Black Velvet / Smooth Velvet, Raw Silk / Naked Paradise / Emanuelle in Egypt / Black Emmanuelle, White Emmanuelle / Velluto Nero (1977) -***½
Now this is really impressive. What we have here could very well be the ultimate 70’s Eurosmut cast— how’s this for an all-star lineup: Not only do we get everybody’s favorite Javanese libertine, Laura Gemser, and her husband and frequent collaborator, Gabriele Tinti, we also get Al Cliver and Annie Belle, the central couple from the amazing Forever Emmanuelle! This in addition to a couple of lesser-known but scarcely less wank-worthy ladies and a daffy old man who collects teenage boys. Truly Black Velvet has something for everyone.
What it does not have is a plot. And I’m not exaggerating in the slightest— there is literally no story to this film in the generally accepted sense. Sure, a bunch of stuff happens for about an hour and a half, but it all does so entirely without pattern, reason, or apparent consequence. Crystal (Nieves Navarro, aka Susan Scott, from Trauma and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals) is a beautiful, rich, European divorcee who lives in Aswan, Egypt, with her 19-year-old daughter, Madga (Ziggy Zanger, of Black Cobra and Love Sacrifice), and seemingly hundreds of native servants. Our introduction to Crystal comes, naturally, while she’s in bed with one of those servants, a young man named Ali (Tarik Ali’). Madga, meanwhile, is boating out on what I assume is the Nile, making time with a second servant— one gets the feeling these guys really love their jobs. Like many of the idle rich, Crystal and Madga are in the habit of taking in houseguests, and at the moment, there are three such people staying at their mansion. One of these is a wandering charlatan mystic named Horatio (Cliver, whom fans of Italian horror will also recognize from Zombie and The Beyond), who, in the English-language version at least, is dubbed in such a way as to suggest that he’s supposed to be a hippy from America. The other two guests are a fashion photographer named Carlo (Tinti, from The House of Exorcism and The Eerie Midnight Horror Show) and his model girlfriend, Laura (Gemser, of Black Emanuelle and Taboo Island fame). As you’ve probably figured out by now, all of these people spend most of the movie trying (generally with considerable success) to get into various permutations of each other’s pants. This goes on for a reel or two, and then yet another player joins the game: Crystal’s older daughter, Pia (Belle, another actress who was equally comfortable with sex and violence— look for her in Monster Hunter and House on the Edge of the Park), who has apparently spent the past several years living with her father in Italy. With the main cast thus assembled, everybody heads over to the palatial home of a washed-up Hollywood star and pederastic homosexual named Hal Dobson (Feodor Chaliapin, of The Church and Inferno), and the lot of them spend the rest of the movie cruising up and down the Nile, fucking like bonobos.
It has frequently been observed that Italian horror films often play as though their screenplays were written in order to justify a series of set-pieces which the filmmakers knew ahead of time that they wanted to include. Black Velvet shows that the same was sometimes true of Italian porn as well, and it’s easy to get the impression while watching it that you’re eavesdropping on the fantasies of a pervert with attention deficit disorder. Lesbian scene follows rape scene follows bondage scene stream-of-consciousness-style, without any apparent regard for sense or logic or narrative flow. It’s also clear that writer/director Brunello Rondi was strongly influenced by Joe D’Amato. Like D’Amato’s sequels to Black Emanuelle, Black Velvet features any number of situations that scarcely seem like they could be taking place on this planet. For example, Carlo is fixated on images combining the revolting with the erotic, and spends most of his scenes during the first half of the film tooling around the Egyptian countryside in a Land Rover, looking for disgusting things to make Laura pose semi-nude beside— dead dogs, eight-foot heaps of manure, that sort of thing. (One of these scenes produces a priceless exchange of dialogue. Laura, having been ordered to stand on the aforementioned manure pile: “But it stinks!” Carlo, brooking no disagreement: “Of course it stinks! It’s a mound of shit— what do you think?!”) Horatio supplies some equally baffling moments, most notably the one in which he hypnotizes Laura, and she begins screaming and babbling in what is probably supposed to be ancient Egyptian until, without warning, she sacrifices a billygoat that was not in the scene a moment before to one or another of the Old Gods.
But the primary appeal of Black Velvet is, of course, its cast, and on the whole, I’d say most of the opportunities that cast offered were taken. Al Cliver plays much the same stand-on-the-sidelines-and-take-it-all-in role that he usually did when he worked in porn, and Gabriele Tinti, too, gives his public exactly what they expect. If anything, Tinti plays an even bigger bastard than usual, with even more than the anticipated gusto. The women are the main event, though, and it’s here that Black Velvet has a couple of surprises in store. Laura Gemser’s Laura is far removed from the sort of dominant, strong-willed characters the actress usually plays; indeed, she has scarcely any dialogue outside of meekly protesting against Carlo’s insistence upon photographing her trying to look turned on while lounging in her underwear next to days-old roadkill. The result of this against-type characterization is that the movie ends up belonging almost completely to Annie Belle. Belle plays Pia much as she played Laure in Forever Emmanuelle, but with an extra dash of Lina Romay-like wildness. Indeed, I’d say she’s even sexier in this movie than she had been there; she seems more at ease with the camera, and not only does she still have that alluring platinum-blonde buzzcut, she’s let her eyebrows grow back to their natural size and shape, making her face much more expressive. And yes, she and Gemser do have a sex scene together. It’s maybe not quite as good as one might hope, but the version of it I saw seemed to be missing some footage, and if it was, that could make a big difference. Even if I’m mistaken, though, and the edit I saw is as good as it gets, I’m not going to complain too much about any movie that gives me a look at those two girls in the same bed.