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For the overwhelming majority of movie lovers, Italian cinema rings with the names of Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini and Michaelangelo Antonioni. Those directors, of international renown, have fashioned and defined post-WW2 Italian cinema with countless classics. For a few movie lovers though, Italy was equally famous (infamous?) in churning out influential and classic horror films throughout the 70's and 80's. Dario Argento is by far the best known and respected Italian horror director. He created gorgeously crafted Gothic horror classics such as Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno or Opera, and was instrumental as a producer for the Demons series, and of course, George Romero's forever classic Dawn Of The Dead.
However, not all Italian horror directors of that era were as famous and well respected as Dario. In fact, most were quite infamous. Names such as Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato, Joe D'Amato, Lamberto Bava, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci often inspire revulsion and disgust more than anything else. They often made exploitative horror films that mixed in softcore pornography. Those horror films seem to all gravitate around 3 sub-genres: snuff, cannibalism, and of course, zombies. Joe D'Amato in particular had an uncanny flair for mixing cheap exploitative shock, horror, and pornography. With Laura Gemser, his muse for some 30 films, he defined this subgenre amalgamation with the Black Emanuelle series, and several Zombie movies.
Laura Genser made 15 Black Emanuelle movies, and Joe D'Amato directed 6 of them. The series was a shameless rip-off of Emmanuelle (note the two m's), the erotic box office hit of the 70's with Sylvia Kristel. Gemser herself actually starred in Emmanuelle 2 as an ultra-sensuous masseuse. Gemser was stunning and a real star in Europe from the mid 70's to the mid 80's. Her exotic looks propelled her quickly to the covers or Playboy and other European men magazines, as well as countless softcore movies. To me, she remains simply one of the most beautiful woman to have ever graced the big screen. She was elegant, gorgeous, and starred in many exploitative movies, some of them quite shocking.
Black Emanuelle In America is one such movie, featuring Gemser in all her erotic glory, yet, in the context of a movie fundamentally designed to shock and gross out its audience. Emanuelle is a successful reporter in a New York newspaper who freely mingles with the high society and all its depravity. One night, Emanuelle accidentally comes across a 8mm film that depicts brutal and savage mutilation and rape of several women. She is not entirely sure of what she saw, but decides to investigate further. Ultimately, she figures out that she had seen the product of a Snuff ring that involved highly placed politicians and socialites: the torture, rape and murders shown on film are real, and captured on film for the "pleasure" of whomever can pay for it. That's what Snuff is.
This is a very strange movie that is absolutely not for everybody. As a matter of fact, i suspect most people will be repulsed, whether by the shocking and explicit yet comically absurd scene involving a horse named Pedro and a lady out of control, or the vicerally realistic and sick snuff imagery towards the end of the film. This is an extreme movie that will only be of interest to the sick-minded among us, or the movie buffs interested in this genre. Gemser is, as always gorgeous and intriguing, and some of the erotic scenes are really well done. On the horror side, the Snuff scenes are quite shocking in their realism and filmed in a hand-held, underground style, with quick jump cuts, that only accentuates this realism.
I find it always strange that some people might enjoy seeing what i would consider highly erotic material along scenes of great violence and cruelty in the same movie. But that's what Joe D'Amato and Laura Gemser were famous for. Honestly, this movie shouldn't have any redeeming qualities and should be destined to the garbage can. Yet, the contents and how the movie was made exert an undeniable fascination in the context of this sub-genre. The movie was recently released uncut on DVD in the US. The DVD features a good presentation of the film, along with interesting documentaries.
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- Laurent Hasson