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Plot: an uncharted island, where nothing is forbidden.

In a 2000 exchange for the documentary "A Hard Look" Indonesian-Dutch softcore sex and Eurocult queen Laura Gemser once, quite offhandedly, remarked to British film director, journalist, and actor Alex Cox that, “any excuse is good to get naked.” She was, of course, referring to her tenure as Black Emanuelle that commenced with Bitto Albertini’s Black Emanuelle (1975). Not that Gemser was an exhibitionist but as a model she had done her share of nude pictorials for various men’s magazines in Belgium and the Netherlands, and la Gemser agreed on a whim. Partly because fashion photographer Francis Giacobetti asked her to and because it meant a free vacation to Kenya. The paycheck probably didn’t hurt either. While Albertini’s original helped in launching her star, it would be late consummate exploitation grandmaster, part-time smut peddler, and full-time pornographer Aristide Massaccesi (Joe D’Amato) who launched Gemser to cult cinema immortality when he took control of the Black Emanuelle franchise and found box office success with it. Gemser met her husband Gabriele Tinti on the set of Black Emanuelle (1975) and retired from acting after Tinti’s death in late 1991. Zeudi Araya and Me Me Lai were only minor celebrities compared to miss Gemser, who has been enshrined as the definite queen of Italo exploitation.

While history has mostly remembered her for her association and voluminous oeuvre with D’Amato, Gemser didn’t work with him exclusively. With an impressive three decades and covering a variety of genres (usually softcore erotica or horror, or some permutation thereof) Gemser would work with supreme hacks Bruno Mattei, and Mario Bianchi just as often. Everybody has a few skeletons hidden in their closet, and Laura Gemser is no different in that regard. In between (official and illicit) sequels to Black Emanuelle (1975) and Emmanuelle: L’Antivierge (1975), the first sequel to Just Jaeckin/Emmanuelle Arsan’s scandalous Emmanuelle (1974) (with Sylvia Kristel) Gemser appeared in A Beach Called Desire (released domestically as La spiaggia del desiderio), a little known (or remembered) Venezuelan-Italian co-production directed by the duo Enzo D’Ambrosio and Humberto Morales. A Beach Called Desire was one of six movies Gemser shot in 1976, three of which tried to pass itself off as a Black Emanuelle sequel. The most significant of those being Eva Nera (1976) which sort of laid the groundwork for D’Amato’s official sequels Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976), Emanuelle in America (1977), Emanuelle Around the World (1977), and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977). No wonder then that this little ditty has fallen into obscurity. “an uncharted island, where nothing is forbidden!” screams the poster. Not even a naked Laura Gemser can salvage this exercise in tedium. A Beach Called Desire effortlessly manages to fail both as a jungle adventure and as a soft sex yarn.

Shipwrecked junkie Daniel (Paolo Giusti), fleeing Caracas in a panic when a female friend of his OD’ed, washes ashore on an uncharted island somewhere in the Caribbean Sea, having been knocked unconsciousness trying to escape collision with an oncoming yacht. After exploring the shores, and trying to establish provisional help signals, one day he finds his palm tree branch SOS sign erased. Deducting that there are, no, must be other people on the island, Daniel naturally starts to investigate his immediate surroundings. His unexpected arrival throws off the balance of a fragile family unit consisting of patriarch Antonio (Arthur Kennedy); a man with a shady, possibly criminal past, and his two twenty-something children Haydee (Laura Gemser) and Juan (Nicola Paguone). Haydee, having never seen another male besides her father and brother, takes an immediate liking to Daniel. Soon Daniel learns that his presence raises the tension between all three males orbiting Haydee, as father and son maintain an openly incestuous relationship, or “game” as Juan chooses to call it, with her. Not helping matters is that Antonio fears that the presence of the shipwrecked interloper might alert authorities to his whereabouts. Wrought by paranoia and consumed by fear Antonio is inspired to an act of desperation, one that will have fatal consequences. Daniel, in all his infinite benevolence and wisdom, departs the island in the aftermath without taking Haydee with him concluding that "day by day, her smile will fade."

