Saturday, February 11, 2012
A quick glance at the cast and crew of the 1976 Italian production Eva nera would probably send even the most jaded cult film lover into a bit of a frenzy. The cast, which features the inspired pairing of Jack Palance and Laura Gemser, would probably be enough to do the trick, but when you factor in the fact that it was directed by Joe D'Amato, edited by Bruno Mattei and features a score from Piero Umiliani then Eva nera would fall into the category of must see for most exploitation film lovers. If the final film isn't the crazed powerhouse of cinematic mayhem one might hope for it is a very entertaining, if surprisingly subdued film, from the unstoppable team of D'Amato and Gemser and is deserving of better treatment than it has gotten on Region 1 Disc so far (as it is only available on a disappointing full-frame DVD under the title Black Cobra Woman).
Written and photographed by D'Amato, Eva nera focuses on an eccentric and rather bored wealthy man named Judas, living in Homg Kong, who dabbles in womanizing and snake collecting. Judas thinks he finds shangra la when he meets an impossibly beautiful young dancer named Eva, who happens to have an act featuring the slithering creatures he is so obsessed by.
Eva nera was the final of three whopping features D'Amato released in 1976, following Vow of Chasity and the stunning Emanuelle in Bangkok, an powerful entry in the Black Emanuelle saga starring the Eva nera players Gemser and Gabriele Tinti. While it isn't the dizzying cinematic experience that Emanuelle in Bangkok, or especially the follow-up Emanuelle in America, is Eva nera has its pleasures even though it finally feels a little too laid-back for its own good. D'Amato would have never been what one would refer to as a subtle filmmaker, but Eva nera feels positively tame when compared with the other films the great man was making in this period.
The chief pleasures of Eva nera are easy to spot. D'Amato's picturesque photography is typically striking and his camera gazes at Gemser, who was in her absolute prime in 1976, like a lover attempting to come to terms with what has become an obsession. The dance sequences are both erotic and playful and Umiliani's score keeps the material incredibly engaging, even during the moments where D'Amato's direction feels a bit lethargic (one imagines a certain creative and physical exhaustion might have been setting it.
Perhaps the biggest strike against Eva nera is the surprisingly muted performance delivered by Palance, who looks a little too bored at various points throughout the film. Watching Eva nera today, one wishes Palance would have perhaps had a little more fun with the material but more often than not he is overshadowed by both Genser and Tinti.
Eva nera is ultimately not among the essential D'Amato-Gemser collaborations but its charms finally outweighs its flaws and I would love to see a better quality-copy hit a Region 1 release on par with Severin's remarkable Black Emanuelle collections.