Sunday, January 25, 2015

Emanuelle in America (1977)

[Unrelated: I don't waste enough time with this blog, so I've started another one that will cover pro wrestling.  Please check it out here if you wish and thank you.]

Emmanuelle was a very successful 1974 French erotic film starring a white lady.  As happens in our world of commerce, ripoffs and spinoffs emerged.  The most successful ripoff was the Black Emanuelle series, starring the exotic blacktress Laura Gemser.  "Black" as in, yes, that kind of black, as there were practically Emanuelles for every race, like Black Jesus or Asian Santa Claus (cf. Yellow Emanuelle, which is a real thing).  Emanuelle in America was the fourth Gemser Emanuelle outing and, by this time, the series had almost gotten as weird as it was gonna get.  


Look at that set design and ass framing!  That bear literally died from happiness when this scene was shot.  Say what you will about Euro sleazemaster Joe D'Amato, he had a directorial vision.  Even when his films were pretty bad, there was usually some interesting stuff happening visually.  Unless the frame was entirely taken up with close-ups of penises lancing vaginas. 


Look at that, goddamnit!  The 70s!  A table disguised as a cigarette box makes a nice contrast to your vulva fruit paintings.  That's (black) Emanuelle and her beau having romantic times at home.  Em will soon leave on randy adventures, though.  Emanuelle in America often plays like some attention-deficient sitcom where unlikely scenarios unfold, but don't really affect anything else that might happen.  Like when Emanuelle infiltrates a harem of women owned by a rich dick!


This is after she almost gets killed by some model's boyfriend.  He delivers this line—"I'm gonna marry her and she's never gonna have to take her clothes off ever again!"—then Emanuelle gives him a blowjob until he runs away crying.  But then it's time to infiltrate the harem!  The other girls are known only by their Zodiac signs and Em's a Virgo.  Lolcats~ get it?  It's funny because she's a slut!  Anyway, Emanuelle and the girls become fast friends.  At one point, they entice her into the pool by saying, "Come on in!  It's like chicken soup!"  


She also solves the problems of a neglected harem girl while they're both glisteningly naked.  Then another girl masturbates a horse.  Yes, this really happens, unfortunately.  I kept hoping it would be a short scene with maybe just simulated horse/girl sex, but no such luck.  Joe D'Amato, you son of a bitch, you've gone too far.  Fuck the 70s for real.  As with Cannibal Holocaust, I'd counsel getting an edited copy of this if you can, as you're not really losing any of the thematic nuances of Emanuelle in America if you skip the scenes of a horse's engorged cock.


That's a palette cleanser and you're welcome.  But let's go back and ask, even if you did want to put horse masturbation into your film for some reason, why would you put it in the first thirty minutes?  Where can the film go from there?  In this case, we go to Italy, land of gondolas and the incredible Paola Senatore.  Yes, Emanuelle in America is back in Italy before half of this movie has elapsed.  Emanuelle saves a troubled marriage with her marvelous baby cannon, then jets off to a party full of transparent blouses and albino rapists.


Some parts of this movie that try to be light-hearted just play as weird and gross.  Like the girl in the giant cake who is immediately beset by an aged Senator, who apparently tries to snort her tits off.  Senators take quite a kicking in Em in Am, as we will see.


Okay, yeah, so like after the party, Emanuelle infiltrates a brothel full of male prostitutes.  The only women we see are super-attractive, btw, because hot women clearly are the most likely group to pay for sex.  Emanuelle sees something creepy while she is surreptitiously watching people bang.  It's a couple copulating in front of a movie screen, which is displaying a violent snuff film.  Emanuelle investigates this by going to DC and seducing a Senator, who has decorated his Washington home with posters for SUZANNE'S PUNISHMENT SCHOOL.  These scenes have the movie's last great line, "I should allow fluid to be spilled over me more often!"


Turns out that snuff films are real!  And Emanuelle uncovers the story!  But the newspaper refuses to print the story, so she throws a fit and storms out...


...and ends up in a song-and-dance number with some happy tribe ruled by a guy with a seashell bra.  What the fuck, Emanuelle in America?  This movie is the most schized-out thing ever filmed.  Parts of it are a blast, but other parts are extremely boring, especially the lovingly-shot penetrations near the film's end.  None of it is cohesive at all.  It's like they had ten different scripts for this project and just decided to film them all and put them together one morning.  Gemser's hot and so is Senatore and I like the set design, but some of the badder elements here are stomach-churningly bad.  Not even close to my favorite thing, but it's certainly an experience.  


