Join (or watch, if that's your thing) Appellate Judge Dave Ryan as he probes deep inside Black Emanuelle's Box. Bring rubber gloves.
Has anyone checked this box for crabs?
The Emmanuelle/Emanuelle franchise has produced many films over the years. These are three of them.
What, you want more from me?
Facts of the Case
Emanuelle in Bangkok (1977)
Emanuelle Around the World (1977)
Sister Emanuelle (1981)
It seemed like a good idea at the time. "Hey, free softcore Seventies porn," I said to myself. "Hot chicks getting naked. I like hot naked chicks! And all I have to do is review the films." What could possibly go wrong?
Dozens of agonizing minutes later, I can tell you what's wrong: actually watching these films in their entirety with a critical eye is excruciating. Yes, Laura Gemser is stunningly hot, and it doesn't take much in these films to get her clothing off. But that's all these films are: excuses to have Gemser and the other females in the cast remove their clothing—and pretty poor excuses at that.
First, a bit of history. Back in the 1950s, a French woman named Marayat Rollet-Andriane, under the pen name Emmanuelle Arsan, wrote an "autobiography" entitled Emmanuelle, sometimes referred to by the alternate title The Joys of a Woman. (She later had a small acting role in The Sand Pebbles, of all things…) The book, about a young woman's erotic romp through life, didn't take off until the mid-Sixties, when it became a French cult hit. In the Seventies, a film version of Emmanuelle, starring Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel as the eponymous subject, was an unexpected success. Despite being what censors of the time considered "pornographic," the film nonetheless played in regular moviehouses, not in seedy porno grindhouses (like, say, Debbie Does Dallas). Most critics would point to Emmanuelle as the first mainstream film in the genre we now know as "softcore porn." Its success, as well as some copyright mistakes that left the Emmanuelle name unprotected, spawned a huge series of follow-up Emmanuelle films that continue to this day.
Never ones to miss a chance to get in on the action, the Italians knocked off the Emmanuelle films with their own "Emanuelle" (one "m") films. The most notable and successful of these knock-offs were what are known as the "Emanuelle Nera" pictures ("Black Emanuelle" in English) that starred former model Laura Gemser, named after the first film in the series. ("Black" isn't really the best translation of the Italian; in English, "black" connotes an ethnic status, whereas the Italian meaning is really more like "dark-skinned." Gemser is, in fact, Indonesian, and not of African descent.) The bulk of these films were directed by Joe D'Amato, the so-called "Ed Wood of Italy." So right there you know what you're getting into.
The first two films in this three-disc box set from Severin Films—Emanuelle in Bangkok and Emanuelle Around the World—are simply atrocious. And not just atrocious, but offensive as well—not because of the ample nudity and sex, but because each presents a rape (or rapes) for prurient purposes. I just don't cotton to that. Emanuelle in Bangkok is probably the worst offender, because not only is Emanuelle raped, but it's implied that she gets turned on by being raped. Excuse me while I take a long, hot shower to cleanse me of having seen that. The rapes in Emanuelle Around the World are more violent and disturbing, but at least the film doesn't imply that "women like to be raped" the way Emanuelle in Bangkok does.
Even without the rapes, there would be little to enjoy in either film save for the beautiful naked women. Again, Emanuelle in Bangkok is the worse of the two. Its plot would be charitably described as incoherent; if I wanted to be really mean, I'd describe it as "being written by someone who was both retarded and brain damaged." It begins abruptly, ends abruptly, and staggers along without rhyme or reason in between. Emanuelle just does stuff, and there's an archeologist who may be her boyfriend, and she loses her camera, and there's a bunch of sex. That's about it. Emanuelle Around the World at least has a semi-coherent narrative involving Emanuelle's investigation of a white slavery ring, but it's still an amateurish and poorly-told story even by porn standards.
After sitting through these two crapburgers, the merely subpar Sister Emanuelle is like watching The Godfather. It has an actual plot, and you can actually follow the story reasonably well. Oh sure, it's still a classic exploitation flick, what with the sexual nuns, naughty Catholic school girls, and hot girl-on-girl action, but at least it couches all of that in an honest-to-Pete story. The main flaw here is…there isn't enough naked Gemser. I mean, she's not here for her acting ability. She's here because she's a fantastic-looking woman. Hiding her in a nun outfit—not exactly the most flattering garment ever created by mankind—for 90% of the film sort of defeats the whole purpose of the film. Fortunately, the slack is picked up by Zanchi, whom the box describes as a "Kirsten Dunst look-alike." Actually, she does look a lot like Dunst, so Sister Emanuelle should prove desirable for the Spiderman fetishists out there, I guess.
Picture and sound quality are pretty much in line with the quality of the films. Bangkok and Around the World look and sound terrible. The latter especially suffers from extensive print damage and scratching; it's a Super-8 quality image at best. The mono tracks accurately reproduce the poorly-dubbed English and Italian dialog, and that's about it. A handful of extras are provided, the best of the lot being the interview with composer Nico Fidenco on the Around the World disc. The only real non-naked-chick-related strength of these Emanuelle films is their soundtracks. They're cheesy and very Seventies, but they're downright catchy, and the lyrics of some of the songs are so laughably stupid that they wind up being entertaining. Fidenco puts his work into the context of Italian cinema of the time. It's definitely a more scholarly extra than you'd expect here. The interview with the late Joe D'Amato, although of dubious technical quality, is unique because (a) he didn't give many interviews, and (b) he gave even fewer interviews in English. He seems a decent sort, but you don't get a lot of perspective on the films from him. The "deleted scenes" on the Sister Emanuelle are snippets of harder-core action from the film, presumably edited out for European ratings purposes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Let's be honest—the real purpose of these films isn't to tell a compelling story, or (unlike the French Emmanuelle films) to attempt to make some sort of social statement about the position of women in society. It's to deliver as much female flesh in as many erotic situations as possible. By that standard, mission accomplished. Gemser is simply stunning, with or without clothing. The other female characters—and if you see a woman under the age of 40 in these films, you can be relatively sure that you'll see them naked before too long—are easy on the eyes as well. The sex, save for the raping, is pretty well shot; it's much more realistic than the extended "GNAW IT VOOP" sessions (as Judge Lineberger has dubbed them—see, e.g., Taylor Wane's Erotic Games) you see in contemporary softcore stuff. However, the cuts here tend to be too quick, as opposed to sex scenes in current films, which often drag way beyond the point of tolerance. Plus, the terrible quality of the visuals tempers one's enjoyment of the female forms on display.
Laura Gemser is gorgeous. But that wears off quick, and all you're left with is more Italian crap than you'd find in a Roman sewer. I can't for the love of God figure out why anyone would want to actually own this box set…but if you do, here it is. Enjoy.
I'd declare these films guilty and send everyone to prison, but the thought of possibly having to review Emanuelle and the Warden or Emanuelle, Confessions of a Prison Whore in the future is too terrifying. I declare a miscarriage of justice.
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