Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977) (Film and Blu-Ray Review)
Directed by Joe D’Amato
Starring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Susan Scott
Release Date: October 21, 1977
EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS holds a special place in my (ahem) heart as it was my introduction to the wild world of Black Emanuelle. After that initial exposure, via a heavily-edited print on Showtime, those familiar with the film will be able to imagine my absolute shock when I finally saw it uncut a couple of years later. The film is a grim, grimy and grisly experience with nearly equal parts sweaty sex and ghastly splatter.
Intrepid reporter Emanuelle goes undercover into a mental asylum and discovers a young cannibal girl rescued from the Amazon. Emanuelle’s curiosity gets the best of her and after enlisting the help of an anthropologist she sets off into Amazonia…where one-by-one the expedition finds themselves the blue plate special in a cannibalistic feast.
LAST CANNIBALS was Laura Gemser’s fifth and Joe D’Amato’s fourth excursion into the swingin’ series, which by 1977 was on the wane and in search of a new direction. In many ways this is a transitional work for D’Amato. He began his directorial career with spaghetti westerns and sexy Decameron-style pictures before making a smooth segue into nudie travelogues and full-on sleaze epics. Post-CANNIBALS D’Amato would spend a few years balls-deep in gorefests such as ANTHROPOPHAGUS and ABSURD. EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS was the turning point – though it was more of a complete 180 degree pivot than a seamless transition. In fact, the directorial turning point happens smack-dab in the middle of the film! Midway through LAST CANNIBALS’ running time it abruptly stops being a sex film and switches to chunky blood-n-guts horror. Muff diving gives way to gut munching and Gabriele Tinti’s hairy Italian buttocks are replaced with the entrails of the supporting cast.
How does LAST CANNIBALS fare in the horror stakes, you ask? For his first full-on excursion into horror, D’Amato’s film is surprisingly effective. The director shows a talent for build up using sound and hand-held camera work to layer on the suspense before finally unleashing a bloody cinematic massacre. The gore effects are shocking in their realism and supremely disturbing. The film is actually helped by the cheap film stock it was shot on. It takes on a snuff film quality as much of the horror is shown to us from the point of view of the characters, rather than a passive camera plunked into the action.
As the characters are dispatched one-by-one, the tension grows and the gore amps up exponentially. Some of the gore doesn’t quite work, but it’s so nasty in its execution it still manages to be stomach-turning. Sloppy effects are rare though as much of what we see looks uncomfortably real. Without giving too much away, the “head on a stick” gave me nightmares the first time I saw it…and I’m not one who scares easily. You won’t see it coming either. This is but one of several genuine shocks to be had in this picture.
As for the supporting cast of walking cannibal bait, the players are really quite good. Gore hounds will quickly recognize Doctor Butcher, M.D. himself, Donald O’Brien. While no one could give the script credit for giving the players anything to stretch with, O’Brien’s rugged appearance and fine acting shines through the clunky dialogue and laughable dubbing. He plays a supremely unlikable and unscrupulous jewel thief, but manages to actually be a somewhat sympathetic character.
Even more impressive is Susan Scott, star of many a giallo thriller, playing O’Brien’s sensual and sex-starved wife. Scott’s career path has always baffled me. She is not only a great beauty (who defies stereotypes about women “of a certain age”) she is very fine actress. Oddly, she often took roles that were not only exploitative but bordered on demeaning. Fortunately she plays a strong woman not to be trifled with in LAST CANNIBALS. Her performance is the best one in the film, one of vibrancy and verisimilitude.
Rounding out of band of adventurers are Monika Zanchi, Annamaria Clementi (or Anne Marie Clementi, depending on the print) and American athlete Percy Hogan. Zanchi is given little to do other than to be blonde, beautiful and preyed upon. Clementi is given a generic role as an edible nun, however she has a few opportunities to display true horror and is very effective. Her final scene in the film is utterly horrific. Hogan has the least to do. He is basically around to play stud to the voracious Susan Scott and he certainly is a statuesque picture of masculinity. It’s a shame he is given so little to do because he’s got massive screen presence. He appeared in the Civil War sexploiter BLACK EMANUELLE, WHITE EMANUELLE (aka PASSION PLANTATION) where he shows an ability to give an affecting performance despite turgid material. He is completely wasted in LAST CANNIBALS, but he looks great sweaty and naked and I guess that’s what is required for this sort of picture.
Speaking of looking great naked, Laura Gemser and real-life husband Gabriele Tinti are the stars of the piece and their onscreen chemistry is as strong as ever. When they are the only two on screen there is an electricity that is a joy to watch. When the story shifts away from their lovemaking they both seem bored with the project. Who could blame them? Gemser has always admitted freely that she got into films simply to see the world rather than from a quest for “craft” and Gabriele Tinti was a serious actor who sojourned into exploitation fare simply to be close to his wife.
