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.

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