Emanuelle in America Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: November 12, 2019
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Run Time: 100 minutes
Director: Joe D'Amato
Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) is a fearless photo journalist and fashion photographer who travels the world in search of the exotic, the erotic and the downright deadly. Never averse to shedding her clothes in pursuit of a good story, Emanuelle arrives in America with a mission to expose the sizzling inner secrets of the jet set at play. Armed with her striking features, unique sensual talents – and a hidden camera – she's off… examining life as a love slave at a ranch run by a sadistic brothel master, investigating a bizarre spa for super-rich, sexually frustrated women, exploring the kinky side of a straight-laced Republican politician, and finally uncovering shocking evidence of an international snuff film conspiracy. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)
For an introduction to Joe D’Amato and his horror movies, see the following:
Italian Grinders: Joe D’Amato Horror Retrospective Part 1 – Death and Pornography
Italian Grinders: Joe D’Amato Horror Retrospective Part 2 – Video Nasties
Some of the material in this review has been recycled from these and other D’Amato reviews.
In 1974, French director Just Jaeckin made a groundbreaking softcore porn film based on Emmanuelle Arsan’s (a pseudonym for French-Thai actress/writer Marayat Rollet-Andriane) famed erotic novel, Emmanuelle (pub. 1967). Along with Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972), John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), and Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972), Jaeckin’s film helped to propel the porno chic era, in which X-rated films (Deep Throat aside, largely harmless by modern XXX/NC-17 standards) were considered viable cinematic art alongside major Hollywood productions. Given its particularly simple premise, Emmanuelle was prime material for official and unofficial sequel treatments. Italy’s most well-received entry in the ‘franchise’ was Bitto Albertini’s Black Emanuelle (note that they removed one letter ‘m’ from the character’s name to avoid copyright battles), which was built around the unmistakable charms of Indonesian-Dutch actress Laura Gemser, released in 1975, and followed by (at least) 17 so-called sequels over an 8-year period.
Joe D’Amato (given name Aristide Massaccesi) arguably got the most mileage with the Black Emanuelle character. He teamed-up with Gemser to make a total of five movies, each of which were bolstered by combining softcore antics with elements from other fashionable exploitation subgenres. Emanuelle in Bangkok (Italian: Emanuelle nera – Orient Reportage, 1976), Emanuelle Around the World (Italian: Emanuelle – Perché violenza alle donne?, 1977), and Emanuelle & the White Slave Trade (Italian: La via della prostituzione, 1978) saw the title character traveling throughout the developing world to witness and report on Mondo-like vignettes of “strange cultural practices” and save human trafficking victims between sex scenes. Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (Italian: Emanuelle e gli Ultimi Cannibali; aka: Trap Them and Kill Them, 1977) connected Black Emanuelle to the budding cannibal horror genre, leading D’Amato to make other erotic-horror hybrids, including Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (Italian: Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi, 1980) and Porno Holocaust (Italian: Orgasmo Nero II, 1981). He also co-directed two Mondo-style mockumentaries with Bruno Mattei starring Gemser, the aforementioned Notti porno nel mondo (1977) and Emanuelle & the Erotic Nights (Italian: Emanuelle e le porno notti nel mondo #2, 1978).
The same year he set upon the path to horror with Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (likely several months before, though who knows what the actual schedules were for these overlapping productions), he made what is, for my money, the single most disturbing film of the classic Italian exploitation era – Emanuelle in America (shot in 1976, released in 1977). Generally speaking, Emanuelle in America was a typical D’Amato/Gemser joint, speeding ahead at a graceless clip in order to fill the time between sex and stripping scenes, to the point that Ottavio Alessi & Piero Vivarelli’s scattershot plot makes little sense and serves even less purpose. D’Amato’s interest isn’t in story anyway, but in combining unique exploitation elements that couldn’t be seen anywhere else. As mentioned, the director had already tied the Black Emanuelle series to Mondo travelogues, so that aspect wasn’t a new wrinkle. Amusingly enough, Emanuelle in America is a misnomer, because she only spends part of the movie working in New York City – itself in an effort to associate it with other NYC-chic Italian exploitation movies (a subset that exploded after Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 [aka: Zombie, 1979]) – before she takes off for Venice and unnamed Caribbean islands. D’Amato also connects the film (and other films in the series) to the post-Argento gialli’s obsession with fashion, opulence, and upper class exorbitance, though these tie back to the original Emmanuelle book and movie.
But Emanuelle in America isn’t remembered for aristocratic parties or Venician sights – it’s remembered for crossing uniquely lurid lines of decency. The first of these is a jaw-dropping beastiality sequence, in which Emanuelle and other pseudo-sex slaves watch a woman masturbate a horse. Said scene occurs around the 21-minute mark and comes as an honest surprise following a handful of very tame softcore trysts. Later, D’Amato’s introduces hardcore sequences, which increase in frequency as the film progresses. Gemser and the other notable stars, like Paola Senatore, continue performing in fancified softcore scenes, while lesser-known cast members appear in hardcore, um, insert shots. This was a common tactic for Italian porn in particular, as exemplified by Tinto Brass’ mega-budget, Penthouse-financed Caligula (1979). D’Amato was following the trend (he claims the hardcore scenes were shot for the French market, specifically), but the steady inclusion of shocking sexual acts actually primes the audience for the truly appalling content that closes out the final act.
