Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals:
Joe D'Amato (Born Aristide Massaccesi) spent a good deal of time in the Dominican Republic. He'd go to make a movie, and then while there he'd more likely than not go ahead and make a few more. Or so it would seem. At any rate one of those efforts - and a truly schizophrenic one - is Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals. Known (like all of D'Amato's movies) by many titles, the spilt personality takes hold quickly, and by movie's end you'll be wondering why these personalities don't just split for good.
English title graphics name the movie Caribbean Papaya, a title evocative of very little except a nice lunch, but throwing the word cannibal in as spice doesn't do anyone any good, either. Sure, there's love aplenty coming from Papaya, (Melissa) and Finnish stunner Sirpa Lane as Sara ups the sexy ante too, but that's pretty much it. I'm hesitant to describe the plot, as figuring out what's going on (and then not caring about it) is half the fun of the movie.
But there is something you must figure out at the start; it's that Love Goddess isn't a horror movie, nor is it one of D'Amato's grubby porn flicks. Love Goddess is a soft-core, indigenous spy movie with no sense of urgency, and other than Sirpa Lane's hotness, no real arousal factor. For 40 minutes we're treated to D'Amato at his heat-addled best, as Papaya orally castrates someone for no good reason, then saunters about the beach bedding various men. Sara attends a genuine cock fight (not very graphic, though, and boring as hell) before meeting up with Vincent (Maurice Poli) who coolly greets her; "hey Sara, so you dig violence?" You just know that sooner or later these two are going to fall into the sack together.
Tension mounts as Sara and Vincent drive about, following and being followed by Papaya and a pair of cohorts. D'Amato pours it on as our heroes slowly wander into a beautiful, eerily deserted slum. Gorgeously framed shots bolster languid delirium (that those beers at lunch certainly didn't help) until an empty, funereal horse and carriage moves slowly past. Just when you think it can't get any better, two dead pigs are graphically butchered for a spooky, ecstatic nude disco blood orgy capped off by human heart munching (one tiny bite, and the only incident of cannibalism in the whole movie). D'Amato stages this astounding scene with such energy, style and confidence it's impossible not to be swept up in the funky frenzy. I'm not sure what becomes of the pigs.
What becomes of the rest of the movie is more critical. All the atmosphere and weirdness built up lacks payoff, as people kind of lay around sleeping with each other for the rest of the movie, while we learn that the peace-loving natives (all they need is sun, bread, fruit, love and nature) are all up-in-arms about a planned nuclear generator that's forced them from their homes. Sure, the natives seem to have cooked up an extremely elaborate scheme to lure guilty nuclear scientists to their sexy deaths, but please, Joe, let it culminate in something a little more special. We like to see pompous twits like Vincent get theirs, especially when they have fine moments like this one: Vincent and Sara wake up naked, lost and confused. Rushing to safety, they encounter Papaya, who encourages them to take a bath together. "The important thing is to get out of here as fast as we can," Vincent points out while gleefully leaping into the tub for a blowjob.
Pity a little nice style, weird pacing and general lunacy don't coalesce into much more than numerous, disco-fied, trippy soft-core sex scenes. This is D'Amato-land and we want more blood, we want kinkier, more graphic sex and we want some sense of urgency! Rubbing a cut papaya-half on a man's genitals may be a curious way to arouse him, but it's a sad way to let down a genre fan.
This 1978 'lost' feature sure looks good for its age. Of course lots of the fun of discovering a D'Amato sleaze epic is watching it on a patched together German VHS dub with subtitles and all the intense parts coming from a shredded print. Aside from highlighting great scenes in the slums, this superior 1.85:1 ratio, widescreen presentation points out the lack of the good stuff, mostly. The picture is a little soft, but pretty clear. Your fair share of film grain appears, with a little dirt, damage and speckling here and there, and the colors are on the less intense side but it's to be expected, and overall, this is a really great looking transfer, considering. Once or twice some wavery bits appear, due to heavy use of digital noise reduction, but those instances are brief.
Dolby Digital 2.1 Surround Sound Audio gets the job done well. The groovy, hypnotic, Afro-Funk-Disco-Jazz-Funk sounds particularly great, mixed in well and showing no signs of wear and tear. Enveloping jungle sounds make for an evocative listening experience, while badly dubbed dialog is a tiny bit muddy, but never inaudible or unintelligible.
The Theatrical Trailer is the only extra, and it makes the movie look even more repetitive and uninteresting than it really is.
With such a title, and cover art featuring a nude sunbather menaced by a large bloody knife, you'd hope for a little exploitation love from D'Amato, the king of sleaze. But no, Love Goddess rolls out like a cross between an unedited public television news item and an unscripted spy thriller with no spies. There's plenty of full frontal nudity for ladies and gents both to enjoy, but disco-pulsing soft-core sex scenes are strictly for the birds. As for cannibals, forget them. A bunch of nice D'Amato style, an awesome disco blood orgy and Sirpa Lane are enough to make Love Goddess of interest to hardcore D'Amato fans, but as something of an aimless effort on an extra-less DVD, initial advice is to Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com