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)

 

The Art of Love

The Art of Love (Walerian Borowczyk, 1983)

 Borowczyk’s THE ART OF LOVE takes the “make love not war” message to Ancient Rome (as Aristophanes’ LYSISTRATA did for the Greeks).  After a title sequence depicting a bathing Marina Pierro (the most memorable and beguiling of the director’s screen muses), Borowczyk quickly sets up his oppositions.  General Macarius’ (Michele Placido, LA ORCA) return to Rome from Gaule with fanfare but his thunder is stolen by Ovid (Massimo Girotti, BARON BLOOD) whose class – instructs his students in the “art of love” from wooing to copulation – draws the attendance of much of Rome’s young population (and Ovid must close the shutters to prevent the marching band from drowning out his lecture).  At home, while a restless Macarius is seen unconscious stroking the feathers of his helmet by his bedside, his wife Claudia is in the throws of an erotic dream.  Both are woken by the pet parrot Telemachus’ cry of the name Cornelius.  Macarius’ homecoming it turns out is only brief as is shortly to return to Gaule leaving Claudia supposedly in the company of his mother Clio (Laura Betti, TEOREMA) only.  What he does not know is that the aforementioned Cornelius is one of Ovid’s students decided to put his master’s teaching into practice in wooing Claudia with the help of her housekeeper Sepora (Mireille Pame) who arranges for their clandestine meetings.  When Macarius finds out that he is being cuckolded, Ovid’s fate is sealed (the film is set in 8 AD, the year that Emperor Augustus had Ovid banished to the Black Sea because his works including “The Art of Love” promoted adultery which ran counter to the Julian Marriage Laws of 18 BC).

The plot is pretty straightforward but Borowczyk’s treatment of it is the point of interest as usual.  He is less concerned with the narrative than the opportunity it provides to examine the sexual obsessions and erotic material culture of the setting.  One of Claudia and Cornelius’ escorted meetings takes place in a museum of erotic statuary Sepora for which shows a tactile appreciation (she also keeps the statue of a phallic god in her cabinet for worship).  Claudia writes a message for Cornelius on Sepora’s back in invisible ink.  One of Claudia’s daydreams has her inside a hollow cow statue to be mounted by a man in a bull mask.  Other episodes include the initially funny cuckolding of a general (Philippe Lemaire, THE BLOOD ROSE) by his much younger wife which ends in murder to Macarius’ own mother (what did you expect with Laura Betti in the role?) pawing a drunken youth as well as a pregnant widow (Placido’s wife at the time, Stefania Stefanelli of THE GODFATHER) who attends Ovid’s class and gives birth during the apocalyptic finale.

Despite Borowczyk’s usual attention to such detail, THE ART OF LOVE is not one of his best films.  It lacks the audacity of THE BEAST or IMMORAL TALES or the intimacy of his later THE STREETWALKER and LOVE RITES (also featuring Pierro) and fits in with middle-of-the-road fare like IMMORAL WOMEN (well, the second and third tale, the first is a masterpiece), his contribution to PRIVATE COLLECTIONS, and BEHIND CONVENT WALLS.  Performances cannot be faulted (Pierro, Placido, Girotti, Pame, and Betti are all excellent) and the cinematography is up to Borowczyk’s usual standards (not slick and not intended as such but with an eye for composition and delicate lighting) though Luis Enrique Bacalov’s (DJANGO) score is not particularly memorable aside from a disco tune that plays out on the end titles (which is inappropriate to the period but fitting in the context of eighties Euro erotica).

According to IMMORAL TALES, there was quite a bit of producer interference in the making of the film including faked letters from Borowczyk giving the producer’s permission to add mismatched orgy footage from Joe D’Amato’s CALIGULA 2 (present here in coarser condition and lacking the more explicit shots although this seems to be common to all English versions) although this footage is framed as Macarius’s repressed dream so the mismatched footage may work for some.  While the film’s modern epilogue could have used book-ending prologue footage, it doesn’t really make much sense either way as it features archaeology student Claudia being woken up in her car by a priest (Macarius) who then gives him a lift only for him to discover a newspaper article about a love triangle involving Claudia, another archaeology student (Cornelius), and an archaeologist (Ovid) that ended in the murder of the latter.

Serverin’s DVD of THE ART OF LOVE is not the expected improvement over previous transfers.  Although anamorphic, the picture quality is not much better than the previous non-anamorphic Greek newsstand (which I own) and Dutch DVDs (going by the comparison screencap at DVDBeaver).  As with Cult Epic’s DVD of LOVE RITES, Borowczyk’s deliberately soft-focus cinematography and diffuse lighting styles are always going to play havoc with MPEG2 encoding – particularly on a single-layer disc – but the quality of the master may also be to blame.  The disc does run at the correct 24 fps running time (1:36:24 versus the Greek discs 1:32:33).  The 1.77:1 is also too severe and throws off Borowcyzk’s careful compositions (the Dutch DVD was letterboxed at 1.60:1 and the Greek at 1.64:1).

As with HANNA D., we can probably blame rights holder Filmexport for the cropping.  Audio quality is comparable to the older transfers in that dialogue and music are clear but the dubbing really takes away from this one (although Marina Pierro is dubbed by Pat Starke on the English track).  Extras on the Severin disc are limited to a poor quality Italian theatrical trailer (also present on the Greek disc) which is 4:3 letterboxed (looking a bit cropped) within a 16:9 frame.  Interestingly, while the film’s credits state “Ugo Tucci presents” the trailer says “Ugo Tucci e Camillo Teti presentano” (Teti is known to Eurocult viewers as the director of THE KILLER IS STILL AMONG US).

