-cum-hardcore-cum-horrifying journey into Eli Roth’s subconscious-cum-wacky globetrotting adventure-cum-sleazy Italian porno nightmare party kinda movie. You know the type. I think in Italy, they’re just called “films.” Here in Puritan Land, it seems a little stunning that such a thing was ever loosed on the world, but let’s be honest, Lucio Fulci reads this kind of thing to his kids as a bedtime story. Hell, MONDO CANE and LA DONNA DEL MONDO are basically a real-life version of this same scenario, and they’re from the early 60s. So sure, sometimes a nude woman is going to jerk off a horse, you don’t have to get judgemental about it. Don’t be so fucking bourgeois. How is this world ever going to achieve peace and understanding if we can’t just accept that some cultures make THE SEVENTH SEAL and some cultures make EMANUELLE IN AMERICA and that there’s room in out hearts/pants for both?

    So the deal here is, Emanuelle is an intrepid/promiscuous reporter with severe ADD (not specifically mentioned, but you’ll notices she never actually finishes any reports or sex scenes) who hops around the globe uncovering things, for instances plots, evildoing, and her tits. One of the places she does not globe hop to is America, which must mean that the title is a metaphor or something, but I’m not sure I get it. Maybe there’s a zodiac hooker ranch within the heart of all Americans? That sounds right but I wouldn’t swear to it. Oh yeah, she goes to a zodiac themed hooker ranch I guess.

    One of the first things I noticed about this movie is that it makes no sense whatsoever. At first I blamed myself, or more specifically the half bottle of fine Dewar’s scotch I consumed (see? I’m all about bridging cultures) as well as a mysterious and possibly evil alcoholic beverage called “Alize” which apparently rappers drink (come to think of it, it might well explain Lil Wayne). But then I decided that no, I could follow SYRIANA drunk, so it’s probably fair to at least share the blame with the film itself. It’s not that it has no plot, its more that it has something like five or six plots which keep interrupting each other before the last one is finished.*
First, Emanuelle infiltrates said zodiac-themed hooker ranch, where she has off-screen sex with the head of security, has a lesbian pool scene with two other zodiac hookers inasmuch as it is possible to have a lesbian pool scene without ever specifically touching any genitals, and sees the infamous scene of a lady somewhat nervously jerking off a bored horse, which I believe doesn’t stop eating hay during the encounter, that’s how routine this shit is for him. I like that one of the reviews on IMBD describes this incident as, “a voyeuristic "peep" at a chick graphically jerking off a horse named Pedro!!!” -- as if to say, “What kind of ridiculous movie thinks we’d buy that anyone would name a horse ‘Pedro?!”

Then she’s off to Italy to learn about a highbrow dinner party/orgy racket. Wait, what? What happened to the Zodiac Brothel? Still there, I guess. I wonder if that horse ever did get off? Or if the lesbians ever made it past tentatively caressing each others’ thighs, which is not even first base in my opinion. I’d have guessed they were saving it for the sequel, but as luck would have it I’ve seen the sequel and although my memory is pretty fuzzy I’m pretty sure it’s not in there. Joke’s on you, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, long buildups abruptly dispensing with any payoff are old news to Emanuelle (and, appropriately, to single people the world over).

Anyway, that sort of thing would be irritating in any other kind of movie, but here it just adds to the charm. Emanuelle keeps arriving at places, taking her top off and having off-screen sex with someone which apparently results in her solving mysteries, and then it’s off to the next assignment/topless encounter. Hope you weren’t too invested in those characters from before. About halfway through, the first actual genitals appear out of the blue (well, actually out of the pants) and you go, “oh yeah, I forgot, sex!” The first half is almost nothing but sex scenes without any actual, uh, sex. So it gets a little abstract after awhile and you start to wonder if maybe you’re reading these scenes incorrectly, like maybe you’re just a pervy weirdo who’s putting your own sexual spin on this innocent tale of a nudist reporter and the many body-positive 70s Italians she encounters. So it was a good artistic decision to bring the penises out, if you ask me.

