Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Emanuelle and Joanna / Il mondo porno di due sorelle (1979)

So, here we are, nearly ten years in to writing for this site, and it would look like I’m finally getting around to covering an Emmanuelle movie… Well, not quite… In fact, Emanuelle and Joanna seems to me to be an anti-Emmanuelle movie, since I believe the literary Emmanuelle is mainly about embracing and normalizing sexual taboos. Whereas the protagonist in Emanuelle and Joanna is haunted by sexual taboos and is seemingly punished for her altruism by providence, or the scriptwriter if you prefer. I felt it was much too negative to be in line with the sexually positive but still iconoclastic spirit of the writings of Emmanuelle Arsan (Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane) and to me had a little more in common with the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Emanuelle and Joanna, who I’m assuming are the two women seen on the movie poster engaging in what is surely a kind of esoteric sex ritual, aren’t even in the movie. The lead sisters, alluded to in the film's Italian title, are Emanuela (Sherry Buchanan) and Giovanna (Paola Montenero). I don’t feel duped at all though, because this is the kind of shit I go for, a pleasing dark piece of dated erotica that sends its protagonist down a rabbit-hole of perverts.

This trashy variation of Belle de Jour is spoiled forbidden fruit that I’m not ashamed of indulging in. It is cheap Italian sleaze, written and directed by Franco Rossetti, that I would also like to argue still has artistic merit, mainly in how the dreams and brothel scenes are filmed. The unlikely mix of the weird and randomly perverse with the deep and emotional make this a curiosity worth hanging on to. The best parts are, of course, Emanuela’s visits to her sister Giovanna’s brothel funhouse and also Emanuela’s dreams and the way they portray her troubled psych. 

Emanuela is in a problematic marriage with her abusive creep of a husband Roberto (Brunello Chiodetti). He’s a sociopath who thinks he can jokingly charm his way through his faults, but everyone who knows him seems to know how much of an ass he is and that he’s an unreliable husband to the sweet and charitable Emanuela. She’s unhappily subservient to his whims. Sex with her husband is non-negotiable, as he expects her to submit to him without considering what she wants. He reminds me a lot of Simon Andreu’s character from The Blood Spattered Bride (1972).


It’s rumored that she tolerates him because she’s a masochist. This is incorrect, as it’s revealed through her dreams that she is legitimately in despair, but there’s a ray of light in her nightmare world in the form of a vision of a boy she longed for from her college days. There's a relatable feeling here in Emanuela's dreams, a tendency to retreat to a nostalgic past when the present makes you unhappy. But sometimes the romanticized past isn’t always so great either. 

Emanuela’s mother (Catherine Zago) is concerned about Emanuela’s sister Giovanna, whom she seems to have lost all contact with. One morning she is urging Emanuela to contact her sister. This scene is supposed to be serious, but to give you an idea of the randomness of the silly sleaze on display, during this part, when Emanuela steps out of the room, briefly, Emanuela’s young butler walks up to her mother while holding a drink tray, and instead of reaching for a drink her mother reaches under the tray for the butler’s crotch and begins to grope him, as the butler starts to nervously quiver and the tray shivers and shakes. Emanuela walks back in to the room and her mother quickly lets go of the butler and grabs her drink, without Emanuela even noticing she just assaulted her butler. Emanuela actually catches him later in the movie at her mom’s dwelling, much to her dismay.


On her mother’s insistence, Emanuela tracks her sister down at a brothel that she happens to lord over. When she visits, Giovanna and her assistant Angela (Angela La Vorgna) literally force Emanuela on a grand tour of her brothel that is like a funhouse of random perversions and kinks. The scene with the middle-aged man-baby is really something else. He is being nursed by a dominatrix Rosella (Marina Hedman), someone Emanuela actually knows. Naïve Emanuela is taken from room to room to be perturbed by a variety of sexual proclivities she apparently was previously ignorant of. Every sexual taboo, associated with certain characters, haunts Emanuela later that night in a fabulous menacing dream sequence, where the brothel funhouse becomes more like a madhouse. It’s all too much for her until the man-of-her-dreams, her old college crush, appears front and center, emitting a virtuous light that drives back the dark vice-filled perversions, seemingly offering her salvation from her twisted life. Problem is, in reality, this person apparently died years ago.