Arthur Kennedy was one America's most beloved character actors of the late 1940s through early 1960s, and he clearly was a long way from Barabbas (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Fantastic Voyage (1966). Obviously he was collecting any easy paycheck and following the box office success of Star Wars (1978) he could be seen slumming it up in The Humanoid (1979). A Beach Called Desire was probably the career highlight of Paolo Giusti, whose sole noteworthy other credit is Mariano Laurenti's Nurse at the Military Madhouse (1979) (with Nadia Cassini). Nicola Paguone, understandably, never acted ever again. Francesco Degli Espinosa was a second unit director, production manager, and editor. He occasionally moonlighted as a writer but that A Beach Called Desire was the last of just three credits says enough. Augusto Finocchi wrote a lot of spaghetti westerns and was clearly out of his element here. Even frequent Alfonso Brescia collaborator Marcello Giombini seems to be phoning it in with an even more one-note synthesizer score than usual. The only real big name here is director of photography Riccardo Pallottini. Pallottini had lensed, among many others, Castle Of Blood (1964), The Long Hair Of Death (1965), Lady Frankenstein (1971), Man From Deep River (1972), and The Killer Must Kill Again (1975). He’s able to line up a few artsy shots of Gemser frolicking on the beach, but it’s not as if a production like this inspires poetry very much.

Those looking for a 90-minute excuse to watch Laura Gemser prancing around in what little she happens to be almost wearing have plenty of better options. Her early filmography with Joe D’Amato, for one, is a good place to start. As is Bitto Albertini’s Black Emanuelle (1975) or D’Amato’s Eva Nera (1976), which has the additional bonus of somewhat inspiring the official Black Emanuelle sequels. A Beach Called Desire is a lot of things, but it’s an obscurity for a very good reason. For starters, it’s not very good (something which not even a naked Laura Gemser in her prime was able to remedy) and Gemser did plenty more, and plenty more interesting, things afterwards. Gemser was put to far better use in the Luciana Ottaviani romps Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987) and Top Model (1988) (keeping her clothes on both times, no less). That the woman who rose to fame due her sheer willingness to shed fabric would later find work as a costume designer must be one of life’s great ironies. To dispense with the obvious, A Beach Called Desire is ignored for a reason - you should probably too…

Plot: rogue gods plan to overthrow Mount Olympus, lone muscleman intervenes

The first wave of Italian peplum lasted from 1958 to 1965 as Meditterranean directors and producers made use of the lavish sets left behind by American productions and smaller-scale sword-and-sandals adventures replaced the more serious Biblical and Greco-Roman epics of the forties and fifties. Pietro Francisci’s The Labors Of Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959), both with Steve Reeves as the titular demigod, ushered in the arrival of a more pulpy, kitschy peplum. By 1962 the first Italian peplum wave was cresting and outliers started to appear. One such example was Emimmo Salvi’s fantasy mash-up Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter (1962) with Iranian strongman Iloosh Khoshabe, Cuban import Bella Cortez and Gordon Mitchell. Cortez and Mitchell had figured into the entertainingly delirious The Giant Of Metropolis (1961), duly pilfered by Alfonso Brescia for his The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), which Salvi wrote and produced. That Pietro Francisci would direct Hercules, Samson and Ulysses (1963), widely considered the last great Italian sword-and-sandal epic, is more than fitting.

Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter was the first Italian sword-and-sandal production to be filmed on location in Iran with a mostly Italian cast and crew. The feature was produced by Spartaco Antonucci and Manouchehr Zamani. Zamani cast Iloosh Khoshabe, a star of movies from Shapur Yasami and Esmail Kushan and who Zamani himself had directed once or twice – for release in the domestic market. That Zamani would cast Khoshabe, who sports a Steve Reeves beard and a Kirk Morris glistening chest, in the first English-language peplum production in Iran is only logical. Emimmo Salvi first worked as a production assistant from 1953 to 1958. From there he was promoted to screenwriter and later ascended to the director’s chair with this production. In an interesting twist he contributed to the screenplay for Umberto Scarpelli’s The Giant Of Metropolis (1961), before helming a duo of Arabian Nights adventure yarns with The Seven Tasks of Ali Baba (1962) and Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens (1964) as well as the Wagnerian epic The Stone Forest (1965). Salvi’s features often starred Gordon Mitchell and Bella Cortez. When the peplum dried up Salvi took to directing a few spaghetti westerns and an Eurospy romp before retiring. Bella Cortez was a skinny, long blackhaired, hourglass figured belle from Oriente, Cuba who briefly acted from 1961 to 1966 and starred in about a dozen, mostly peplum, productions. Cortez graced magazine covers from Italy to Yugoslavia and Switzerland and was romantically involved with director Emimmo Salvi. If Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter is retroactively famous for one thing, it’s that Luigi Cozzi lifted the plot wholesale for his equally entertaining The Adventures Of Hercules (1985) with Lou Ferrigno, Sonia Viviani and Milly Carlucci.

On Mount Olympus king of the gods Jupiter (Furio Meniconi) intervenes in a tryst of Venus (Annie Gorassini) with the mortal Adonis by throwing a lightning bolt at him. In his court Jupiter announces that Venus is to be wedded to either Mars (Roger Browne) or Vulcan (Iloosh Khoshabe, as Rod Flash Ilush), the latter who has been working in the Olympian forgery on a sword for Achilles. Angered by Jupiter’s decision Venus forms an alliance with Mars and Pluto (Gordon Mitchell, as Mitchell Gordon) to overthrow Jupiter and Olympus. When Venus partly disrobes and throws herself at Vulcan, this draws the ire of her beau Mars resulting in the inevitable fight in the smithy. Pending his decision Jupiter casts both men to Earth. Not helping matters either is Erida (Edda Ferronao) sowing discord among the Olympian gods. Vulcan awakens drowsily on the shores of Sicily where he is promptly rescued by the scandily-clad Aetna (Bella Cortez), who wears what amounts to a very skimpy cheerleader outfit, and her nubile nymphs.

Meanwhile Mars and Venus convince Thracian warlord Milos (Ugo Sabetta) to erect a tower reaching Olympus. No sooner has Vulcan been rescued by the Sicilian nymphs they are attacked by a tribe of scaly, fanged Lizard Men and summarily imprisoned. Vulcan is tortured by the Lizard Men until they are freed by Geo (Salvatore Furnari). Geo proves to be strategically important as he can summon a Triton to bring them to the realm of Neptune (Omero Gargano), who vows to help Vulcan. Before setting out on his quest Vulcan is treated to a tantalizing dance of veils from Aetna. Cortez’ little routine obviously took some inspiration from Anita Ekberg’s dance from the Terence Young directed Arabian Nights adventure Zarak (1956). After the dance Mercurius (Isarco Ravaioli) briefly engages himself toying with the gemstone jewel in Aetna’s navel. In the grand finale the forces of Neptune and Thrace come to a clash, Vulcan challenges Mars in man-to-man combat and Aetna and Venus all duke it out. It’s a battle so ineptly staged that Jupiter calls from the heavens above for all to lay down their weapons.

