Color, 1978, 89m. / Directed by Joe D'Amato / Starring Melissa, Sirpa Lane, Maurice Poli
Severin (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

After leaving his mark on '70s skin cinema with his Black Emanuelle films, director Joe D'Amato decided to explore his tropical side with a string of Caribbean-based exploitation films mixing sex and violence. Well, mostly the sex. The first and most cohesive of these is Papaya dei Caraibi (or Caribbean Papaya, the name it also bears on the print used for Severin's DVD), also released as the more marketable Payapa, Love Goddess of the Cannibals. The film didn't travel much outside of Europe, but it was a solid enough idea to ensure two follow-ups, Sesso Nero and Orgasmo Nero, which upped the ante with the inclusion of some brief hardcore footage. Of course, this in turn led to his two apocalyptic fusions of horror and porn, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust, which turned his island settings into the backdrops for far more extreme antics, but that's another story.

Our humid tale begins as shapely island native Papaya (played by short-lived Italian exploitation actress "Melissa," aka Melissa Chimenti) collaborates with two young native boys to arrange the seduction of a visiting businessman, whom she beds and then kills in a sequence that puts the opening murder in Basic Instinct to shame. Cut to our main couple, visiting white folk Sara (Lane) and Vincent (Poli), who are enjoying a local cockfight while he plans the construction of a nuclear power plant on the island. That night their steamy post-shower antics are interrupted when she finds a charred body in their room, which turns out to be the remains of the guy from the opening scene, a fellow employee. However, their distress is soon dissipated when they pick up Papaya in their Jeep and give her a few lusty glances; then they spy her again on the town streets and follow her to a remote building, where a voodoo priest urges them to drink some blood-like liquid refreshments as the natives disembowel and devour a big hanging pig, followed by a hapless male's nearby body. Of course, it's not long before the naive couple is stripped down and partaking in a frenzied blood ritual (aptly described on the packaging as a "Disco Cannibal Blood Orgy") that goes down in the history book of priceless D'Amato moments. Papaya shows up again soon after and initiates a menage a trois, but of course there's more than meets the eye as a horrified Sara learns about the displacement of the residents' homes for the power planet, and Papaya's devious plan begins to fall into place.

Fueled by an energetic Stelvio Cipriani score and the alluring presence of the late Sirpa Lane (best known for The Beast, Roger Vadim's Charlotte, and, err, The Beast in Space), this is actually a solid primer to D'Amato's style of genre-mashing filmmaking, with scenes of softcore moaning and groaning giving way to unexpected grace notes of bloodshed and grotesque visuals. Lane and Melissa make for an uninhibited pair, to be sure, and it's a bit strange to see an established mainstream actor like Poli (with credits ranging from The Longest Day to leading roles in Mario Bava's Five Dolls for an August Moon and Rabid Dogs) showing off as much as the ladies. As usual for a D'Amato film from this period, the technical aspects range from the oddly slapdash to some breathtakingly beautiful landscape shots, but then again his fans should already know exactly what to expect.

Anyone thorough enough to even be aware of this film's existence has most likely had to suffer through muddy dupes of the old Italian VHS or the somewhat better German DVD edition, which still wasn't English friendly. To my knowledge, Severin's disc marks the first official release of the English language edition; there isn't a huge amount of dialogue, but at least now it's clear what the heck's going on in the second half. The image quality is light years beyond past versions and looks very good overall, though the touch-and-go cinematography varies from crystal clear to somewhat gauzy depending on the scene. The mono audio sounds fine and makes one really wish for a full soundtrack release beyond the few scant cues issued on Italian vinyl back in the '70s. The only extra is the original English trailer, which packs in as much nudity and sleaze as possible. A must for D'Amato fans, of course, and a good Euro exploitation treat for anyone else if you know what to expect.

Color, 1979, 110m. / Directed by Joe D'Amato / Starring Paola Senatore, Donald O'Brien, Marina Hedman
Media Blasters (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)