When, one day, at random, Emanuela comes across someone who has the exact likeness to the boy-of-her-dreams, Paulo (?), she is instinctively generous to him, with high hopes that he’ll be a part of her life. Paulo lives in poverty and works the streets selling packets of coloring pens. Through her connections, Emanuela gets him a job, and later during the celebration, Paulo and his hippie friends end up repaying her in the cruelest way. Her shining light and savior actually turns out to be just another scoundrel, possibly even worse than her husband. She can’t seem to cut a break. The kind and caring Emanuela seems doomed to suffer tortures dealt to her by providence. She’s a little like de Sade’s Justine in this way. The only one who is welcoming to her, and not in the most helpful way, is her sister.


Giovanna confesses to Emanuela that she is a simple sadomasochist, claiming a need to inflict and receive pain, so much so that she felt a need to manage, direct, and organize violence; hence her position as the head mistress of one of the freakiest pleasure houses. She attributes the origin of her hypersexuality to a time when she and Emanuela were children and secretly witnessed their mother having a sexual affair with the gardener before the mother goes upstairs to satiate her appetite even further by sexually engaging with their, unknowing, father immediately afterwards. Giovanna then suggests that both sisters were conceived from different fathers. The corrupted born from the immoral affair, the other born from the sexual encounter within the confines of marriage, bringing to my mind that de Sadean contrast of vice and virtue, i.e. Juliette and Justine.


I also like to think there is a quick ode to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs here, when Emanuela visits her husband’s work associate, Andrea (Daniele Dublino), during the time she is trying to help Paolo find a job. Andrea, the bald and graceful piano player, with a wicked scar under his eye, has a deep attraction to Emanuela. (I honestly felt like he had a suspicious Ernst Stavro Blofeld vibe to him). When she negotiates with Andrea to help her friend Paulo find employment, Andrea, a little like Severin from ViF, responds by waxing poetically about how attracted he is to Emanuela and thinks of her as a Goddess. Emanuela is even draped in furs during this part. He then offers to help her if she’ll permit him to indulge in a voyeuristic fantasy he’s always had of spying on her through a keyhole while she is in the bathroom, to which she obliges. The erotic POV shot through a keyhole frame during this part is pleasantly tasteful.


Emanuele and Joanna does culminate into a kind of rape/revenge style conclusion for Emanuela’s husband, while Emanuela submits to what the title eludes to and likely what everyone watching this in the ‘70s and ‘80s was hoping for. I can’t say it, because even I have my limits when it comes to sexual taboos. The ending is more fleshed out in the Italian language version, whereas a lot of the ending was edited out from the dubbed English version, yet there are different parts cut from both versions, so it’s still best to watch both, in that something missing from one version can still be found in the other. 

Much of the movie is made so beautiful by the piano theme by Enzo Petti which is essentially the main theme to the movie. That recurring romantic melody just moves my soul and gives some of the scenes a certain grandiose feel that they probably don’t deserve. It’s so bitchin’ that I even find myself sometimes air-pianoing to it. 


Emanuelle and Joanna might seem a little too cheap and sleazy for one to really try and find anything meaningful in it, but despite this I thought there still ended up being many meaningful and memorable parts, which is kind of what made it a surprising delight to me. I thought Sherry Buchanan really played Emanuela with such sweetness and vulnerability that you really do care about her. She’s caring and kind-hearted and deserves so much better than the cruel existence Rossetti has fabricated for her. Paola Montenero is a nice dark counterpart to Emanuela as her vice-fueled sister Giovanna, who has this kind of cold indifference about her. Her motives are questionable since she seemed to be behind some of Emanuela’s torments and misfortunes, but Giovanna also offers Emanuela help at getting back at her husband. Giovanna’s brothel and how it was interpreted as a kind of freakshow by Emanuela was one of the biggest things that kept me coming back to this movie and is largely why I’m trying to sell it, although I’m quite aware that it probably isn’t for everyone, but if kinky weirdness and partially forgotten (that should not be forgotten) Euro-erotica are your jam, you might want to check this one out. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Candle for the Devil / Una vela para el diablo (1973)

