Directors: Brunello Rondi, Bitto Albertini and Joe D’Amato/Aristide Massaccesi
Severin Films

Following their release of one of 2007’s few Must-Purchase titles, BLACK EMANUELLE’S BOX VOL. 1, Severin Films continues their trend of restoring Eurosex obscurities for DVD release with the highly-anticipated BLACK EMANUELLE’S BOX VOL. 2, another beautifully designed box with a Laura Gemser cover shot, three 1970s curios lovingly restored, and a soundtrack CD commemorating the fine work of series composer Nico Fidenco. However, once the titles were announced, my heart sank. The first BLACK EMANUELLE still sits in a vault somewhere, owned by a major rights holder, and to fill out the 3-disc collection, Severin decided to include Bitto Albertini’s ill-advised follow-up to his initial Gemser outing, BLACK EMANUELLE 2, and the polarizing borefest BLACK EMANUELLE, WHITE EMANUELLE alongside the real Holy Grail of the series, the very obscure EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE. Additionally, rather than focus solely on Laura Gemser, this collection also features two other unofficial ‘Emanuelle’s: Annie Belle (the titular WHITE EMANUELLE) and Sharon Lesley (Gemser’s replacement in BLACK EMANUELLE 2). The fact that Gemser isn’t the real star of this set would make any Eurocult fan wary, and those caution instincts ring true; sadly, all three films are nowhere near as entertaining and memorable as those in VOL.1 and only the most dedicated collector will consider this a mandatory purchase.

While Laura Gemser continued portraying the sexually voracious screen siren ‘Emanuelle’ for life-long friend and collaborator Joe D’Amato, director Bitto Albertini was left in Rome attempting to hastily create a sequel to capitalize on the international success of his BLACK EMANUELLE. Without Gemser, what could he do? Find a totally unworthy replacement, of course! Middle Eastern model Sharon Lesley (an Anglicized version of her real name, Shulamith Lasri) has a killer body, with a pair of plush breasts that defy gravity and will hypnotize even the most unshakable viewer, but lacks any sort of charisma or sexual heat that Gemser has in spades. Additionally, because Albertini decided to overload BLACK EMANUELLE 2 with lots of plot and dialogue rather than simply have Emanuelle trot all over the world, banging everyone she meets, Lesley isn’t up to the challenge of filling her predecessor’s shoes and is ultimately nothing more than great, hollow window-dressing. At least she looks great on the film’s original poster! In a sort-of continuation of BLACK EMANUELLE (opening with an awkward quote from Sigmund Freud, “The sickeness [sp] that disturb [sp] me most is myself”), our heroine is a patient in a mental hospital, where she is trying to recover from amnesia with the help of a kindly doctor and his nymphomaniac niece Sharon. It seems that Emanuelle was knocked unconscious while on assignment in Beirut, and woke up not remembering who she was and with a distorted view of men. The good doctor interviews her father, her basketball star ex-husband, and her photographer lover in an attempt to cure her bizarre trauma. In the meantime, Sharon sets her sights on Emanuelle, indulging in lesbian sex with her in a patients’ playroom and sneaking her out of the institution to venture into the big city to have a threeway with Simon, a muscular fisherman who can dangle a giant anchor from his penis (played by Italian bodybuilder Pietro Torrisi, who doesn’t take his clothes off).

If there is anything to whole-heartedly recommend about BLACK EMANUELLE 2, it’s the gripping opening title sequence, with Emanuelle being tied up, whipped, locked in a cage, and otherwise graphically interrogated by a man who is soon revealed to be her doctor, and whoops, this whole montage is all in her mind. It’s a great intro to an otherwise pretty bland romp. Some may find a few laughs in the ridiculous storyline, as Emanuelle’s memory of her life turns out to be so radically different from reality (i.e., she remembers her father was an alcoholic trumpet player who assaulted her and ended up homeless, while in truth he is a well-to-do businessman who lovingly raised Emanuelle on his own). The eventual reveal as to why she has such hatred for men is goofy, and the surprise ending wherein Emanuelle decides who she wants to go home with is memorable. But the sex scenes are half-assed, and some are so random they will incite more laughter than boners (for example: a nurse at the institution has comic sex with a guard. Why? No reason, because the film needed to meet its quota of naked breasts, I guess). Albertini shot exteriors in New York, but doesn’t make good use of the location as other directors would have.