The film builds to an unexpectedly distressing scene where Emanuelle – who is investigating a resort island where wealthy women pay outrageous fees to realize their carnal fantasies – stumbles across a snuff film. The footage lasts only a matter of minutes, but is so repulsive and convincingly executed that, to my estimation, it surpasses the similarly disturbing qualities of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), with which it shares a faux-found-footage aesthetic, as well as a slow build to its most repulsive subject matter (it is an underreported fact that D’Amato actually beat Deodato to the punch with the found-footage gimmick by three years). Unlike Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, which consistently acts like an Italian cannibal movie that happens to star Laura Gemser, Emanuelle in America is heavily divided into two vastly different parts – the porno travelogue and the shorter third act, where the title character discovers and attempts to unravel the snuff ring. In fact, I struggle to think of another movie that exemplifies the term “torture porn” more precisely. The idea of a super-wealthy class paying money for murderous pornography even jibes with the plots of Eli Roth’s Hostel series (2005, 2007). Following this, there is a third, largely unrelated mini-movie, in which Emanuelle and her boyfriend, Bill (Riccardo Salvino), run away to a tropical island to live with the natives, before running off once again when a film crew shows up to make a movie about the natives (perhaps itself a reference to the making of Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals).
There have, of course, been several different cuts of Emanuelle in America on the market over the years. Internationally, there exists at least three, though probably closer to five versions released on video tape, television, and DVD over the years. The two most heavily censored versions are the original UK theater/video release (surprisingly, Emanuelle in America was not a Video Nasty, but almost 19 minutes were trimmed on VHS) and the US home video version released by VidAmerica, which reportedly aired on cable television (there was also a possibly bootleg version from a company called Video Italian Style). Of the four known DVD releases, two were definitively uncut – Blue Underground’s R1, NTSC anamorphic disc and Stormovie’s Italian-only R2, PAL anamorphic disc.
This Mondo Macabro disc is the first Blu-ray and high-definition version of the film on the market. The advertising and box art claim that this new 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer was made using a 4K scan of the original film negative. The results are typical for the better end of Euro-trash remasters. The material is grainy, some scenes are too dark (though D’Amato, who acted as his own cinematographer, is often better than his contemporaries in this regard), and there is minor print damage, but there aren't any major issues with CRT machine noise, blobby, print-based artifacts (naturally, being from a negative source), or DNR. Color quality is consistent, white levels are clean without blooming (except where purposefully soft), and blacks are relatively crisp without substantial crush. The film-within-a-film snuff scenes were treated to appear degraded and are, as a result, covered in purposeful print damage.
Mondo Macabro has included the original Italian and English dubs, both in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound. This is the part where, as per usual, I remind readers that the vast majority of Italian films from the era were shot without synced sound. Sometimes, the actors were speaking more than one language on set, as well. As a result, all language tracks are post-dubbed and there is often no official language to view the film in. Emanuelle in America is no exception, so your preference may vary. I’m going to recommend the English track for its slightly superior sound quality – it is louder and ‘rounder’ than the Italian track without exhibiting any major distortion – and because the major cast, including Gemser, was speaking English while performing. The Italian dub is pretty darn close, though, especially where Nico Fidenco’s good, but overused score (performed largely by Armonium) is concerned.
Commentary with Bruce Holecheck and Nathaniel Thompson – Cinema Arcana’s Holecheck and Mondo Digital’s Thompson offer up a fun and informative commentary that is occasionally screen-specific, occasionally an audio essay, and consistently personable. Subject matter includes behind-the-scenes stories, descriptions of the cast & crew’s larger careers, and a bit of greater Italian exploitation context.
Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut: The Erotic Experience (62:21, HD) – One half of Roger A. Fratter’s two-part 1999 documentary on the director’s exploitation career. This doc has become the go-to for D’Amato interview footage and has been featured in part on almost every major D’Amato Blu-ray ever released. The other half, Joe D'Amato: The Horror Experience (2001), was included in its entirety on Severin’s Blu-ray release of Beyond the Darkness (Italian: Buio Omega; aka: Buried Alive, 1979). It’s good stuff, including clips from some particularly rare D’Amato movies (some of these appear to have been upgraded to HD, following the original 1999 video release).
From 2 M's to One: The Story of Em(m)anuelle (35:30, HD) – Zombie Holocaust: How the Living Dead Devoured Pop Culture (Plexus Publishing, 2009) author David Flint discusses the entirety of the Emmanuelle phenomenon, from the original novel’s influences and publication history, to the many official and unofficial movie versions, including, of course, the Italian Emanuelle with a single “m” movies.
Mondo Macabro trailer reel (13:30, SD)
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