“The pleasures I tried to deprive myself of assailed my mind more ardently…” –Madame de Saint-Ange (Marquis de Sade)

I feel like A Candle for the Devil (aka It Happened at Nightmare Inn) from Spanish filmmaker Eugenio Martin, director of the astounding Horror Express (1972) and the rare gem Aquella casa en las afueras (1980), was that demented shocker I was always looking for when I was channel surfing as a kid looking to satiate my thirst for something twisted with big bloody kitchen knives and bloody nightgowns. It’s also an intelligent and thought-provoking film with enough memorable moments to prevent anyone who watches it from entirely forgetting about it. I had only seen it twice, in its cut and uncut version, but for years it had been stored in my memory as a truly special Spanish horror film that I knew I would revisit someday to write about.

After I first watched it, I remember feeling cheated out of the definitive experience of A Candle for the Devil after finding out the version I watched titled It Happened at Nightmare Inn from a bargain DVD box set was heavily cut, omitting the graphic violence and nudity. I still thought it was a pretty sweet film even in its censored form, but of course that’s not the version I wanted for my collection, and so I later ordered off for a DVD-R containing the uncut A Candle for the Devil, with Esperanza Roy’s (from Return of the Evil Dead (1973)) nude scenes thankfully intact. The film has since been released on Blu-ray in 2015 by Scorpion Releasing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Devil in the Flesh / Venus in Furs (1969)

“Have you heard about the lonesome loser, beaten by the Queen of Hearts every time?” -Little River Band 

The book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch Venus in Furs (1870) is a great inspiration to those of us who wish to be better poets for the women we love, the women we worship, the women we want to be dominated and enslaved by in the bedroom. I found a lot to relate to from Masoch’s writing, but I was kind of bummed that the book turned out to be a cautionary tale in the end. (Way to kink-shame, Book.)
Massimo Dallamano, cowriter and director of one of the best gialli ever made, What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), directed a couple good modern adaptations of Victorian era books: the aforementioned Venus in Furs and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde. Dallamano’s Dorian Gray from 1970 really feels updated for its era, trying something a little bit different while remaining faithful to the spirit of the novel. The same could be said of the Dallamano directed Devil in the Flesh (aka Venus in Furs, not to be confused with the Jess Franco film of the same name, from the same year).

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Justine (2016)

“Justine, your prison was my kingdom come.” -Virgin Steele 

Were it not for Jess Franco, I probably would not have had even a passing interest in the writings of eighteenth century troublemaker Marquis de Sade, Donatien Alphonse Franҫois, but thanks to Franco films like Marquis de Sade’s Justine (1969), Eugenie (1970), Eugenie de Sade (1973), and this prominent S&M aesthetic very much characteristic to a lot of Franco’s films (as well as Renato Polselli’s), it was only a matter of time before I would wonder: “why the hell am I not reading de Sade?”. Reading a book by de Sade had been on my bucket list for a good six or seven years. (It didn’t help that I was partially turned off by de Sade after watching Pier Paolo Passolini’s Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) due to the film’s shocking depictions of cruelty and grossness that the Jess Franco films rarely reached). 

Well, I finally read my first de Sade novel, recently, titled Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue (1791), and it was all kinds of fucked up. It was cruel, disgusting, evil, sickeningly disagreeable… And I could hardly put it down. I won’t go as far as to call it a horror novel, but a lot of the sadists poor Justine encounters are outright terrifying, especially the head-cutter character. De Sade seemed to pull no punches. He morally outraged to the extreme and probably intended to.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Assignment Terror / Los monstruos del terror (1970)

Halloween always gets me in the mood for the classic Universal monsters, so I thought I would revisit a Spanish monster mash-up (done in the vein of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) and House of Frankenstein (1944)) that I had not seen in over ten years.