For a production with no budget to speak of Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter was able to assemble quite a cast. It was the first English-language production for Iloosh Khoshabe, and Bella Cortez was well on her way in becoming a peplum fixture thanks to her radiant looks, dancing skills, and with titles as The Tartars (1961), the science-fiction mash-up The Giant Of Metropolis (1962), and the Arabian Nights double whammy The Seven Tasks of Ali Baba (1962) and Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens (1964). Roger Browne in a few years hence would figure into the fumetti Argoman (1967), Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968), and The War Of the Robots (1978). Edda Ferronao would star in The Slaughter Of the Vampires (1964) two years later. Isarco Ravaioli was a beloved character actor with titles as diverse as The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), the fumetti Diabolik (1968) and Satanik (1968), the Eurowar romp Heroes Without Glory (1971) and the barbarian movie The Throne Of Fire (1983). Annie Gorassini was a comedic actress that worked with everybody from Federico Fellini, Pietro Francisci to Lucio Fulci, Bruno Corbucci and Emimmo Salvi. Famous in their own way were Salvatore Furnari and Franco Doria, probably the most recognizable dwarfen actors of the day.

Granted it never quite reaches the same level of kitsch as The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) and it isn’t as out-there as The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965) later in the decade. Furio Meniconi wears a really bad wig, Omero Gargano’s Neptune looks sort of drowsy and the rubber suits from the Lizard Men are even worse than that of Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreleys Grasp (1973) about ten years later. Jupiter’s bold of lightning was crudely scratched onto the film to reach the desired effect. Primitive does not quite convey just how crude these special effects are. The action choreography and the fights are as lamentable, clunky and stilted as they come. Italy after all is, was and never would be Hong Kong or Japan and nobody in the cast had any formal combat training. Khoshabe, Browne and Mitchell acquit themselves admirably enough, and the catfight between Cortez and Gorassini is a lot better than it has any right to be. Which doesn’t mean any of the fights are good or at least believably staged. The Lizard Men were an interesting addition but they are discarded almost as soon as they are introduced and their subplot goes nowhere virtually immediately. Likewise does the Thracian tower subplot never amount to anything, even though the characters make it out to be important for a good while. Venus ensnares gods and mortals by wielding her most common superpower. In Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon aren’t all that different from the mortals they apparently so despise.

With a showing this abysmal, no wonder special effects man Roberto Parapetti would never be heard of again. Iloosh Khoshabe, Roger Browne and Gordon Mitchell are sufficiently oiled and practically bare-chested the entire time. Bella Cortez, Annie Gorassini, and Edda Ferronao unfortunately are not but they wear the skimpiest of tunics – and it’s puzzling that Cortez never became a bigger star than she ended up being. Certainly her appearance and bellydance routine in The Seven Revenges (1961) should have landed her bigger opportunities than the ones she ended up getting. Gorassini obviously has a lot of fun in the role of duplicitious Venus, who is prone to disrobing to have men doing her bidding, and her experience as a comedic actress evidently helps tremendously. The throne room on Mount Olympus seems perpetually enshrouded in smoke and dry ice and it’s not quite as lush and opulent as it probably should have been. The production values are nothing to write home about and match the early Alfonso Brescia catalog. Evidently the first wave of peplum was cresting and the lack of resources available to the production makes that painfully clear. The battles lack in scope and scale and the gods act far too much like the petty and vindictive mortals they use as peons.

There isn’t a whole lot to recommend if you are looking for a quality peplum, but as these things go, you could do far worse than Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter. It’s thoroughly entertaining for the rank pulp that it is. Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter is the sort of historical curiosity that - while available in the public domain and from companies as Mill Creek Entertainment, often in prints of dubious quality and origin - should be given a proper restoration and remastering. It certainly no classic peplum and whatever merits can be bestowed upon it is that it features an ensemble cast of sorts. The first cycle of peplum was winding down and productions as Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter would never have been greenlit if it weren’t for companies completely milking a concept until audiences no longer showed up in cineplexes. The peplum would experience a resurgence (as would gothic horror) in the next decade, but they’d never command the resources they once had in the fifties and early sixties. Vulcan, Son Of Jupiter borders on the satirical but it never transcends into the realm of send-up or spoof. Perhaps it would have worked far better acting as such. It’s not exactly tedious, but it isn’t spectacular in its wretchedness enough either. It’s still sufficiently awful by any reasonable standard, and the terrible dubbing is always a hoot with this sort of productions. At least there’s Bella Cortez.