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BLACK EMANUELLE’S BOX VOL. 1 (EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD, EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK, SISTER EMANUELLE) (1976-1977)
Directors: Joe D’Amato (Aristide Massaccesi) and Giuseppe Vari
Severin Films

One must acknowledge the presence of a God when presented with the vision of Laura Gemser. The Indonesian model is a practically flawless creature, a goddess of love who still amasses a large cult following of fervent appreciators of beauty to this day. Even those who think she may be too thin or boney must surely be mesmerized by her sharp cheekbones that could cut glass, her captivating smile, her long streaming black hair, a regal beauty both exotic and refined. It comes as no surprise that she became an international sex symbol in the late 1970s with her very popular BLACK EMANUELLE series, a spin-off of the French EMANUELLE series starring Sylvia Kristel. The DVD market is thankfully keeping Gemser’s many audience members happy by preserving her best films for future generations to become enamored of. Contained within this provocatively titled collection are three of Gemser’s finest star vehicles, two official BLACK EMANUELLE series entries and a much sleazier cash-in, all must-sees for Gemser and Eurocult connoisseurs.

EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (1976)

Following the original BLACK EMANUELLE, directed by Bitto Albertini, up-and-coming exploiteer Joe D’Amato decided to take the formula and run with it, recruiting an available Gemser for a series of globe-trotting sexploitation classics that burned up the box office worldwide and remain just as erotic and entertaining as they were 30 years ago. This, his first BLACK EMANUELLE film with original star Laura Gemser, is a great kick-off to an excellent series. The world’s sexiest photojournalist, Emanuelle, and her latest bedside companion, Italian archaeologist Roberto, make love on a ship en route to exotic Bangkok. Emanuelle’s assignment: secure an interview and exclusive photographs with the country’s king, which proves to be harder than she anticipates. Thankfully she finds an appreciative ally in Prince Sanit, the king’s cousin, who introduces Emanuelle to sensual masseur Gee, a local beauty who gives her new friend a sudsy bath and massage, and wanders the streets of the city with her. Emanuelle and her friends, including a loud-mouthed American couple who talk non-stop (“We’re Republicans, too!”), attend a back alley sex show involving candle dancers and ping pong balls, before Prince Sanit invites them over for an opium orgy. However, Emanuelle’s good times come to a screeching halt when a gang of politically motivated thugs ransack her room, steal her passport, and gang rape her in a gazebo!! It turns out that our lovely heroine has found herself in the midst of political turmoil, with Prince Sanit thrown into jail as a result, so she high-tails it to Casablanca, where she enters a loving lesbian relationship with Debra, the daughter of an American ambassador, and breaks up the engagement of Roberto to a stuffy British female archaeologist by taking her for a walk on the wild side.

Emanuelle actually only spends about half of the feature film in Bangkok, but what time she spends there is a perfect mix of travelogue beauty and classy sexuality. One of the reasons why the EMANUELLE films are so entertaining is that, like the cast members, we are drawn into the exotic locales and globe-trotting appeal…and, of course, the plentiful sex and nudity helps, too. Laura Gemser, as always, is stunning, and while she’s never given due credit as an actress, is wonderful as both the free-thinking sexual healer and the romantic with conflicted emotions over her feelings for Debra. While the French EMANUELLE films can be viewed as pro-feminist works, the BLACK EMANUELLE series can’t allude to such social importance (though several were written by a woman, Maria Pia Fusco). Sure, Emanuelle is an independent woman who takes what she wants, but just when you think the film is becoming progressive in its treatment of women, Emanuelle, or some female character, has to end up getting raped, reminding us these films were made for horny men, not couples. The gang bang at the hands of a group of brutal German security guards, with the implication that Emanuelle eventually enjoys it, is quite distasteful. Animal violence alert: a cobra and a mongoose go at it in a glass case. Why is this scene in the film? And even more importantly, why is Emanuelle wildly taking snapshots of the nasty event?? Thankfully, besides this nasty rape scene and the brief animal violence sequence, EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK is a rousing good time and a good-natured, erotic trip around the world with our favorite lady reporter. The EMANUELLE films would only get better from here.

