Zenabel (Lucretia Love) is a feisty lass whose proto-feminist ideals inspire other young ladies in a humble village in eighteenth century Spain. All the men reckon she is nothing but a "loud-mouthed bitch." That is an actual quote from this movie. Caught bathing in a river, Zenabel leads her fellow nubile lovelies in humiliating some middle-aged peeping toms they then parade through the village. Unfortunately, Zenabel's rallying speech for ladies everywhere provokes an epic punch-up between men and women. Yes, these sexist pricks actually punch women in the face. Then Zenabel's dying father tells her she is not his daughter at all but the child of a nobleman murdered by the evil Don Alonso Imolne (John Ireland). So Zenabel sets out to seize back her rightful land and prove women need not suffer the tyranny of men. From far and wide young ladies come to join her cause. Also along for the ride are man-servants Cecco (Fiorenzo Fiorentini), who is drawn so camp he makes Frankie Howerd look like John Wayne, and Pancrazio (Lionel Stander) who only pretends to be gay in a bid to get into the pants of Lea (Elisa Mainardi), a sexy young thing Zenabel rescues from a rather graphic and prolonged gang rape. However, these fighting feminists are soon put in their place by a band of boorish freedom fighters led by cocky asshole Gennaro (Mauro Parenti). After easily besting Zenabel in a sword fight, Gennaro chases her into a stable where he ties her up, strips her naked and (to the strains of Bruno Nicolai's oh-so-romantic score) buggers her senseless. That's right, this is a comedy.
Are your sides splitting from laughter yet? In the late Sixties, most likely in reaction to Barbarella (1967), Italian cinema went through a minor craze for costume romps with sexy swashbuckling heroines, often adopting pseudo-feminist ideals for the sake of sneaking in acres of bare flesh and kinky sex. Many were surprisingly entertaining. Brigitte Skay was genuinely gutsy and appealing in Bruno Corbucci's saucy Isabella, Duchess of the Devils (1969). Femi Benussi emerged as cinema's steamiest topless jungle queen in both Tarzana the Wild Girl (1970) and Three Supermen in the Jungle (1970). However, the misguidedly satire of Zenabel ranks among the worst things ever committed to celluloid. It is about as funny as one would expect from the director of Cannibal Holocaust (1979).
Lucretia Love takes a fair stab at her role as the spirited heroine but the film can barely contain its misogyny. Ruggero Deodato evidently had some things he wanted to get off his chest about feminists. Hence, Zenabel's rallying speech to her band of women is "humorously" inter-cut with a shot of cows mooing in a field. Old men merrily chastise the heroine as a mouthy bitch while even other women roll their eyes at her dedication to preserving their virginity from the rape-happy villains. It is supposed to be bawdy fun in a Tom Jones (1963) sort of way but swamped in the most mean-spirited sexism, homophobia (abundant limp-wristed caricatures), plain tastelessness and of course, rape jokes. Oh god, so many rape jokes. Take for example the choice scene where soldiers working for Don Alonso lead dozens upon dozens of terrified, sobbing teenage virgins away to his rape party while their mothers weep and wail. "Just promise me you won't enjoy it!" one old woman cries. In a bizarre "humorous" twist, one of these girls turns out to have a dick. The rest of these virgins end up sorely disappointed when Zenabel drugs Don Alonso's assembled aristocrats so that they fall asleep before they do the deed. That's right, disappointed they weren't brutally raped.
Surely even in late Sixties Italy someone had to know this sort of attitude was bullshit or were things really that messed up back then? If nothing else, watching Zenabel now is like a enduring a bucket of ice water instead of a steamy romp. Quite what a decent actor like John Ireland is doing in this garbage is anyone's guess. Most likely collecting a quick paycheck. And anyone cherishing fond memories of Lionel Stander as lovable Max on TV's Hart to Hart should steel their nerves for the traumatic sight of him mincing around in his underpants. Plus what self-respecting lady does not want to see a forward-thinking heroine land a smirking rapist as her love interest? Later on Gennaro sneaks into a barn hoping to ravish Zenabel once more but ends up raping Lea by mistake. Oops! Hey, that's okay. Turns out Lea loves it! Seriously, fuck you Ruggero Deodato.
Italian director best known his ultra-violent horror work, but whose filmography takes in many genres over a 40-year career. Worked as an assistant director on a variety of films during the sixties, and made his first credited directing debut in 1968 with the superhero yarn Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen. Throughout the following decade Deodato made erotic dramas (Gungalar, Waves of Lust), musical comdies (Man Only Cries for Love), and comic book romps (Zenabel).
It was Ruggero's horror films that gained him an international reputation however. The trashy Last Cannibal World was followed by 1980's notorious Cannibal Holocaust, and the likes of House on the Edge of the Park, Cut and Run and Bodycount were popular amongst video audiences during the eighties. Other films during this period include the action fantasy The Barbarians and bizarre thriller Dial Help, while Deodato's work during the nineties was largely confined to Italian TV.