Which reminds me, how can you go on living in a world where no one has ever made a porno parody of ENTER THE DRAGON? The thing basically writes itself (yes, right down to the end with Han’s detachable hands). Is the problem that there doesn’t seem to be a good enough pun with the same cadence as “Dragon?” Surely with the benefits of modern science, this hurdle can be overcome.

Anyway, I’m stalling for time because I’m not sure how to approach this topic. The gal who plays Emmanuelle is cute (at least, her torso is, she never does seem to take her pants off) and has a genuine plucky charm to her, even if she’s not likely to win that Nobel prize for acting in a porno film. And there’s that horse part which is pretty weird, and the whole thing has a goofball 70s free love vibe which is always appealing. But were it just for those things, people probably wouldn’t remember this film, all these years later. See, things take a.... somewhat unexpected turn. The kind of turn that involves unnecessary breast reduction surgery with perhaps undue expedience.

Basically what I’m saying is that after an hour and some change of breezy 70s softcore, it suddenly turns into fucking CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, except more convincing. I’m told by reliable source Andy Prestwich that this section was David Cronenberg’s inspiration for VIDEODROME, and I believe it (thank God there are no car crashes in this one, although now that I think about it there is some road head at the very start). I’m not sure if director D’Amato was getting off on this stuff, or expected us to get off on it, or just got caught up in the plot and forgot that this film only existed because it was the most expedient way to get boobs to needy teenagers before the invention of the internet, or what, but the effect is that it makes DEMONLOVER look like BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’s, only less racist.

Conceptually, it’s hilarious to have such a stunning boner-killer right at the climax of a freewheeling globetrotting 70s porn. In execution, its actually kind of horrifying. Emanuelle wanders around this vaguely-defined open-room sex mansion (you know the kind I mean), only to discover people are watching some really depraved snuff films while they fuck. Maybe D’Amato thought it would be less disturbing because you only see it on film and never in the “real” world, but it actually just makes it all the more perverse because you have the added weirdness of these sick knuckleheads getting off on some very seriously not OK (predictably) man-on-woman sexual violence. Lisbeth Salander does not approve. And I’m thinking the guy composing the score was just as horrified, because he suddenly stops dead in his tracks too, leaving skinny little Emanuelle to wander around, bug-eyed, probably topless, bereft of funky porno music, taking hidden photos of these murderous sociopaths, putting her life and libido on the line in a desperate attempt to shine a spotlight on these atrocities and maybe save the lives of these poor female sex slaves. It’s so completely surreal and horrifying that the large and boisterous audience I saw it with suddenly became completely and conspicuously silent.

So this goes on only for about 15 minutes or so, and Emanuelle rushes the evidence the fuck out of there and back to her editor in New York (see? America!). And he tells her forget about it, there’s no way we can print this shit. So she forgets about it, takes off her top, and flies off to Africa to become the wife of a tribal chief. Problem solved! Sorry girls, hope the whole human fishhook thing works out as a career path. Emanuelle understands a thing or two about work-life balance.

Or so it seems, until the morning after the big tribal orgy (off-screen, of course. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone.) There’s a camera crew outside, which everyone finds very amusing for reasons I couldn’t quite parse out. So wait, is this some kind of twist meta ending, then, acknowledging that the whole thing was actually a film? Is it questioning the ethics of our voyeuristic journey by allowing the characters to actually confront us as voyeurs within the framework of the narrative? Emanuelle herself is something of a voyeur, recording images of seedy sexual escapades, but then she’s also being recorded in her own sexual adventures by the camera the audience is behind. Does her laughter indicate she appreciates the irony now that her place in the chain of voyeurs has been made clear? Or is she laughing at us, thinking we’re the only ones no one is watching? Is it a positive counterpoint to the evil use of film by those murderous snuff producers no one seems all that concerned about? Or did they just figure, “Hell, we paid to rent this film equipment, might as well get some footage of it”?

We’ll never know for sure. But one thing is certain: we watched it. And we can’t unwatch it. All we can do is take a cue from Emanuelle herself: put the whole experience behind us and move on to more topless adventures. Well played, Italy. 

NOTE: This review is dedicated to the Prestwiches, and especially Andy, for providing an evening of fine Scotch and salacious hardcore porn.  

*Note that I tastefully avoided making this into a sex pun in a preemptive move towards silencing the critics who will question my sensitivity later in this review when I use the phrase "human fishhook." 