Don Powell is an odd, wooden choice to cast as Emanuelle’s father, but he was also responsible for co-writing the wonderful musical score, so he must get some credit for that. You gotta love his song “Going to Hawaii”, performed by The Peppers. Why has this never shown up on CD?? A 45 single was released of the song, but it is almost impossible to find! American ex-patriot Percy Hogan, who plays Fred, Emanuelle’s basketball star ex-husband, was in two other EMANUELLE films: BLACK EMANUELLE, WHITE EMANUELLE (no, not the one in this set, the American South exploitation curio also known as PASSION PLANTATION) and EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (as the black guide who schtupps Susan Scott during a nocturnal jungle jaunt), and as in LAST CANNIBALS, shows off his muscular jockstrapped ass in a love scene here with Emanuelle. Fans of Dagmar Lassander will find nothing to enjoy here, as she barely appears as the doctor’s jealous wife. Basically she has a handful of dramatic scenes and provides some brief nudity before picking up her paycheck and exiting stage right.

On further reflection in writing this review, perhaps BLACK EMANUELLE 2 isn’t that bad. It’s no Gemser classic, but has enough going for it to warrant at least a rental to see if it’s your cup of tea. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Sharon Lesley nude! Just don’t expect anything extraordinary and you should have some fun with this one. In fact, it’s the best film of the set!

Having appeared on DVD previously from X-Rated Kult Video in Germany, Severin’s version of BLACK EMANUELLE 2 is naturally a vast improvement over that monstrosity. The anamorphic widescreen transfer (at 1.85:1) looks really smashing, with a clean, bright image throughout and clear colors. The film has a somewhat grainy look to it, but this is common with low-budget Italian films of the period. Only the English dub option is included, which is unfortunate as the film’s original Italian track with English subs would have been nice to have, but you get to hear some of the weird dubbing ab-libs, like when the doctor abruptly stops in traffic in front of the camera during a pan and the dubbing actor quips, “Hey why are you stopping? Get moving!”

The sole extra on BLACK EMANUELLE 2 (besides a titillating trailer) is a quite good 16-minute interview with actress Dagmar Lassander, who remembers nothing of the film itself, but does speak at length about how she became a popular actress in Italian cinema, and why the latter part of her career was filled with simple cameos to stay in the public eye (which explains why she bothered appearing in BLACK EMANUELLE 2!). Specific memories of Mario Bava and shooting THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN, her ultimate star vehicle, are particularly exciting! For a woman who has been disparaged by Eurocult fans for years over her weight gain throughout her career, she looks just fine now (a little large but not gargantuan), with wavy short reddish-blonde hair and a gorgeous visage that would still draw double-takes.

Trek from New York to Egypt, the sand-swept romantic locale of sphinxes and sheiks. Or on second thought, maybe you’d better not, or you may never forgive yourself for sitting through (or trying in vain to sit through) BLACK EMANUELLE, WHITE EMANUELLE. Rich bitch Crystal has invited world-famous model Emanuelle, her sadistic photographer Carlo, and her estranged daughter Laure to visit her at her gorgeous estate in Egypt. Crystal’s other daughter Magda teases their servant Ali (who services both women in bed), the group visits an elderly mystic who conducts orgies in an ancient temple, Crystal’s lover Horatio is a religious kook with mind control powers, Emanuelle and Laure visit a lavish brothel and develop a lesbian bond, Carlo photographs Emanuelle in disgusting impromptu scenarios with dead dogs and war victims and gets in a shouting match with Laure, and everyone has lots of sex. Blend all these things together and you have this unsatisfying mish-mash of a movie.

Despite a promising opening sequence, beautifully photographed in 2.35:1, and backed by a criminally underrated musical score by Alberto Baldan Bembo (which sadly is unavailable on LP or CD!), BLACK EMANUELLE, WHITE EMANUELLE (or SMOOTH VELVET RAW SILK, EMANUELLE IN EGYPT, NAKED PARADISE, or any number of other misleading retitlings to dupe the public) is reminiscent of many Joe D’Amato cash-in titles of the 1970s. Think LAURA or VANESSA; in other words, sex films that seem improvised once the crew arrives in an exotic location for shooting in-between vacation time. As of this writing, I am one of only two viewers who provided comments for the film on the IMDB, written after I watched the EMANUELLE IN EGYPT U.S. video version. Reflecting back on what I wrote then and considering what I would write now, there really isn’t much difference. Seeing the film in its original aspect ratio helped, for sure, illuminating the beautiful widescreen cinematography, and I am now a huge fan of the unreleased, mystical soundtrack for the film, but being a loving follower of both Annie Belle and Laura Gemser, it’s painful to see them in such a wasteful and boring outing. The film does perk up for a very bizarre scene with Laura Gemser becoming possessed during a ritual of some sort, screaming like a banshee, killing a goat, and drinking its blood, but this is about 15 minutes before the film ends. At a mammoth 94-minute running time (with about 9 minutes more footage than the U.S. video version, God help us!), you have to sit through too much nonsense to get to this showstopper. Annie Belle is cute, Al Cliver is handsome as usual (and provides some rare nudity), Susan Scott/Nieves Navarro is an alluring beauty, Laura Gemser is pretty much abused throughout the whole film and Gabriele Tinti gives one of his most unhinged performances (think along the lines of EMANUELLE IN PRISON), and I have developed a crush on unknown Tarik Ali who plays the virile man-servant Ali, but believe it or not, there’s not much going on here. I defy you to sit through this celluloid sleeping pill in one sitting! Recommended only for the most die-hard, completist fan of Gemser imaginable!

