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Director: Joe D'Amato
Severin Films

Fans of the genre have come to expect a number of nuts and bolts from the numerous cannibal films churned out of Italy in the 1970s and early 1980s. Animal mutilation, hot tropical climates, ample nudity, castration and an abundance of hungry natives devouring the flesh and entrails of their hapless victims, are fundamental for any fan of such gut-munching good times. While watching PAPAYA, you get the distinct impression that Joe D'Amato was presented with just such a list, agreed upon it, but quickly forgot all about it. All the prerequisites are there, but they are in such a minimal supply, that anyone with expectations of viewing a film on par with JUNGLE HOLOCAUST or MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY will be greatly disappointed. On the other hand, if you familiar with D'Amato’s Emanuelle films, and are looking for a sleazy and steamy softcore romp through the tropics, PAPAYA is going to be right up your ally.

Papaya (Melissa Chimenti, billed only as Melissa) is a sultry island native who has found favor with a visiting business man. Papaya’s insatiable appetite has left the grateful tourist exhausted in bed, but he quickly gets a second wind when Papaya returns to their coastal hut from sunbathing topless. Intertwined in passion, Papaya teases her new friend by rubbing fresh fruit all over his groin before graciously cleaning up the resulting mess. The traveler's sexual pleasure quickly turns to pain and shock, as Papaya bites down and flees the hut, leaving her former companion alone with his manhood. Elsewhere on the island newspaper reporter Sara (THE BEAST IN SPACE) is taking in a cock fight, when she is spotted by a former associate. Vincent (Maurice Poli, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON) has come to the island to build a nuclear power plant, construction of which has had to relocated a number of annoyed natives. The two quickly cut through any formalities and make their way back to Vincent’s cabin to catch up on old times. It is in Vincent’s cabin that Sara uncovers the body of Papaya’s former lover, burnt and discarded on the bathroom floor.

Anxious to forget such a horrible experience, the couple hops in a jeep for a drive up the coast. As the two attempt to rekindle the romance that finding a charred corpse so often will extinguish, they come upon a hitchhiking Papaya. Intrigued by her sensual beauty, the two accept her invitation to a religious ceremony that few outsiders have ever bared witness to. Transporting Papaya to her village, the pair is quickly disoriented by their new surroundings. Eventually they are lead to the site of the sacred stone circle, just as the ceremony is about to begin. After sipping from goblets of blood, Sara and Vincent stand stunned as two massive pigs, hanging from the ceiling, are gutted in front of a congregation of masked villagers. A dazed and confused male is then brought out on a large table to the center of the ceremony, where a village elder suddenly and without gesture, cuts the beating heart from the man’s pale chest. Shaken, the two tourists stand motionless as the ceremony abruptly breaks into an orgy of rhythmic dancing. The couple blacks out as they are surrounded by the tribal dancers, only to recover in an unfamiliar location on the island. A short time passes when Sara is forcibly separated from Vincent and locked up in an abandoned kitchen. Left to her own devises, Sara contemplates her fate and attempts of escape, eager to get to Vincent before Papaya does.

The simple fact that it is Italian and has the word “Cannibal” in its title, is enough for most cult fans to presume that PAPAYA should be filed next to such vomit inducing opuses as CANNIABL HOLOCAUST or DEEP RIVER SAVAGES. In actuality, PAPAYA would be more accurately marketed as a humid, softcore sexploitation picture. Exhibited and distributed under a variety of titles, Severin Films have chosen PAPAYA: LOVE GODDESS OF THE CANNIBALS to market this release and wisely so, as it is by far the most attention grabbing of his varied names. The print used for this release however features a considerably more appropriate moniker, CARIBBEAN PAPAYA. A far more fitting title as there is an abundance of Papaya and Caribbean locations, in comparison to scenes of cannibalism. While the cringe-inducing opening does have Papaya performing a prehistoric castration on a particularly clueless Caucasian, she never swallows. Instead spitting out the member, which resembles a bratwurst covered in Heinz ketchup, into the corner of the beachside hut. The only time that a human actually partakes of another’s flesh, is during the crazed “Disco Cannibal Blood Orgy”, where it is the head priest alone who takes but a single bite out of the heart of a reluctant sacrifice.

Melissa Chimenti makes for a striking screen beauty and Joe D'Amato does a remarkable job of highlighting her many talents. You have to give the man credit, he may not always know how to string together a cohesive plot, but he knows exactly how to frame a lesbian love scene for maximum effect. Topless for the majority of the film, Melissa stands out among the small cast, as Papaya is the only character that shows any type of emotion, save for screaming in pain. Especially in contrast with Sirpa Lane, famous for a scandalous performance in Walerian Borowczyk THE BEAST and a headlining role in Roger Vadim's CHARLOTTE. Sirpa's lifeless, often expressionless performance tends to blend into its surroundings and you often forget that she is even there, unless of course she happens to be nude. Eye catching from a distance, close up Sirpa is a little dead behind the eyes and has a forehead that just might be big enough to cover up the massive holes in the film's logic. Maurice Poli is a noticeable face from a handful of Mario Bava films and appears to be having a superb time filming in a tropical location with two scantly clad actresses. Who can blame him? While Maurice never breaks from his smug character, even during numerous nude scenes (if I never see his flaccid member again, it will be too soon) he, like Sirpa, are constantly overshadowed by Melissa in every scene that they share. Your eyes just can help but be drawn to the dark skinned beauty.

Offered anamorphic widescreen in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the presentation is respectable save for a few minor faults. Several scenes boast the trademark softcore soft focus, but otherwise, picture quality is nice and well-detailed. There is some scattered debris and few instances where the picture flickers for a moment, but such errors by no means distract from D’Amato’s framing, which varies from breathtaking shots of tropical backdrops to tracking shots that feel as if the cameraman is running to catch up with a scene that started without him. The mono English post-synched audio is suburb and does a wonderful service to Stelvio Cipriani’s groovy score. Save for a single trailer, which plays like a highlight reel of the film's choice nude scenes, this is a barebones release that really could have benefited from the inclusion of the film’s soundtrack. I can’t imagine PAPAYA being one tenth as enjoyable without Stelvio Cipriani’s wondrous score, an infectious number of tunes that often have no relation to the action on screen, yet somehow manage to not only fit, but enhance the ongoing action as well. While I understand that it may not have financially feasible to include such a CD, special mention should at the very least have been made of its contribution. One that lifts what might have been another throwaway bump-and-grind picture, into an infectious groove of nubile flesh and Caribbean landscapes. (Jason McElreath)