**1/2

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Shadow of Chikara (1977)

Firstly, this has nothing to do with that other Chikara.  Changing its name more than a moody teenager, this obscure western/horror/action thinger is also known as Demon Mountain, The Ballad of Virgil Cane, The Curse of Demon Mountain, and (my favorite) Wishbone Cutter.  Joe Don Baker IS Wishbone Cutter in this film, a Civil War commander who sprints off after the South gets smacked down.  You'll probably know Joe Don from Walking Tall or the MST3K version of Mitchell.  Be assured that his performance style has not changed for this film.


Spoiler: The South loses the Civil War.  We see it here, inexplicably scored with The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down".  Informed of a cache of river diamonds by a dying comrade, Cutter heads out with his half-Irish/half-Indian scout Half-Moon O'Brien.  There are some very brief bursts of potential in these scenes, with the Indian delivering lines like "I don't know anything about stones, except arrowheads and flints!"


Along the way, they have all sorts of amusing adventures.  They find a presumably-raped woman in a red dress in the woods and learn that her name is Drusilla Wilcox.  This movie has wrested the absurd-name crown from Bloodsucking Freaks.  They also run into backwoods hillbilly mutants.  Parts of this seem proto-Sharknado in their apparently intentional badness.  But then other parts are just long and draggy.


According to Indian legend, the mountain is supervised by a giant eagle named Chikara.  Bad luck certainly seems to befall them once they start the upward climb.  In one horrifying scene, a bunch of horses and riders pitch off the mountain to their deaths.  Surely this is just movie magic!  If not, this film has wrested the crown of being-a-total-asshole from Cannibal Ferox.


One scene encapsulates the dull heart of the film.  Wishbone and Drusilla sit and stare blankly down a dark hole as their compatriot tries to put a bunch of diamonds in a bag.  But the first bag has a hole in it!  So they have to throw down another bag.  This takes a few minutes.  Then he drops his torch.  This is the climax of the film!  The lol is on you, the viewer, if you watch this.  So take my advice and don't.


**

Monday, January 12, 2015

As Above, So Below (2014)

Yikes, people really hated this one!  It seems found footage has become the Tara Reid of film techniques—first loved, then tolerated, and now the object of inexplicably savage scorn and mockery.  "Why would they keep on filming while they're running away?"  Really, now, would you love this movie if it built up to a monster encounter and then it ended abruptly because someone dropped the camera and ran away?  A: no, you wouldn't.  People who complain about the conceits of found footage are like people who complain about roller coasters because "they all just go up and down and in loops".  Yes, that is what roller coasters are/do!  Found footage horror has people using cameras when they probably realistically wouldn't because otherwise there wouldn't be a movie!  GNARR! 


That's Scarlett, she's an academic adventurer in the Indiana Jones vein.  Her dad died before he could find the Rose Key, but she finds it in the first few minutes of this movie.  Girl power!  Then we travel to Paris, where she enlists the aid of Aramaic expert/old bell repairer George to assist her in locating the legendary philosopher's stone.  This premise is admirably ridiculous and it's capped by a scene that will divide viewers.  George translates an Aramaic document straight into rhyming English couplets on the spot.  !!!  This is so far-fetched that it became charming to me.  I can't believe the moxy of the filmmakers/screenwriter that they just pitched this out there!


So then the pair and a cameraman meet up with some French layabouts and travel into the catacombs beneath the city.  This was filmed in the catacombs for real and the setting really serves to make the film more compelling.  The atmosphere in the dark tunnels is just delightful—you couldn't pick a better place to execute jumpy, found footage horror.  The movie quickly dives into the surreal side of horror, with hallucinatory visions of pianos and firey cars, and also more practical monster attacks.  I'm not screenshotting the monsters so as not to spoil, so enjoy the following derpy faces.


The cast acquits itself effectively, but the film's real selling point is its batty script.  It's like they scanned my brain for things I'd like and somehow put them all into this movie.  Alchemy!  Dante quotes!  Bad Siouxsie and the Banshees jokes!  It's all here.  I loved that the film doesn't explain everything to death either.  There's nothing worse than a film that presents some arcane enigma and then breaks out the PowerPoint and the laser pointers and demystifies it entirely.


This isn't as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark or [rec], but it kind of plays like a mashup of both.  I like the fast-paced action-y side of horror, so I was super-pleased about that.


If you can't stand found footage, this won't convert you.  But if you're tolerant and able to ignore the carping of crowds of critics, As Above, So Below just might find a place in your heart.


***1/4