Finally appearing on home video in its original scope aspect ratio (and enhanced for 16:9 TV’s, no less), BLACK EMANUELLE WHITE EMANUELLE may stink to high heaven, but it looks simply exquisite! Some color flashing occurs throughout the film at random times, but other than that, this is a very good-looking transfer, with bright colors and crisp clarity, and by far the best the film has ever looked on home video! The film is presented in either English or Italian with English subtitles. Because there are scenes here that were never dubbed into English (or an English audio track was never found), it’s easy to pinpoint the extended scenes new to U.S. home video (namely a number of Nieves Navarro scenes). Interestingly, the names of Annie Belle’s, Laura Gemser’s, and Al Cliver’s characters are switched between the English and Italian language tracks (in Italian, Annie is named ‘Laure’ [perhaps harking back to her film of the same name], Laura is named ‘Emanuelle’, and Al is named ‘Antonio’; in English, Annie is named ‘Pia’, Laura is named ‘Laura’, and Al is named ‘Horatio’). This makes for very confusing viewing when the languages (and the names of characters) change mid-scene. Strangely, some scenes in Italian don’t automatically play with subtitled English, so you may have to fiddle with your remote to get them as the movie plays. There are some audio skips during the first minutes, but nothing too intrusive. I would recommend, if you insist on watching this drek, simply watching the whole film in Italian with English subs. The only people speaking English on-set were apparently Laura Gemser and Annie Belle (and for one scene, Gabriele Tinti), so Italian is probably the preferable viewing option anyway. It should also be noted that the English track is quite muffled, more than usual, leading me to wonder if perhaps it’s simply ported over from the U.S. video.

In addition to the theatrical trailer, in Italian with English subtitles (the American trailer under the SMOOTH VELVET, RAW SILK is good, too, and can be found on Something Weird’s TWISTED SEX VOL. 15), a featurette containing interviews with actors Al Cliver, Annie Belle, and Laura Gemser (not credited on the jacket or the disc itself), all in Italian with English subtitles. The Belle and Gemser interviews are audio-only, but at this point, with both actresses being rather reclusive, fans will take what we can get! In 18 minutes, Al Cliver discusses how he entered the film business and his relationship with Annie Belle on- and off-camera, Belle remembers working with Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, and director Brunello Rondi, and Gemser relates stories of her travels around the world to shoot her many features and the embarrassment of filming lesbian scenes (not too specific to this film, but still illuminating and welcome).

Now for the presumed shining jewel of the collection: Joe D’Amato’s oft-forgotten EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE! This finale to his BLACK EMANUELLE series has been the toughest of the five films to see, and after finally sitting through it, I see why: it’s the weakest of the lot. What went wrong here? You have Joe D’Amato directing and serving as cinematographer, master Eurocult editor Vincenzo Tomassi at the top of his game, Nico Fidenco contributing another sultry score to make love to, and the porcelain beauty of Laura Gemser is always a sight for sore eyes. Alas, all these varsity players seem to have grown tired of the sex-filled travelogues a mere two years after the franchise began, and this is EMANUELLE on auto-pilot. The first 33 minutes are spent in Africa, with Emanuelle and her gal pal Susan having a liaison with a mechanic before the pair pose as hostesses to get the exclusive scoop on a visiting prince and his friend, a notorious gangster-in-hiding. While at the airport working on that story, Emanuelle spots a mysterious man wheeling around a comatose woman in a wheelchair and traces the man back to an international white slave ring. She peeks in on a secret auction of naked girls for rich foreign businessman, and upon her return to New York, poses as a girl hard up for cash so she can infiltrate the slavery ring, and finally must find a way out once she’s in to get the story out to the world.