Although Severin’s DVD is imperfect, it is probably the most accessible disc of the English language version as the typically overpriced Japanese DVD was optically fogged (and, like the Dutch DVD, is long out of print) while the Greek disc was only distributed on news-stands but pops up infrequently on eBay (though when it does, its relatively cheap).

 

(Eric Cotenas)

 

The Alcove

The Alcove (Joe D’Amato, 1993)

 In 1936 Italy, Elio (Ali Cliver, ZOMBI 2) returns home from Africa with a present for his wife in the form of Zerbal (Laura Gemser, BLACK EMANUELLE), the daughter of a tribal king.  Unbeknownst to him, his neglected wife Alessandra (Lili Carati, CANDIDO EROTICO) has formed a lesbian relationship with Elio’s otherwise frigid secretary Velma (Annie Belle, LAURE) who is less than pleased at Elio’s return (especially when he gets drunk and forces himself on her).  Neither woman immediately takes to Zerbal nor Elio’s disapproving son Furio (Roberto Caruso, THE CHURCH) who is quietly attracted to Velma.  Elio turns Zerbal over to Alessandra “body and soul” and she becomes Alessandra’s model while Velma is busy transcribing Elio’s memoirs (the proceeds from which he will pay off his many creditors).  Elio – who is making little progress with his manuscript – returns the belongings of a fallen comrade to his widow only to discover that the dead man was a stag filmmaker and decides to produce some of his own to make money with Alessandra, Velma, and Zerbal as the cast.  Slowly, the subservient and much-abused catalyst Zerbal gains sexual and psychological dominance over Elio, Alessandra, even managing to turn them against Velma who becomes an unwilling participant in one of his stag films directed by Zerbal.  Velma in turn appeals to Furio to free Elio and Alessandra from Zerbal’s influence.

Although regarded as one of the D’Amato’s best Filmirage-era erotica entries, THE ALCOVE is a frustrating movie.  Scripted by Ugo Moretti (Lenzi’s ORGASMO), the period detail is well-sustained and the cast is attractive but the plot takes a sudden hypocritical turn from Gemser doing her exotic femme fatale giving the despicable Elio, racist Alessandra, and jealous Velma what they deserve (this is certainly no BLACK EVA) to a gallant Furio comforting Velma and rescuing his father and stepmother from the evil influence of Zerbal who may be nefarious but her comeuppance is not so satisfying since she’s had our sympathy for the first half as the exploited victim.  Early on, the script is fairly sophisticated for softcore erotica.  Zerbal is constantly underestimated as being “just a savage” and “a feline creature” who doesn’t know what she is doing or why.

As it progresses, we start to wonder if Zerbal’s “Go and get yourself fucked” is simply her misuse of one of the phrases Elio taught her or her intended greeting to Alessandra and if her acquiescence to Elio’s turning her subservience over to Alessandra was ever sincere.  During a discussion with Furio of Elio’s African victories which upsets Zerbal, Alessandra points out that history is shaped by the victors and no one takes an interest in the perspective of the losers only after she has become enchanted by Zerbal’s body.

While Gemser is a commanding presence as always, Cliver is rather nondescript without Nick Alexander’s dubbing while Belle’s presence is diminished by the covering of her trademark short, cropped hairdo (whether dark as in LIPS OF BLOOD or platinum blonde as in LAURE and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) with a more period-suitable long wig.  Carati fares better in later scenes when Alessandra is totally psychologically dependent on Zerbal.  Instead of Filmirage regular synth composer Carlo Maria Cordio, Manuel de Sica (DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE) contributes a suitable-to-the-period score.  The Filmirage erotica entries were divided between modern-day entries of lesser quality such as the dire TOP MODEL and ELEVEN DAYS, ELEVEN NIGHTS and better period entries including this, THE PLEASURE (also featuring Carati), ROOM OF WORDS (a New Orleans-set version of the Henry Miller/Anais Nin story popularized by HENRY & JUNE), PEEPSHOW (a take on BELLE DU JOUR), and one or two others.  While the sex scenes are very standard for eighties softcore erotica, the stag film footage crosses the line into hardcore (and probably was cut from the UK release).  Although flawed, THE ALCOVE has the best combination of elements in terms of casting and settings.

Severin’s anamorphic widescreen transfer of the English version of THE ALCOVE is a satisfying rendition with a clear transfer (excepting the intentional softness of Joe D’Amato’s cinematography, here billed under his Filmirage cinematographer pseudonym Frederiko Slonisko) and good mono audio (dialogue is clear and hiss is only apparent during passages with only music).  Grain is heavy enough in some interiors and dark exteriors but that is likely the original cinematography.  Although a 1.66:1 aspect ratio would have offered a bit more headroom in some of D’Amato’s artier compositions, the 1.78:1 matting is not as ruinous here as it was on Severin’s Filmexport-licensed THE ART OF LOVE and HANNA D.

The rare theatrical trailer is in worse condition and seems to be taken from an old videotape.  The English-language D’Amato interview comes from grainy, fuzzy VHS as well but it is quite interesting (the augmenting film clips range from VHS quality to newer digital masters which may explain why the 4:3 video interview has been inserted into a 16:9 palette). The film has also been released in Italy by Avofilm who distributed the film on VHS in the eighties but the quality of their DVD product has been spotty (including a panned-and-scanned NEW YORK RIPPER when the rest of the world had anamorphic widescreen editions) and in Germany in a 4:3 letterbox version with forced German subtitles when the English track is selected.  Although some may covet the German edition’s hardbox clamshell, Severin’s newer edition looks like the winner.

                                                                                                                          (Eric Cotenas)