As with all of the BLACK EMANUELLE films, the technical credits are top-notch. D’Amato served as his own cinematographer, capturing all of the sensual love scenes with voyeuristic intrigue and ensuring that Gemser never looks anything less than stunning. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi, who also worked wonders on many Lucio Fulci films, helps to create an exciting pace and accents the eroticism beautifully. For example, during her first love scene (of many) with real-life husband Gabriele Tinti, Tomassi match-cuts from the lovemaking to the pumps of the ship. His work throughout the series is top-notch, especially as he is an important contributor to the exhilarating international flair of the globe-trotting sexual adventures of Emanuelle. Nico Fidenco’s score (which includes several recycled cues from his original soundtrack for Albertini’s BLACK EMANUELLE) is, as per usual, an excellent mix of exotic allure and pop-oriented goodness. While “Celebrate Myself” is still the all-time best vocal song of any of the EMANUELLE films (no offense to the fan favorite “Make Love on the Wing” from LAST CANNIBALS), “Sweet Living Thing” and “Like a Sailing Ship” are great fun. In addition to Gemser, the cast is filled with familiar Eurocult faces: Ely Galleani (LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON) is Frances, the American tourist, and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (DEATH SMILES AT A MURDERER) is her husband (the two characters split to explore their individual sexuality after the opium orgy!); Ivan Rassimov (MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK) is Prince Sanit, the royal official who becomes enamored of Emanuelle and admires her ability to control her arousal (!); Gemser’s real-life husband Tinti is Roberto, the arrogant archaeologist who eventually pushes Emanuelle away with his nastiness; Debra Berger, daughter of William, is Debra, the sensitive American girl who develops a special bond with Emanuelle; and Fulci favorite Venantino Venantini appears briefly as Debra’s father.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK is, to use a cliché, the best the film has ever looked on video. While the opening and end credits are unfortunately video-sourced (with French titles that misspell a few names), and look pretty cruddy, the remainder of the film appears to be from a pristine source, with bold, beautiful colors and a bright, clean image throughout. A few moments of black “squibs” (a la Synapse’s VAMPYROS LESBOS) appear during the ping-pong dancer sequence, but don’t seem to indicate any cuts. Two audio options, English and Italian with English subtitles, are offered. The English track is preferable, but it’s a plus to include the Italian track for completists’ sake. The dialogue on the English track is rather quiet and needs to be cranked, but the music is loud and clear!

Bonus features on this disc include the theatrical trailer (highlighting the incredible “Of Your Body” theme song from the original BLACK EMANUELLE) and a rare video interview with director Joe D’Amato at the 1995 Eurofest, the premier British Eurocult convention of the 1990s. It’s of course quite valuable to see this rare English interview with D’Amato, and this interview also seems to be the source of the misinformation that Gemser hailed from Holland (D’Amato says she modeled in Holland, but was from Java, but it comes out as she was a “model from Holland”). When D’Amato takes the stage for a Q&A, the cameraman for some reason focuses on the gent asking him questions, and not the legend himself, which is distracting. Clips of appearances by fellow guests David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl are also included, and it’s great that festival organizer Trevor Barley kept videos of all of his shows so that they can help preserve the history of European cult cinema.

EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD (1977)

EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK was followed by the ultimate film in the series, EMANUELLE IN AMERICA. The combination of sensual sex, bestiality, porno scenes, and graphic violence helped to spark major controversy around the world, with the film ending up sliced to bits in most countries. Continuing the trend of violence mixed with sex, D’Amato returned with the similarly-themed EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD, often cited by fans of one of the best in the series. Personally, I consider it the second-best of the EMANUELLE films, just behind AMERICA in terms of entertainment value.

