MANGIATI VIVI: Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

Legend has it that David Cronenberg for the idea for the torture TV channel that lends its name to his opus Videodrome from this Joe D’Amato film, which is also known as Trap Them and Kill Them. Think of this — a film that upset Cronenberg for its mash-up of snuff, cannibalism and sex. Take it from me. This one totally lives up to its promise. Or lives down. You almost have to appreciate it for how lurid it is, as if it just screams at you, “I am the kind of movie you should feel ashamed for watching.”

First, a history lesson. This film isn’t about the French film Emmanuelle, which starred Sylvia Kristel and had an extra “m” in the title. Nope, that series was made to cash in on the trend and features Laura Gemser, an Indonesian-Dutch actress who is more dark brown than black. But why quibble? This is exploitation filmmaking, after all. The Black Emanuelle films follow the formula of the original, all about a young woman discovering her sexual identity. But I have no idea how they morphed into a series where she becomes an investigative journalist who increasingly discovers more and more depraved behavior. Is there a thin line between swingers clubs and cannibals in the jungle? I would hope that there is. After five increasingly batshit Joe D’Amato vehicles, Gemser teamed with Bruno Mattei for two women in prison movies starring the titular heroine.

It’s really Emanuelle in America that sets up the craziness of these films, as D’Amato casts her up as a journalist that goes from learning how the rich and famous have sex to seeking out a snuff film conspiracy to giving up on journalism altogether when her story gets, well, snuffed.

Somewhere in between that picture and this one, our heroine has had a change of heart and is back in the yellow journalism game.

We start in a New York City mental hospital, where Emanuelle is undercover, looking for a lesbian nurse who is abusing her patients. Her idea of undercover is wearing lots of makeup and carrying around a stuffed animal. And how does she get her info? Well, once she learns about a girl who was raised by the Apiaca, a tribe of cannibals thought to be lost, she meets the girl and has sex with her. We realize this girl is a cannibal when she bites a girl’s nipples off within her first minute of screen time. That’s the kind of movie this is, one where the heroine makes out with a girl who just ate a piece of someone’s tit.

Again — I’m warning you. You’re in for some real scum here.

She contacts Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti, husband of Gemser who also appeared in Enter the Devil and Lisa and the Devil), a curator at the National History Museum, and gets him to join her on a visit to the Amazon. How does she convince him? Well, she has sex with him. Come on. Get with the program.

They’re also joined by several others, including Isabel, MacKenzie (Donald O’Brien, Dr. Butcher, M.D.), Sister Angela and Maggie (Nieves Navarro, All the Colors of the Dark).

The film alternates between Emanuelle in danger and Emanuelle having sex. There’s a scene that defies logic with Emanuelle and Isabel making out while a monkey steals their cigarettes, lights one up and watches. Yes. A real, honest to goodness monkey.

Look — if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching cannibal films. most of the white folks aren’t on the straight and narrow. MacKenzie is really after some diamonds and his wife, Maggie, is just here to sleep with the natives.

Soon, much like Shakespeare — if the bard had dared to make a film that combines a Cinemax After Dark film and an Italian gutmuncher — everyone dies except Isobel, Lester and our girl. She covers her body with tattoos — pay attention, Dr. Butcher, M.D. — and convinces the natives that she is a goddess. Everyone escapes on a rubber raft and gets over it, surely after plenty more sex.

Trivia note: American hardcore band Trap Them take their name from this film.

Gemser would become a costume designer after acting, working on several films, including Beyond DarknessQuest for the Mighty Sword and Door to Silence. She also created the most demented costumes ever for the movie Troll 2. And she also was responsible for this, which I found thanks to the Found Footage Festival:

Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals isn’t the kind of adult film that’ll get you in the mood, unless you’re a maniac. But when you get bloody peanut butter and sexy chocolate together, you get a movie that should not, cannot and yet does exist.

After all of that, if want to watch Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals for yourself, Shudder has it right here. Even better, Severin has just re-released this on blu-ray with all the attention that it deserves. Make that more than deserves.

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6 thoughts on “MANGIATI VIVI: Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

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