“We’re not making arty farty flicks for intellectual faggots”, rants an obnoxious film producer at one point in this movie. That sounds like the mantra of Joe D’Amato, a.k.a. Aristide Massaccesi the notorious porn and exploitation mogul who seized the Emmanuelle name as a blanket title for his prolific line of sleazy sexploitation dramas, and yet Emanuelle e Francoise le sorelline proves more ambitious than you might think.
Annoyingly catchy Euro-pop plays while perky Francoise (Patrizia Gori) poses for a saucy nude photo-shoot. She returns home to find her scumbag boyfriend Carlo (George Eastman a.k.a. Luigi Montefiori the man who ate his own intestines in D’Amato’s Anthropophagus (1980)) with his head buried between another woman’s thighs. “Back already?” he smirks nonchalantly, then throws her out. After a dejected Francoise flings herself in front of a speeding train, her sister Emanuelle (Rosemarie Lindt) resolves to make Carlo pay. This she does when she lures him back to her swanky Seventies bachelorette pad and chains him up inside a soundproof torture room. Carlo is forced to watch via a two-way mirror as Emmanuelle enacts her inimitable revenge.
Once D’Amato began making Emanuelle movies - usually starring his muse Laura Gemser, who sat this one out - he upped the ante with an uncomfortable combination of soft-core sex and hardcore violence, creating trash classics like Emanuelle in America (1977) and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977). Though mercifully less graphic compared to those two, Emanuelle e Francoise le sorelline is too nasty to be enjoyed as sexploitation but proves a surprisingly potent psychosexual thriller. D’Amato - who besides directing and handling the cinematography, co-authored the screenplay with another titan of trash, Bruno Mattei - uses his underrated composition and editing skills to twist the S&M scenario into a voyeuristic nightmare. In place of the wide-eyed pleasure seeker Sylvia Kristel played, this features an older, jaded Emanuelle with strident views on feminist rights.
Despite his reputation as a cynical pornographer, D’Amato pours scorn on Carlo for being a heartless, manipulative bastard. In scenes where Francoise is violated, first by a lecherous film producer then by Carlo’s gambling buddies to repay his debts, D’Amato prioritises her pain over any titillating effect. Yet he seems torn between the traditional machismo that accompanies Italian sexploitation efforts and his empathy with the women.
Carlo does not suffer as much in the way of conventional torture, unless you count being forced to watch Emanuelle strip during her sexy dance while speakers blast Euro-pop. He certainly acts like it’s torture. When Carlo is forced to watch Emanuelle fellate her mechanic and then lure Carlo’s new girlfriend Mira (Karole Annie Edel) and her gal pal Pamela (Mary Kristal) into a lesbian threesome - in scenes that tread closer to sex comedy - the ostensible bad guy is cast as our dubious identification figure, simultaneously tortured and turned-on. Eventually, Carlo grows so deranged he imagines scenes where Emmanuelle and her party guests dine on human flesh fondle each other’s private parts. (anticipating D’Amato’s “sexy” cannibal movies, while a sequence featuring Francoise in an 8mm porn loop prefigures a notorious sequence in Emanuelle in America). She then leads a group of beautiful naked girls to molest him. Again, not quite everybody’s idea of torture. D’Amato implies Emanuelle crosses a line when she threatens to castrate Carlo and rob him of his masculinity, so he allows him his moment of retribution before the climactic sting.
The film loses momentum with travelogue shots of sumptuous Italian scenery and silly digressions like Francoise’s attempt at being a race car driver (?). German sex film distributor (and sometime director) Erwin C. Dietrich later eliminated large sections of plot and replaced them with hardcore footage featuring Brigitte Lahaie, along with a new score but the original soundtrack by Joe Dynamo (a.k.a. Gianni Marchetti) is one of its most memorable aspects, a lyrical slice of Euro funk.