Virtually unseen outside Europe during its initial release during the brief frenzy of nunsploitation films pouring out of Italy, Joe D'Amato's strange and sleazy Images in a Convent (Immagini di un convento) earned its cult reputation entirely through the bootleg video circuit begun in the 1980s. Even though viewers usually had to contend with Italian dialogue and no subtitles, the mixture of evil satyr statues, forced hardcore nun sex, and rampant female flesh caught the attention of viewers hungry for something a little different. Though certainly more restrained than D'Amato's contemporary tropical XXX films of the period, this outing delivers enough illicit thrills to entice anyone with a taste for naughty sisters of the cloth. The plot, basically a rehash of the Mexican delight Satanico Pandemonium, is fairly typical for the period, with young novice Isabella (Salon Kitty's Senatore) arriving at a secluded convent and discovering that all of the sisters harbor secret lusts for the flesh, regardless of gender. Isabella turns out to be hardly innocent herself, particularly when the sisters take in a wounded stud from the forest who turns out to be an emissary of Satan. Eventually a priest (spaghetti western vet O'Brien) is brought in to cleanse the convent of sin, but along the way the film makes several detours for sequences of holy sisters pleasuring themselves, being orally attacked by horny highwaymen, and engaging in orgies within their cloistered walls.

Still displaying traces of the visual gifts he brought to his fine work as a cinematographer in the early 1970s, director D'Amato doesn't skimp on the T&A but also delivers enough poetic moments to elevate the film a bit above the norm. The presence of a sinister ornamental statue tormenting the Mother Superior lends a haunting pagan atmosphere reminiscent of the classic Night Gallery druid episode, while Nico Fidenco's eerie and somethimes hauntingly beautiful score lends class to some of the more lyrical non-verbal passages. All of the actresses delve into their roles with gusto, shedding their habits when necessary and displaying figures refreshingly free from overzealous plastic surgery. All in all, it's a worth nunsploitation entry and, thanks to the aforementioned brief bits of semi-hardcore activity, one to pull out for those who think they've seen it all.

Media Blasters' DVD does an adequate job of coping with the demands of D'Amato's extremely soft-focus lensing, though contrary to the packaging promising a 16x9 transfer, it's flat 1.85:1 and, in order to activate the English subtitles, has to be watched windowboxed on widescreen televisions. Otherwise it's attractive enough and certainly better than those blurry tapes we've come to know and love. Apparently a short sequence involving the devil statue and one of the lonely sisters was excised for some reason, so completists may want to hang onto their dupes anyway for posterity. Apart from the main feature, the first disc includes the usual round of Media Blasters' "Exploitation Digital" trailers (Porno Holocaust, Yellow Emanuelle, and two SS films), while the real meat lies on the second disc. A familiar stape from X-Rated Kult Video's European D'Amato releases, the "Joe D'Amato: Totally Uncut!" Italian documentary pops up here with very welcome English subtitles. Circulated in a variety of versions depending on the video label, this edition clocks in a little over an hour and covers D'Amato's sex film career from artsy softcore to late-career shot-on-video hardcore. D'Amato cheerfully discusses his work, while ample clips demonstrate his proficiency with cinematic smut in all its permutations. On top of that you get girlie shots of Images's two female leads, and best of all, a lengthy reel of D'Amato trailers (mostly horror-related) including all of Media Blasters' releases (ranging from the early Buio Omega and Anthropophagus to later horrors like Killing Birds) and some surprising odd-man-out titles like Death Smiles at Murder (presumably culled from the Dutch DVD), Caligula: The Untold Story, and Orgasmo Nero.

Colour, 1979, 110m. / Directed by Joe D'Amato / Starring Mark Shannon, George Eastman, Dirce Funari, Annj Goren / Music by Nico Fidenco / Astro (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

Appropriately released the same year as Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust, this goofy exploitation gem from the overly prolific Joe D'Amato is the reverse side of the extreme cinema coin. Eschewing gruesome mutilations and animal death in favor of tropical bump and grind footage, this monster mash for the raincoat crowd remains more famous as a title than an actual film. Furthermore, its odd relationship with D'Amato's similar mix of zombie mayhem and hardcore coupling, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (with which this shares most of the same cast, crew, and locales), has resulted in more than a few filmographies consfusing the two. However, while Erotic Nights balances the horror and sex about 50/50 thanks to a finale involving roaming zombies (cut from many prints), Porno Holocaust dives headlong into the latter category with only a few strange monstrous sex scenes tossed in near the end.

The "plot" doesn't really merit much of a summary, especially since this film has never been legitimately available with any kind of English translation, but the set up is familiar enough. We spend about an hour following the denizens of a sunny Santo Domingo island where scientist George Eastman (a.k.a. Anthropophagus) recruits perpetually horny captain Mark Shannon to explore a nearby island showing signs of strange radiation. After a series of random sex scenes, they head out along with a handful of insatiable gals and spend most of their time walking up and down the beach. While Shannon continues to explore the native girls in graphic detail, a shuffling zombie with a mutated endowment attacks the infidels one by one.