After arriving in San Francisco after an extended stay on a desert island, Emanuelle finds time to have a shadowy tryst in the back of a moving van and get mauled by a horny pervert when she walks into the wrong hotel room! She bumps into U.N. representative Malcolm Robertson, who sparks a social interest in her by discussing world poverty and injustice with her as they fly to and walk through New York City. While covering a bizarre sex guru and his dedicated cult of followers in India, she meets a beautiful blonde in hiding after a traumatizing gang rape she endured in Rome. Following her instincts and tracking down her competitive rival reporter Cora Norman, who is also in Rome, Emanuelle goes undercover to bust a secret white slave ring that supplies women to the Middle East and the Orient. Seductive young men lure innocent girls into their Rolls Royce before delivering them to suave businessmen who have them sampled by a scar-faced creep! Unfortunately, Cora ends up beaten for her investigative troubles, but after busting the Roman sex slave ring, the pair soon trek to Hong Kong to track down more leads on the brutal white slave trade market. Emanuelle is soon abducted off the streets of Hong Kong and delivered to Chang, a cackling pervert with braces who samples the girls and tests their willpower by tying them spread-eagle, draping them in snakes and forcing his German shepherd to have sex with them! Once again busting this branch of the white slave trade, our dynamic duo then fly to Tehran in the Middle East to visit a harem filled with kidnapped innocents forced to sexually service the Emir! There, they learn of the ins and outs of the industry by speaking to a harem girl who agrees to help them. Emanuelle also has her trusty camera hidden in her gold bracelet, gathering evidence to bring down the vicious circle! However, Emanuelle soon learns that all the violence against women doesn’t only happen overseas, as a New York party with American politicians and their wives turns ugly quickly…

Taking a page from AMERICA’s script (especially the theme of violence against women), AROUND THE WORLD doesn’t involve the typical travelogue wonder associated with the earlier films (though there is great footage of the Pan Am heliport and the U.N. in New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Rome), but actually is motivated by a script, which is also unusual for the series. The Indian sex guru and Rome motorcyclist subplots are the only distractions from the ongoing storyline of the investigation into the worldwide mistreatment of women and the sexual black market. Quite a heavy social theme for an EMANUELLE film, but underneath this responsibility beats the heart of an exploitation film, naturally, so there is plentiful nudity, sweaty sex, and queasy brutality towards women throughout the film. The political incorrectness provides for some really shocking moments, especially the sequences of torturing and “testing” the various sex slaves! The twisted ending of the film, with the humiliation of a poor girl in public and spurred on by the arrival of city bums, seems to profess that misogyny will continue in the world as long as the rich continue to make it thrive. This particular sequence is perhaps the most-raising in the entire EMANUELLE series, with Emanuelle in true dire peril, forced at gunpoint to fellate a filthy bearded vagrant, as his pals punch and repeatedly rape a nude girl left behind by her “friends”. Only the snuff footage in AMERICA compares. This isn’t pretty stuff, and doesn’t even provide sleazy thrills. In addition to the sleazy excess of the rape and violence scenes, there’s a killer catfight in the harem and some excellent dialogue! All in all, AROUND THE WORLD stands as the second best BLACK EMANUELLE film, a truly memorable viewing experience and one of the wildest films you’re likely to see in the sexploitation genre!

