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Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

It’s nothing new for horror to borrow from other styles of film-making, but even by the genre’s own mix-and-match standards Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals is a real curio. As the title suggests, it’s one of the Em(m)anuelle films, a long running series of soft-core porn films the began in France in 1969. By the late 70s, the series was being helmed by Italian director Joe d’Amato, who saw fit to try and incorporate the character into that other late 70s Italian staple, the cannibal movie. The results are odd in the extreme. Laura Gemser plays roving reporter Emanuelle, working undercover at a New York lunatic asylum, where a young female patient has bitten a nurse’s breast off. It transpires that the girl was raised by a tribe of cannibals, and intrigued by the story, Emanuelle puts together an expedition to track down the tribe – only to find that her team are top of the menu…

It’s hard to imagine who this movie is aimed at, or indeed why it exists in the first place. I can’t imagine any porn fans being massively excited by scenes of genital mutilation and disembowellment, and nor are gore-hounds going to be satisfied by the acres of bare – intact – flesh on display. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it feels like two different films shunted together. The first half is where all the porn is, and seems to be set in a parallel world where people are constantly having sex, or thinking about sex (although crucially, never talking about sex – possibly because they’re too busy with the first two). Maybe I haven’t watched enough 70s porn, but I was amazed at how much sex the film crammed in whilst setting up the expedition plot. When Emanuelle meets the straitjacketed cannibal girl, she calms her down by – naturally enough – masturbating her. She then meets Professor Mark Lester, consults him on cannibals, has sex with him, meets up with her boyfriend, has sex with him, then travels to the Amazon with Mark, having flashbacks about their earlier sex en route before having some more when they arrive (whilst another girl watches and masturbates). Emanuelle doesn’t limit herself to men either, leading to perhaps the film’s oddest sequence, where she rather listlessly cavorts in a stream with a girl called Isobel whilst a monkey sits on the bank smoking a cigarette. There’s a nun too, and although she doesn’t have sex, we do get to see her without her knickers on, so that’s okay. And every time Emanuelle has sex – usually unannounced and never commented on afterwards – the soundtrack kicks into a bizarre song where a female singer wails about how she is the queen, he is the king, and how “when we make love my arms are tired”. Extraordinary stuff. Luckily, Laura Gemser is very easy on the eye, and her lovely statuesque figure and bronzed skin manage to save the day at the end of the movie, so you can’t complain.

Horror fans will find themselves on more familiar ground in the second half, where we’re treated to the usual parade of rubbery flesh and gloopy red blood, whilst men in loincloths dance around to some tribal drumming. The gore effects are pretty much as good as any you’ll find on a Fulci movie, but even by Italian standards, this is an ineptly made film. It has some of the strangest edits and worst continuity I think I’ve ever seen, whilst some of the jungle scenes hark back to Ed Wood with their apparent mismatching of night and day shots. The dubbing is nothing short of atrocious, with the voiceover artists continually interrupting each other and making a hash of their lines. In particular, the scene where Emanuelle and Mark first have lunch has to be seen to be believed, as the voice artist attempts to fit the dialogue around mouthfuls of food. And whoever dubbed Emanuelle’s newspaper boss deserves a medal for one of the weirdest accents ever. It doesn’t help the the dialogue is clunky at best and risible at worst. “Tomorrow I’m leaving for the Amazon, for work. Something very, very interesting. It’s about cannibalsm,” she informs her boyfriend. “Emanuelle you’re crazy, you’re really crazy,” says her boyfriend, to which she replies “Maybe I am, but right now I want to make love”. Cue the sex.

Basically, this film is total tosh, but then you could probably guess that from the title. If you’re watching this movie, chances are it’s not because you’re looking for a great movie, it’s not because you have a gore fetish and it’s not because you’re looking for a wank – Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals fails on all three counts. As allmovie.com observes, it’s basically a film with no target audience whatsoever, but it achieves a certain greatness through its sheer oddness. I struggle to think what D’Amato thought he was bringing to the table while making this film, but I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy it, even if it drags towards the end. Citizen Kane it ain’t, but anyone with a passing interest in the seedy underbelly of cinema history will have a field day here.