And that's about it. Amazingly, it takes D'Amato almost two hours to cover territory that would normally be stretched to the breaking point at more than 75 minutes. However, the catchy score by Nico Fidenco (best known for his amazing Black Emanuelle scores) makes things tolerable when the actors aren't going through the frequently weird and hilarious hardcore motions. By the time the zombie gets in on the action too near the end, most viewers will be rubbing their eyes in disbelief. At least Eastman emerges with his dignity relatively intact; as with Erotic Nights, he refrains from the sex scenes and was apparently brought in for whatever marquee value he could muster.

The German DVD from Astro offers a surprisingly crisp, colorful, and complete transfer of this title, most often seen in dupey gray market editions by curious fans. The disc offers Italian or German soundtracks (both dubbed, obviously), and the mono soundtrack sounds clear enough given the vintage of the film. The letterboxing appears accurate, with a bit more information on the sides than the Italian prerecord (which was approximately 1.78:1). The disc also includes a nifty D'Amato retrospective featurette (without subtitles as well) which was also included on their Emanuelle in America disc.

Color, 1973, 84m.
Directed by Aristide Massaccesi (Joe D'Amato)
Starring Ewa Aulin, Klaus Kinski, Angela Bo, Sergio Doria, Giacomo Rossi Stuart
Japan Shock (Holland R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

The first major solo effort in the director's chair for the infamous Joe D'Amato is a far cry from the sleaze in which he was destined to wallow. Best known for low budget horror films like The Grim Reaper and a bevy of soft and hardcore adult films, D'Amato began his career as a cinematographer before embarking on this peculiar film, a throwback to the Italian gothic tradition of the 1960s laced with some commercially viable helpings of nudity and gore.

The "plot" is so fragmented as to be nearly meaningless, but generally it concerns a beautiful young woman, Greta (Candy herself, Ewa Aulin), who suffers a nasty case of amnesia after a carriage crash which leaves her driver impaled on a broken wheel. She's taken in by a well-to-do couple, Sergio Doria and Angela Bo, and attended to by the curious Dr. Struges (Klaus Kinski in a glorified cameo), who treats her condition by ordering her to strip and then plunging a needle into her eye! While Greta seduces her hosts, the doctor returns to his nocturnal practices of reviving the dead only to wind up murdered for his trouble. Meanwhile Greta's lunatic, hunchback brother (Luciano Rossi) skulks around in flashbacks and may be responsible for a series of killings, including the facial shotgunning of a lesbian maid who's been watching Greta. And then there's Walter (Kill Baby Kill's Giacomo Rossi Stuart), Greta's lover seen mostly in flashback, who's also experimenting with corpse reanimation. Throw in a couple of masked balls, an extended homage to Poe's "The Black Cat," and Aulin repeatedly returning from the dead as an avenging angel to wipe out most of the cast, and you've got the recipe for a very strange hour and half.

Not surprisingly, D'Amato's strong cinematography background serves him well. The eerie opening sequence, which finds Rossi grieving over Aulin's body, is a beautiful intro aided by Berto Pisano's haunting and ravishing score, easily the film's strongest asset. As the story lurches from one vignette to another, D'Amato's succession of fetching images and music keeps avid Eurocult fanatics glued to the screen even when they don't know what the hell is going on. The film's situation wasn't helped much when it went straight to American TV courtesy of Avco Embassy, who hacked it down to 70 minutes to fit an hour and a half time slot. This also meant removing all of the plentiful gore from the rousing finale, which features the world's only flying killer kitty bouquet.

A longtime staple of the bootleg video market, La morte ha sorriso all'assassino (translated on European prints as Death Smiles at Murder but shown in America under the more literal title of Death Smiles on a Murderer) has fared poorly on VHS, with the colorful but awkwardly cropped Greek VHS standing as the most watchable option. The Dutch region free DVD offers a solid widescreen transfer of the uncut European version and, most importantly, finally restores the original letterboxed framing. The transfer still has some problems, namely a few odd digital glitches in the upper letterbox band during the first five minutes and some wildly inconsistent black levels, but it's vastly preferable to any other option out there. Unfortunately the audio suffers from consistent crackling and noise during quieter dialogue scenes, but at least the score comes through well enough. Just don't play it too loudly through your receiver. The disc also includes the European theatrical trailer, a gallery of stills, and surprisingly insulting liner notes which, apart from some glaring factual errors, knock the film before offering a half hearted apology.

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