Technical specs are typically gorgeous. Joe D’Amato’s cinematography is more fluid and glossy than in previous films, with his love of the voyeuristic tease providing for a wonderful fevered passion during the love scenes. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi returns, doing a superb job building tension and developing the pace of the film. His work during the intense misogyny scenes is marvelous. Nico Fidenco’s score is, again, splendid and a great listening experience! “A Picture of Love”, performed by Fire Fly, will be tough to get out of your head! From the first BLACK EMANUELLE, Karin Schubert returns (in a different role) as Cora Norman, Emanuelle’s sidekick and partner-in-crime. The team of Laura Gemser and Karin Schubert is a good one, and would have made for an interesting series of its own: two beautiful female reporters investigating injustices around the world, and finding time for sexual encounters along the way! Series regular Ivan Rassimov also returns as Malcolm Robertson, the U.N. representative who appears to be the man of Emanuelle’s dreams (yet never has a love scene with her); Brigitte Petronio (HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) is the blonde cult member who tells Emanuelle of her Rome gang rape; the crazed George Eastman (ANTROPOPHAGUS) is memorable as the guru con man whose philosophy of a delayed orgasm proves to be futile in his love scene with Emanuelle. Adult film fans should recognize both Juliet Graham (THE STORY OF JOANNA, ALICE IN WONDERLAND) as Miss Ohio, the poor victim of diplomatic viciousness during the finale, and Paul Thomas (countless films by de Renzy, Pachard, Chinn, every major director in the adult film genre) as the Ivory Van Lines driver who gets lucky with Emanuelle in his truck. Look fast for D’Amato himself in a cameo as a member of the slave ring in Tehran!! You may also recognize Efrem Appel (EMANUELLE IN AMERICA) among the sex cult members. Interestingly, this is the only EMANUELLE film in which Gabriele Tinti does not appear!

As of now, the only D’Amato BLACK EMANUELLE film still MIA on DVD now is EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE, the last of the series, which will hopefully be included in BLACK EMANUELLE’S BOX VOL. 2 (notice how this collection is tantalizingly titled VOL. 1).

Compared to the fuzzy, dirty transfer on the Russian disc of the film (under the title THE DEGRADATION OF EMANUELLE), Severin’s 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a complete revelation! It’s not a perfect transfer; there are more white lines here than I’ve seen in any other transfer, and some scenes are rather muddy. But in general, the colors are quite lovely (especially reds and pinks), and the image is for the most part bright and clear. The two audio options of English and Italian with English subtitles are included again here, and like the other films, the English track is preferable. While the dialogue is a little subdued, the Nico Fidenco score is bombastic!

Extras on this disc include the U.S. theatrical trailer (Jerry Gross distributed it here!) and a video interview with composer Nico Fidenco! A legend among Eurocult fan circles, Fidenco discusses his beginnings as a composer, how he came to compose the soundtrack for the original BLACK EMANUELLE for Bitto Albertini, and his move to D’Amato’s subsequent sequels. He also talks about his approach to composing soundtracks to match the theme and mood of the film, and how the film’s settings influenced his compositions, as well as his disinterest in composing for horror films (his score for ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST is indeed boring). The very best supplement of the entire set is a full-length soundtrack CD that is included with EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. 25 tracks of Nico Fidenco brilliance, culled from the soundtracks to the original BLACK EMANUELLE, EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK, and EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD, there is also a very nice color insert card with a track listing (finally a DVD company does this!).

Also available separately from the boxed set is an alternate X-rated European version of EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. Additional hardcore sex footage appears in the sex cult sequences and the harem sequence, where Emanuelle finds a hidden room with various copulating couples. Watch for muscular stud Rick “Ercolino” Martino (EMANUELLE IN AMERICA) among the hardcore participants. Some penetration shots are inserted to cover for Laura Gemser, who never did hardcore, but otherwise, most of these hardcore additions were actually shot on the set as the softcore version was being shot, so are completely legitimate. The really important additions fans will want to see for their sheer insanity are the sequences of Chang torturing a pair of women; a snake goes almost completely into the vagina of one girl, while the bestiality sequence goes on much longer!! Yes, you see the erect German shepherd penis and it looks like it’s really screwing the girl, but who knows? It’s still vile! For some reason, the box copy claims that Paul Thomas was in INSATIABLE, which is of course inaccurate (maybe they were thinking of John Leslie?). It’s recommended you pick up this version if you’d like to see the extra Chang footage, but otherwise none of the hardcore footage is anything special. Rent (if you can) before buying.

