After her romp across Bangkok and Casablanca in the previous episode, Emanuelle finally gets down to some serious investigative journalism, first infiltrating a millionaire's mansion (as the new girl in his harem, naturally) to gather evidence of illegal arms smuggling, followed by a quick visit to Venice to do a story on the decadent rich, and finally returning to the US where she goes undercover at a stud farm for rich women who like to be serviced by well hung beefcake, which leads to the discovery of so-called snuff films... Wayward plotting is one of the hallmarks of the Black Emanuelle series, but nowhere is it more evident than Emanuelle In America, the most episodic of the films, and best understood as D'Amato's take on the Mondo film (in fact D'Amato would make a genuine mondo in 1978 called among other things, Emanuelle and the Porno Nights with Laura Gemser as the hostess). D'Amato admitted that the film was as much a response to French distributors who were looking for something stronger from the next Black Emanuelle film, but America feels like D'Amato was testing the limits with this genuinely provocative work - as well as introducing harder sex into the series, the film features some bestiality, in a scene where a woman is masturbating a horse, a taboo usually confined to underground stag loops. One wonders what French cinema-goers made of it all back in 1977.
Of course the film's other major talking point is the final section where Emanuelle chances upon a snuff film and follows the trail of breadcrumbs back to a US senator who invites her along to witness (albeit drugged) one in production. Unlike the ludicrous hit and run attempt that was Snuff, the sadistic torture footage seen in Emanuelle In America feels uncomfortably authentic. The footage D'Amato shot for this sequence was deteriorated to the point where it resembled a worn, grungy 8mm loop. What is interesting about these scenes is that when Emanuelle actually visits the torture chamber where a murder is being filmed, there is no distinction from what she actually sees and the earlier ragged looking loop - which implies a continuity error, or perhaps D'Amato had something more subversive in mind, intending to hoodwink the audience into believing the footage was genuine, that he had appropriated it, much like old World War II newsreel footage was used in war films in the place of expensive special effects. Even more disturbing the sequence ends as the senator lifts up Emanuelle's dress as they watch the carnage unfold - the spectacle of torture and murder as titillation. Ultimately D'Amato shows his hand in the otherwise superfluous coda of the film when Emanuelle and her boyfreind are seen relaxing at a native village, only to discover that it is in fact a film set, D'Amato suggesting that everything can be faked.
Blue Underground's fully uncut DVD of Emanuelle In America was a heaven-sent release for fans of European Cult Cinema, and a huge leap forward from fuzzy nth generation copies of the rare Venezuelan Telehobby tape. The 1.85 anamorphic transfer looks fantastic, while the snuff sequences retain their distressed beaten up texture. The English audio is fine too. Extras include an 11min audio interview with Laura Gemser (with a great selection of stills and promo art as a visual accompaniment). Next up is a 13min interview with Joe D'Amato, taken from the feature length Joe D'Amato: Totally Uncut! documentary (which was later made available awkwardly enough split over Shriek Show's Images In A Convent and Anthropophagous DVDs). The final extra is a very worthwhile text essay on the Black Emanuelle series by the ever reliable David Flint.
The atrocity exhibition
1. Emanuelle In America has long been associated with Videodrome - David Cronenberg cited the film as an inspiration when he spoke to Tim Lucas on the set of Videodrome, when Lucas was writing for Cinefantastique. (See Emanuelle In America DVD review, Video Watchdog #99)