Assignment Terror is one of the Paul Naschy films I revisited the least for some reason. Naschy wrote and starred in it, but at the same time I couldn’t help thinking it needed a little more Naschy. Paul Naschy’s scripts usually come off as real personal projects, but, even with the presence of the Universal monsters that inspired Naschy’s childhood love for horror, I didn’t quite feel that as much with Assignment Terror. But to be fair, it is quite early in Naschy’s filmography. Plus, I can see how Naschy might’ve thought it best to have his tragic lycanthrope character Waldemar Daninsky step aside a little to make room for the other classic monsters. In the end, it still ends up being Naschy’s show and what I think is an alright old-school monster movie that has got a few neat tricks up its sleeve. The whole thing is of course messy and flawed but also kind of whacky and fun.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Macumba Sexual (1983)

For me, going back to Macumba Sexual is going back to my Jess Franco origins, as it was the second Jess Franco film I ever saw, the first being Mansion of the Living Dead (1982). I came across both Severin DVDs of these films at a video store in 2007 and took a chance with Mansion first even though I was expecting it to be terrible (I had heard of Jess Franco and a not so revered zombie movie by the name of Oasis of the Zombies (1982)). At the time, I was desperate for something new, and I was sort of fascinated by the cheap looking blind dead Templar rip-offs on the DVD cover (Diet Tombs of the Blind Dead?). My expectations were low, but it turned out to be a funny, sexy, ultra-weird, and surprisingly atmospheric horror movie with a captivating lead actress, Lina Romay (born Rosa Maria Almirall). I shortly went back to the store for Macumba Sexual and, despite some frustrations, have been hooked on Jess Franco ever since (thanks Severin!).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Evil Eye / Malocchio (1975)

Evil Eye is that kind of movie that gracefully tries to do it all but ends up not really knowing what to do with itself afterwards. When looking at the film as a whole, it feels like a nice recap of the enduring motifs of the giallo, occult, gothic horror, and erotica film, and for that it will surely find a place in the hearts of Eurocult fans (it certainly has for me), but it’s hard to tell if it is a work of genius, a mistake of a masterpiece, or just an empty, routine cash-in. Is it great or not-great? I honestly have referred to it as both.
The Spanish, Italian, Mexican co-production Evil Eye (aka Mal de ojo in Spain, Malocchio and Eroticofollia in Italy, and Más allá del exorcismo in Mexico) is directed and co-written by Mario Siciliano. It was also co-written by Spanish writers Julio Buchs and Federico De Urrutia. Interestingly, Buchs and De Urrutia have several co-writing credits together, such as Alta tension (1972) and A Bullet for Sandoval (1969), many of which Buchs directed. Evil Eye seems to be the very last film either writer worked on. Julio Buchs died in 1973 before the film was released.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Sex of Angels / Il sesso degli angeli (1968)

This wicked looking poster for the nominally X-rated Italian/German drama The Sex of Angels and the Google plot synopsis, which reads “young women steal a yacht and kidnap a young man and spend a weekend having sex and doing drugs,” really aren’t all that misleading, although there’s a lot more to the story. The poster also exaggerates the situation, as what is depicted is rather the result of a conundrum brought on by irresponsibility followed by an even more irresponsible course of action. 

The setup to The Sex of Angels is, of course, an appealing one to the male fancy. Being seized by three beautiful modern-day angels and taken on a boat ride into the endless summer of ’68? Why not? It sounds like a good time, and for the most part it is, but in trying to postulate what the film might be trying to say with its outcome, I can’t help but put it in the context of ‘60s youth counter culture and the sexual revolution and see it as a cautionary tale of seduction and widespread use of LSD and what I thought was a kind of critical impression of the behaviors of the “sexually liberated.”
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