Of course this sounds all well and good on paper, but the execution is way off and where the previous films were envelope-pushing sleaze fests, WHITE SLAVE TRADE doesn’t live up to its trashy title. What’s worse, it feels pieced together to fulfill a contract. Whole scenes are recycled from EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (many scenes with Laura Gemser and Gabriele Tinti in New York), a nude modeling session (like the one in EMANUELLE IN AMERICA) goes on forever, Emanuelle fools around with a nurse in a hospital (shades of LAST CANNIBALS again), and the location for the high-class brothel is the same used for the exact same scenario in EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (Fidenco cues from the previous films are also used throughout). The entire film is derivative of the earlier series entries, with nothing original or interesting to differentiate it from its predecessors. In fact, you could consider this a step backwards! While queasy violence and steamy sex had frequented into all of the previous EMANUELLE’s, this is a very tame affair, with lackluster love scenes and for a film dealing with such tasteless subject matter as white slavery, it’s about as shocking or sleazy as a Lifetime movie. The same subject matter was handled in a much better fashion in EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD and EMANUELLE IN AMERICA. Even poor Laura Gemser looks bored beyond belief throughout the whole film. It’s great to see Ely Galleani (FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN) slumming as Emanuelle’s lesbian confidante in Kenya, and if you ever wanted to see Venantino Venantini nude (there must be somebody demanding it), you can see him pounding away energetically in several sex scenes. And don’t get me started on the outrageous Stefan, the best and most interesting character in the whole movie! Why? She’s a drag queen, the right-hand-“man” of Madame Claude, dubbed by a man doing his best Ed-Wynn-in-MARY-POPPINS impersonation and played by Nicola D’Eramo (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES)! Stefan is somehow seduced by Emanuelle into helping her escape and when cornered in a bowling alley by gun-toting henchmen intent on snuffing the two of them out, gets into a balls-out fist fight before being murdered. Other than the great title song “Run Cheetah Run” and Stefan the drag queen, there’s really very little to remember about this D’Amato EMANUELLE swan song. They should have stopped while they were ahead.

Making its U.S. home video debut, EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio enhanced for widescreen TV’s. The film stock is, as with the other EMANUELLE films, quite grainy and will never look 100% pristine, but is as good as it ever will look, and is head and shoulders above previous black market video versions. There are infrequent white lines that may bother some looking for perfection. The English mono audio sounds just fine. There are a few audio skips here and there, but nothing too intrusive. The English dub is, like with EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS, a complete travesty, obviously done quickly and not by the same people who did a good job with the previous EMANUELLE films. Characters talk over one another constantly, and who decided that a 40-year-old woman should dub youthful twenty-something Ely Galleani? Yikes!

Alongside the theatrical trailer is a 12-minute interview with the late Joe D’Amato, filmed after his 1994 appearance at the Eurofest Convention in England. The credits claim this was Joe D’Amato’s personal favorite interview, but seeing him struggle with English and be bombarded by questions from as many as four people at the same time, I sincerely doubt it. It’s interesting to see him in such a laid-back atmosphere, but the focus of the interview is too much on his hardcore porno work, which he personally disliked. He does discuss why Laura Gemser never did hardcore (“She’s not that stupid”). Am I crazy for being bothered by the fact that the four fanboys interviewing D’Amato kick back a number of beers before even offering the director one? The interview footage was provided by the ever-controversial Jay Slater.

Included with EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE is the best extra of the set, a complete CD of music compiling the original soundtracks to Joe D’Amato’s BLACK EMANUELLE films, composed by master of Eurocult scores, Nico Fidenco. If you have the complete soundtrack albums of EMANUELLE IN AMERICA and EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS, hold onto them, as this CD wasn’t meant to include every track available. That said, the best tracks are here, digitally remastered and sounding better than ever, especially in the case of LAST CANNIBALS (whose soundtrack consists primarily of the same brooding synthesizer pieces repeated over and over). Especially exciting is the inclusion of tracks from EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE’s soundtrack, which has never been available on CD or LP (which should be an indicator of the series’ waning popularity by the time the film was released)! “Run Cheetah Run” is finally available on CD! It’s a pity that selections from the BLACK EMANUELLE 2 and BLACK EMANUELLE, WHITE EMANUELLE soundtracks couldn’t be included (save for an instrumental piece from EMANUELLE 2 on a compilation CD, neither have been available anywhere to my knowledge), but this is a strictly Nico Fidenco collection. The CD is almost worth the price of buying the boxed set, but then again, looking at the films that come with it, perhaps not…! (Casey Scott)