We’ve covered the horror aspect, but how does this fare as a sex film? The sex scenes between Gemser and Tinti have genuine heat and they are shot beautifully. Their scenes are highly erotic and very arousing. The sole sex scene between Susan Scott and Percy Hogan also generates heat in a more earthy, animal way. Gemser and Tinti are making love, Scott and Hogan are fucking, if you see what I mean.
The rest of the film’s sex scenes are stilted and bizarre. A scene where Emanuelle and a boy toy have sex standing up under a bridge may well be the clumsiest coupling I’ve ever seen. It’s all fumbling and Gemser pulling faces. But then, having sex standing up is kind of like having sex in the shower – it always sounds like a better idea than it actually is.
If that scene was clumsy, the rest are just plain icky. An early scene where Emanuelle tries to gain the trust of a demented mental patient by, let’s be honest here, molesting her is more than a little uncomfortable – particularly as I doubt D’Amato would understand why the situation is so repugnant. There is also a gang rape scene towards the end of the film that is supposed to be horrific, but comes off as hilarious because of how it is staged.
For added fun, watch the English dub of this film! The voice of Emanuelle’s boss changes actors mid-paragraph. Strangely, the same scene appears in the trailer and this doesn’t happen. A few minutes later Emanuelle stops mid-sentence, twice, to take a bite of her food. Unintentional comic relief, but you’re going to need it when the action switches to the Amazon and the horror kicks in.
Don’t let the tepid sex scenes and hilarious dubbing scare you off. D’Amato was clearly focusing his attentions on the horror aspect and he does this exceedingly well. I’ve seen a number of his horror films and this is one of the very few that had any sort of effect on me. This is a grimy little gore flick that shows where D’Amato’s storytelling talents really were. The pacing is a little off, but if you remember that this is his first foray into the genre it is really quite impressive. Let’s not forget the Marlboro-smoking ape! Highly recommended!
UPDATE! May 2018 marks the film’s US Blu-Ray debut courtesy of the fine folks at Severin Films. The company was the first to release Black Emanuelle films in plush, deluxe packages with their legendary “Black Emanuelle’s Box” way back 2007, and now EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS forms the cornerstone of an incredble “Laura Gemser Bundle.” The bundle comes in two variations, all featuring amazing extras well worth checking out!
PQ on Severin’s new release is a major revelation. LAST CANNIBALS looks better that I ever expected possible with much better definition and color than previous editions. While massive cleanup has been undertaken, Severin has wisely left the film’s grain pattern intact, giving the film’s delicious 35mm Grindhouse feel a boost while remaining true to the material. This release also marks the first time a North American home video release has included the Italian audio track as an option. Of course the English track, with all its unintended hilarity, is present as well. Both are well-balanced, complimenting Nico Fidenco’s over-the-top musical cues and keeping dialogue audible and clear.
The extras are surprising and most welcome. After years of obscurity, Severin and Nocturno have coaxed star Annamaria Clementi back in front of the cameras to give an extensive interview about her work on the film and on her career as a whole. She is candid in her remembrances and forthcoming about her own foibles and how they affected her short but memorable film career.
Just as exciting is a new on-camera interview with the elusive Monika Zanchi. Zanchi recalls her life as a wild child and world wanderer, and what a tale she has to tell! She is charming and generous with her stories of adventures on and off screen.
An archive audio interview with Laura Gemser is another welcome extra. The interview was conducted in the 1990’s and became the basis of the Nocturno booket “Io, Emanuelle.” Hearing Gemser’s story in her own voice, accompanied by terrific photos and film stills, was a real treat.
But wait, there’s more! The disc also brings us a featurette on composer Nico Fidenco. If you’ve spent any time plunked down in front of exploitation films, the smoothly freaky sounds of Fidenco’s scores have surely graced your ears. The composer comes across as amiable and likable as he discusses his career, showing there is a lot more to the man than simply someone who wrote the soundtracks to hundreds of smutty movies.
Last, but certainly not least comes an extensive interview with the legendary Donald O’Brien. This interview finds the prolific actor giving an incredible overview of his long and varied career. He is both candid and kind as he recalls the various personalities that have crossed his path during the twists and turns of his very eclectic filmography.
Also included are the film’s trailer and the original soundtrack (!) on CD. The disc comes complete with a limited edition slipcover and reversible artwork. An essential purchase if there ever was one.
EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS is available three different ways through Severin. It can be purchased alone or as part of two terrific bundles. The Laura Gemser Blu-Ray Bundle pairs the film with another Black Emanuelle grinder making it’s Blu debut: VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (about which, more later!) Naturally, I opted for The Laura Gemser Deluxe Bundle which includes both films, a gorgeous Laura Gemser enamel pin and a wonderfully salacious LAST CANNIBALS T-shirt!
If it seems like I’m gushing…well, I am. This is a terrific package presenting a Grindhouse classic in the way it deserves. This terrific release can be purchased directly from Severin Films. Their fantastic promo appears below. An essential part of any Grindhouse collection!
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