Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals

Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals (Joe D’Amato, 1978)

aka Papaya dei Caraibi / Caribbean Papaya

Industrialist Vincent (Maurice Poli, RABID DOGS), in the Caribbean to erect a power plant, runs into reporter Sarah (Sirpa Lane, THE BEAST) at a cockfight. Their hotel tryst is interrupted by the discovery of the charred body of one of Vincent’s associates left for them to find in his hotel room. Vincent and Sarah decide to get away for a couple days and explore the area where the plant is supposed to be built. They pick up sultry Papaya (Melissa Chimenti, REVELATIONS OF A PSYCHIATRIST) who, unbeknownst to them, was the lover of the dead man (we, of course, are privy to this thanks to the opening Stelvio Cipriani-scored bump-and-grind session capped off by the sort of mutilation one comes across often in cannibal-themed films) who asks them to take her to her village where the “Feast of the Round Stone” is supposed to take place.

They spy her again in the midst of a parade and surmise that she wishes them to follow her to the secret location of the ceremony (which they do despite revealing to us that the village they are in is populated by those who had to leave the site of the future power plant). Vincent and Sarah are given a hallucinogenic drink (director/cinematographer D’Amato catches their reflections in the red liquid as they raise it to their mouths) and participate in the ceremony which includes the gutting of two already (thankfully) dead pigs, followed by the subsequent gutting of a white male.

The ceremony then segues into what has been described elsewhere as the “disco blood orgy” and, having seen it, there really is no other way to describe it; Cipriani’s score is disco as are the not-particularly-tribal gyrations (the only thing missing is a mirrorball). Vincent and Sarah wake up to the bedside manner of Papaya who even bathes them. While Papaya makes love to Vincent, Sarah is abducted by the other islanders (whose numbers include the police) who are much more strategically organised than Vincent and Sarah (and the audience) had realised. Sarah escapes but is unable to convince Vincent that Papaya has similar plans for him as she did for her previous lover.

With PAPAYA, D’Amato provides an interesting twist on not only the voodoo/cannibal genre in general but also his own Caribbean films. Although both opposing sides in the film make the tradition versus progress argument, the white characters are slaves to their primal desires and the natives are well organised like an action committee that one wonders how much of the Feast of the Round Stone is tradition and how much of it is for the benefit of their exotica-seeking targets. As such, it plays more like a thriller than D’Amato’s other voodoo-flavoured erotica. While there is copious nudity, the sex scenes linger only long enough to spice up the scenario and the cannibal element is even more peripheral (seeming like a concession to make it saleable as both erotica and as an Italian cannibal film). D’Amato’s style as cinematographer in conjunction with editor Vincenzo Tomassi–who was just as much a D’Amato regular as he was a collaborator with Fulci–provide us with the type of dynamically-edited sex scenes regular viewers of D’Amato’s films are familiar with from his BLACK EMANUELLE films.

Severin’s DVD seems to be the first time the English language version of PAPAYA (bearing the title CARIBBEAN PAPAYA) has been available (legitimate or grey market); even the scarce English dub of D’Amato’s PORNO ESOTIC LOVE scored a Greek tape release. The usual suspects of English dubbing are here: Lane is dubbed by Carolyn de Fonseca and Poli by Ted Rusoff (who was still dubbing lead roles as recently as Bruno Mattei’s DV movies). The previous DVD from X-Rated Kult Video presented the film in with German audio only and lacked the title sequence (Video Search of Miami’s tape/DVD-R release added English subtitles to the German version). The English titles seem to have been overlayed a few minutes too late. After two minutes of Chimenti sunning herself on the sand to Cipriani’s score, as soon as the title card appears the score fades and the rest of the credits appear over the first scene. Since the titles sequence itself runs 2 minutes, I’m led to believe that the titles were meant to be overlayed at the start of the film.

The anamorphic 1.78:1 image probably looks as good as it can as the quality seems to vary depending on the likely amount of control D’Amato as cinematographer had on the lighting (i.e., the Italian soundstage interiors and sunny Caribbean exteriors look sharp and colourful but grain pops up as soon as the camera pans into the shadows cast by the palm trees). The back cover has a Dolby Surround logo and a diagram suggesting 2.1 audio but the audio reads as 2.0 audio. Other reviews refer to it as mono audio but the reviewers might have missed those details on the cover (I didn’t really notice much directional effects but the audio is full-bodied). The only extra is a theatrical trailer.

(Eric Cotenas)