  1. A) First off, I need to set the record straight: Dan and I purchased the Scotch, and the Alize. So Andy doesn't get credit for that. He does get credit for the movies, but not the Scotch.

    B) OK, that said, this was your best fucking blog post ever. Usually your posts have one or two lines that make me chuckle, but I made the mistake of reading this at my desk and had to seriously try hard to keep myself from laughing aloud when I should be..uh...working. This was like a review comprised of only of your most hilarious sentences.

    c) Porno of ENTER THE DRAGON? No pun needed. It's about someone penetrating a dragon. Boom. There you go.

    d) "...tentatively caressing each others’ thighs, which is not even first base in my opinion." Everyone knows first base is French kissing. Jeez, Joe, how long has it been since you were in middle school and really intently debated what counted as getting to first, second, and third base?? This is basic stuff. It's like they were trying to bypass first and second and go for third, but then didn't.

    e) I sincerely hope you write up Emanuelle Around the World Soon.

  2. Also, I must add that the verification letters I had to type in to approve that last post was "faweatio." Which sounds like a child trying to say "fellatio."

  3. ENTER THE HARD-ON would have to be ENTER: THE HARD ON for it to make sense....

  4. Or maybe ENTERS THE HARD-ON? As in "Lo! There enters the hard-on!"

  5. I vote for it being called ENTER: THE HARD-ON with the tagline "Lo! Wherefore enters the hard-on?"

  6. (Joe, please enjoy all these comments you will find next time you check your blog)

  7. All these please me enormously, but if I have to pick a winner I gotta say ENTER THE DRAG QUEEN has a eloquence to it which reaffirms my basic faith in humanity/conceptual pun-based porno parodies. As much as I admire ENTER THE HARD-ON, it sounds like catheters are gonna enter the picture pretty quickly and I'm just not into that.

  8. I was going to type "I win. Suck it." for my invention of ENTER THE DRAG QUEEN, but I realized that might just sound like I was proposing the title to another porno...

  9. So catheters you aren't into, but drag queens float your boat?

    Not criticizing. Just noting.

  10. Joe, this was a wonderful review, and embodies all of the reasons why I found this (admittedly) worthless film worthy of our time. Structurally, it's kind of fascinating, and what audience this was even made for, I'll never know. Too porny for the horror crowd, too horrific for the porn crowd. It seems to have been made for no one (except us?), designed to be as evil and cruel as possible, with its unexpected assault on boners in an otherwise light-weight piece of 70's porn fluff. It's both careless and calculated, and completely lacking any reason for existing, except as an interesting lesson on how to not blend genre's together.

    I'm also disturbed by Emanuelle's complete non-reaction to the entire snuff plot. She sees it, doesn't seem too horrified, takes some pictures, gets a little in over her head, but is OK, tries to defend her article briefly, but then WHATEVER off to Africa, see ya girls. Her line of "I'm the happiest girl in the world!", spoken mere minutes after she's seen some seriously nasty shit, is just mind-boggling. Her character in the other movie you don't remember is a little more like a real person, in which she's noticeably horrified by what she sees and is writing her articles to make a difference and stop violence against women, not just be a blank voyeur to all things sex and violence.

    Anyway, these movies are batshit crazy.

  11. Ha! I just saw your comment now for some reason, Andy, and "...completely lacking any reason for existing, except as an interesting lesson on how to not blend genre's together" says it all. +1.

    And re: Emanuelle's complete non-reaction to anything: It does seem a bit like someone in the studio was carrying a big box full of characters, motivations, actions, lines of dialogue, locations, and sexy animals (stay with me on this one), that maybe at one point was sorted logically, but then they dropped the box on the floor, scattering the contents everywhere, and haphazardly picked a few at random to stitch together Frankenstein-style into a movie.

  12. Yo, what ever happened to watching those other Joe D'Amato movies? We need to get on that. I tried to make some sort of double-entendre or porn pun out of "getting on that" but failed to come up with anything clever, which clearly means I'm too far removed from the Joe D'Amato aesthetic and experience, and need to rectify that post-haste, because what good is life if you can't go through it making porno puns out of innocuous statements?