Film #53: Love Goddess of the Cannibals (1978)

film 53 love goddess of the cannibals

Rating: 2/5

Love Goddess of the Cannibals, also known as Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals or, most accurately, Caribbean Papaya, is one of a number of Shameless DVDs I’ve bought over the years. With their lurid yellow covers and their wonderfully trashy and exploitative titles, Shameless are responsible for bringing many Italian horrors to the UK, but they’re a mixed bag. I really ought to remember that a great title does not necessarily mean the film will be even the slightest bit entertaining. This one is neither terrible not particularly good but, despite it being slow and featuring neither a goddess nor any real cannibals, it had just about enough in it to keep my attention – some eerily empty shanty towns, for example, and one especially memorable masked orgy sequence.

Viewers expecting a cannibal movie will be sorely disappointed – the film’s current title is pretty misleading. It attempts to provide some of what it promises by opening with our titular character, Papaya (played by a woman listed only as Melissa in the credits), biting of some unfortunate man’s man-parts after rubbing a papaya fruit all over him (foreplay’s really changed since the 70s). This, and one heart-eating moment during the aforementioned masked orgy, constitute the full total of cannibalism on screen – Cannibal Holocaust, this ain’t. Instead, what we are confronted with is a bizarre, slow, soft-core porn story about a group of (badly dubbed) Americans trying to build a nuclear reactor on a small Caribbean island, much to the local’s dismay. The islanders’ solution is to unleash Papaya on these unsuspecting men, who seduces each one before killing them. It doesn’t actually make any sense whatsoever – if the whole island wants to see these men’s plans foiled, why do they need any kind of subterfuge? Why does she need to seduce them, when they could be so easily dispatched without coitus first? But, these are pointless questions to ask about a film like this; it’s easier to simply accept that, for almost 90 minutes, there will be a series of tenuously connected sex scenes, with some kind of narrative attempting to hold it all together.

The sex itself is typically European, largely inoffensive, and frequently hilarious. Our hero Vincent (Maurice Poli) and his part-time-girlfriend Sara (Sirpa Lane, famous for other adult content movies like The Beast and Nazi Love Camp 27) engage in some fairly nondescript shower sex before eventually getting caught up in Papaya’s confusing plot – using local legends, she leads them to a building, where they witness dead pigs being gutted, a man being de-hearted, and a load of frenzied gyrating. They take this surprisingly well – personally, I’d be at least the slightest bit shocked, but they accept it without question or horror, and soon enough their clothes are removed and they’re participating in this voodoo-lovefest. Later on there’s a truly bizarre bath scene, in which Papaya runs the two a bath, and before you can blink all three of them are naked and washing each other. A normal person might feel somewhat exposed, or consider Papaya’s invitation slightly inappropriate, but not Sara and Vincent. They’re so overwhelmed by Papaya’s beauty and seductiveness that they will happily do whatever she says. Again, I’m not sure why, because Papaya (or Melissa) cannot kiss. Her tightly-closed, supremely awkward technique is one of the most disconcerting aspects of the (numerous) sex scenes; the girls are pretty, but there is clearly no chemistry whatsoever and, quite frankly, it all just looks really uncomfortable.

Yet, as I’ve said, there are some redeeming qualities to the film. Despite its ludicrous (and oddly pedestrian) plot, the truly dreadful dubbing, the bad acting, the rather unpleasant cock-fighting scene (get your brains out of the gutter, I mean roosters) and the slow pace, there are moments that are strangely hypnotic. The Caribbean island is revealed as a dusty, ramshackle place, with the beautiful beaches secondary to the more lived-in areas of town; as Vincent remarks, these are the areas not designed for tourists, and they’re far more interesting than picturesque palm trees and white sands. And, as a porno goes, it might not be particularly erotic, but it’s not unwatchable either. Yes, it has a misleading title, and there’s very little gore, but it could be far worse and, luckily, there are enough moments of unintentional humour and ridiculousness to keep it reasonably entertaining. True, as the credits rolled I realised I still didn’t actually have a clue what had happened (it also boasts some kind of twist at the end; whether it works or not I couldn’t say, I was already too confused), but I can still remember the pastel coloured wooden huts lining the empty streets of the shanty town, the delightfully 70s afros and flares, and the fact that someone, somewhere, thought a papaya in the groin was sexy.

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