SISTER EMANUELLE (1977)

By 1977, there were a number of BLACK EMANUELLE cash-ins, and because of Laura Gemser’s accommodating work schedule, she would actually appear in some of them! SISTER EMANUELLE, using the character name but nothing else from the Joe D’Amato series, is one of the better unofficial EMANUELLE films, and while not near as good as the D’Amato films, is still entertaining enough to be preserved on DVD for Eurocult fiends to devour.

Sister Emanuelle, one of the nuns working at a secluded convent for wayward girls, is assigned to escort a new ward, nymphomaniac teenager Monica, to the convent; Monica’s sexual adventures, including inciting a gang bang on the beach and indulging in a Sapphic love affair with her young stepmother, have driven her father up the wall! En route to her new home, Monica attempts to seduce the pure Emanuelle and when she gets no response, decides to blow a steward in a fit of lust. Upon arrival at the convent, Monica immediately sets her sights on her roommate Anna to quench her thirst for sex, but her primary goal remains Emanuelle, who shows signs of caving in to the sinful desires of the girl. Monica’s sexual prayers are finally answered when she discovers Rene, an escaped murderer hiding out in an abandoned house, and she helps him sneak into the convent and keeps him hidden in the tower, where she goes every night to have non-stop sex marathons with her rough lover. Using her criminal partner, Monica is more determined than ever to corrupt Emanuelle, and she just may succeed!

Of the three films included in this set, SISTER EMANUELLE the least effective, but is still enjoyable fun. Director Giuseppe Vari simply doesn’t have the grasp of visual stimulation that D’Amato, a natural cinematographer, does, though the script is quite good and Laura Gemser does seem comfortable and very able at pulling off a more dramatic role than her usual films required. Interestingly, Vari reunited the three stars of EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS for this flick: Gemser, her real-life husband Gabriele Tinti, and Monica Zanchi, involving them once again in a love triangle, albeit in a more sensible setting than the Amazon. Gemser does a splendid acting job with a conflicted character, and is a striking vision, but the real star of the film is Monica Zanchi, the Swiss blonde nymph. The script revolves around her character of ‘Monica’, allowing her to seduce the audience as she does the many characters presented to her, and she is a real hellion of a girl! Zanchi really steals the show, obviously relishing her sexually seductive dialogue and behavior! The plot twist of Monica tricking Emanuelle into sleeping with Rene so she and Anna can watch from the rafters is incredibly sleazy! It’s a crazed mix of sinful nunsploitation, lesbian schoolgirl shenanigans, and forbidden sexuality, with a nun with a bladder problem, a bumbling comic relief handyman, moody characterization, and a great surprise ending thrown in for good measure. The worst element of the film is Stelvio Cipriani’s musical score, as it’s an evident steal of Nico Fidenco’s BLACK EMANUELLE soundtracks, but far less memorable and more irritating.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of SISTER EMANUELLE is the best of the troika in the collection, with consistently strong color and a clean and clear image. Dark scenes are bright, and there is no debris or print damage to be seen other than a few brief white lines. The English audio has its moments of hissing, but is, again, preferable to listening to the Italian with English subtitles, which is also included as an alternative.

Extras on this disc include the theatrical trailer and a selection of deleted scenes in Italian from a VHS source: a brief addition to the flashback scene before Rene finds Emanuelle at the bottom of the stairs in the tower, some hardcore footage of Monica Zanchi blowing the steward (body double!), and additional footage of the lesbian scene between Monica Zanchi and her stepmother. Unfortunately, on my copy of the disc, there is no deleted “Bondage Scene” as listed on the menu; when you select that scene to play, it replays the “Flashback Scene”!! Grrr!!

All three discs come housed in an attractive black box with a nice windowbox on the front that can open up to reveal a nude portrait of Laura Gemser. Also included in the box is a nice shrinkwrapped packet of mini poster reproductions for the three films included. All in all, a terrific package that (aside from the missing deleted scene on SISTER EMANUELLE) is practically perfect in every way. Highly, highly recommended! ***MUST BUY 2007*** (Casey Scott)

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