When Severin released their Black Emanuelle box sets (Vol 1 & Vol 2) a few years back, it was a cause for celebration amongst Eurotrash-loving cinephiles. Several of these films had been staples of late-night cable during the 1980’s and many future cult-film addicts tuned in to them for a quick fix of bare flesh and cheap thrills. The Black Emanuelle films deliver the goods in both categories… but they also have a lot more to offer in unexpected ways.
Indeed, these are very special exploitation films. Compared to American and English softcore, the Black Emanuelle films have better photography, music and production values, not to mention more exotically appealing starlets. They are also full of surprises in their storylines – anyone who has watched Emanuelle In America can testify to this – that reflect a unique mixture of ambition and libidinous imagination run wild.
One of the most unique entries in the Black Emanuelle series – and a good example of the wild surprises these films are capable of – is Black Emanuelle 2. It wasn’t as well-traveled on cable as its boxset brethren and was new to many viewers (including this reviewer) when it appeared in the second Severin box. The film was directed by Bitto Albertini, who also helmed the first Black Emanuelle film, but it replaces iconic series star Laura Gemser with one “Sharon Leslie” (real name: Shulamith Lasri). This is but the first of many curveballs this film will throw at viewers used to the Gemser/D’Amato approach to Black Emanuelle.
Black Emanuelle 2 is the “psychological” Emanuelle outing. It starts with a (misspelled) quote from Sigmund Freud and presents us with a variant version of the character. In this story, Emanuelle is a model who is confined to a mental hospital after a traumatic incident during a shoot in the Middle East leaves her in a state of amnesia. She is tended to by nice-guy psychologist Paul (Angelo Infanti), who interviews her and the men in her life – photographer (Pietro Torrisi) , father (Don Powell), husband (Percy Hogan) – in an attempt to determine what the problem is. Along the way, he discovers she has a long history of sexual dysfunction that hints at another long-suppressed trauma.
This might sound like a classic, serious plot archetype but Black Emanuelle 2 twists it inside and out in a distinctly Eurotrash style. For starters, it’s got a very relaxed relationship with plausibility: Paul’s investigative methods would get any real doctor thrown out of the profession, the “mental hospital” looks like an extravagant apartment building and said hospital also seems to have only one guard. The tone also spins around like a cinematic roulette wheel: it is capable of shifting from dark psychology to bawdy humor to soap-opera melodramatics, often within the same reel. In fact, Black Emanuelle 2 has the same playful disregard for narrative logic and continuity that a lot of Eurocult fans associate with Italian horror flicks. The biggest example is the final revelation of trauma, which could have been cleared up in the film’s first act if one of the major characters was more forthcoming. It’s the kind of logic-defying stuff that will have you slapping your forehead in disbelief.
However, none of the plotting or logic concerns really matter here. Black Emanuelle 2‘s chief concern is mixing pop psychology and sizzling softcore elements. The film’s best trick is a recurring narrative motif where Emanuelle recounts an erotically-themed tale of woe involving a man from her past only for it to be followed by an interview with the man in question that completely contradicts her version of the events. These flashbacks mix smut, operatic/tragic melodrama and sudden bursts of odd, menacing imagery in the giallo tradition. They feel like Dario Argento-directed soap opera, with a generous helping of gratuitous nudity thrown in for added value.
Continuing along the bizarro imagery tip, there’s also an unforgettable opening titles scene in which Emanuelle’s perception of her psychotherapy is shown as a series of bondage tableaus, including a torture dungeon, a secret police interrogation, a jungle capture, etc. However, the capper is the sequence in which Emanuelle’s repressed trauma is finally revealed. Without giving too much away, it’s dazzlingly stylized and stunningly tasteless all at once (a defining duality of Italian-produced Eurotrash filmmaking).
Also important is the presence of several lovely women. Black Emanuelle 2 features less actual sex scenes that your usual Emanuelle outing but our heroine spends at least half her time undraped. This is a big plus because Leslie/Lasri has what might be the most perfect set of breasts ever committed to celluloid. In addition to these attributes, she has a blank, passive quality that makes her a perfect fetish object for the filmmakers to use – and they certainly make the most of her. Added pulchritude is provided by Dagmar Lassander as the psychologist’s wife (her subplot goes nowhere but she goes topless so it all balances out). Even better is Danielle Ellison, who plays a giddy nymphomaniac patient who enjoys a bodypainting session with Emanuelle as well as a threesome between herself, Emanuelle and a fisherman who can suspend a 12-pound anchor from his erect penis(!).
In short, Black Emanuelle 2 is exactly the kind of anything-goes Italian sexploitation delirium that got countless Eurotrash fiends hooked on this style of filmmaking. If you enjoy the distinctively twisted style of the other Black Emanuelle outings, don’t hesitate to check this one out.