Sometimes, I try my best to fully utilize every resource I have to cover the entire filmography of an actor/actress that I find interesting. One such person is Laura Gemser, a key figure in the history of soft-core sexploitation movies, because of the number of films that she appeared in during her prime, and the indescribable natural beauty that she carried around with her at all times. It wasn’t just all good looks though, because from my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that her abilities as an actress were far superior to many others in the occupation, almost on par with that of her husband, the late Gabrielle Tinti, alongside whom Gemser starred in many of her films.
Slender, bright-eyed, and thoroughly seductive, Laura Gemser really was the queen of the screen, at least under the limitations of the genre-specific films she appeared in. Most of them virtually plot-less but interesting in their approach to harmless material in an erotic light, I have enjoyed the majority of the movies that I have seen of hers. Gemser’s best works have cult followings even today, and that only underlines her prominence. Here is the list of top Laura Gemser movies selected from her vast filmography. You can watch many of these best Laura Gemser movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
10. Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980)
Released under several titles, (‘Sexy Nights of the Living Dead’ and ‘Nite of the Zombies’ being just two of them) this was the Gemser film I was most excited for, but it wasn’t exactly satisfactory, at least as far as I was concerned. The film tries to exploit what was popular at the time (which apparently was “zombie movies”) by bringing into it a brand of erotica, which is something that director Joe D’Amato specialized in for a good part of his career. It’s a very entertaining watch, with some scenes of well-directed violence and gore, sandwiched in-between moments that try hard to incorporate the element of sex into the movie in order to sell it to a bigger market. What troubles me with this film is how is tries to be both hardcore as well as soft-core at the same time, often leading to bits that feel unnatural, out-of-place, weird, or just plain wrong. Gemser is made to stare and look terrifying for a large portion of the first act, but once she starts to go berserk (the character is a bit strange, so…) it’s a lot of fun. The final act is very effective and rather atmospheric.
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9. Amore Libero – Free Love (1974)
This was Laura Gemser’s debut film and first major role. ‘Amore Libero’ is an ambitious piece that is at its centre a soft-core feature. We follow an engineer as he travels to an island in order to finish his work in peace, but he soon realizes that the calmness of this tropical utopia may be a little too much for him to comprehend. Then, quite suddenly, the story shifts and God and the Devil are involved in a climax that is, for lack of a better word, nuts. What I like about this picture is the way the island has been portrayed, in a manner that makes it look as though the air around is the most soothing thing you’d ever come across. The young cast of chirpy-looking folk is also entertaining for the most part. I do have issues with its poorly written screenplay and unnecessary use of surreal imagery, but I will admit that it’s a watch that’s hard to forget. Gemser plays an island native, and her role is carried out quite well.
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8. Love Camp (1981)
In order to cash in on the success of Gemser’s (extremely popular) journalist character (named Emanuelle, of whom you shall read in a bit), this film was released in several countries with the title of ‘Divine Emanuelle’, though it has nothing to do with that specific role in any way. Directed by Christian Anders, this film is all about a cult that promotes free love – giving little care to consent, time, place, and other things that might be of importance elsewhere. Strongly criticizing the hippie community that existed at the time, (as well as being sneakily political in carrying out its plot) this rather sleazy picture garners interest with its themes. Being a little more bright and colorful than most other sexploitation flicks at the time, it is ultimately the strangeness of the film’s cult or “camp” that persuades the viewer to sit through the whole thing. Laura Gemser plays the leader of said cult, an extremely bold and fearless woman who just may be hiding something totally sinister underneath.
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7. Women’s Prison Massacre (1983)
One of the most well-known sub-sub-categories of the already existent sub-category that is the sexploitation genre is the ‘women-in-prison’ flick, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Laura Gemser hadn’t been in many films that covered this category back when she was actively doing films, and this is the most memorable of all the ones she did. Playing the journalist-cum-reporter Emanuelle, this follows the most banal and common plot that the genre had become known for, which involves a bunch of female prisoners who are tortured by the many evil and corrupt people who run the establishment. Directed by another one of Gemser’s frequent collaborators, Bruno Mattei, this picture is one of his goriest, and thereby most distasteful. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing though, because the cliched plot is given an edge to because of this and made a whole lot more interesting.
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6. Sister Emanuelle (1977)
For once playing a character that isn’t longing to have sex or finding pleasure in arousing the people around her with just her presence, Laura Gemser plays a woman (called ‘Emanuelle’, the same as in all the other films that bear her name in the title) who has decided to let go of her past – dark, sinful days with lovemaking taking up most of her time – to enter a convent and become a nun. During her stay, she encounters a young, ruthless, naughty woman named Monika who has been brought in with the purposes of getting her reformed, thereby eliminating any sense of that free-spirited nature that she has now. Although I think this film has some strangely addictive music and a satisfactory story for the most part, the twist ending fails to get to me as it is something that has been tried and tried again. Even still, this is one of the better acted films in Gemser’s filmography, where it feels like everyone’s giving their all.
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5. Black Emanuelle (1975)
At the time of its release, ‘Black Emanuelle’ was advertised with the ever-so-inviting tagline ‘A New Experience In Sexuality’. Ironically, the picture was a rip-off of the ’74 French soft-core film ‘Emmanuelle’. The title character of this feature went on to be Laura Gemser’s best known role, and a major part of her career was dedicated to playing this photographer-cum-journalist in many other spin-offs that usually lacked a coherent plot. ‘Black Emanuelle’, the picture that started it all, wasn’t too different in its storytelling methods either. The setting of this movie is in Kenya, where Mae Jordan (Emanuelle’s real name) arrives to meet up with a couple of people with whom she will have sex at different points in the picture. The soundtrack is cheesy and the story is stale, but the film overall feels like a time capsule (due to its low-budget style and politically incorrect views) that takes you back to the 1970s.
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4. Emanuelle In America (1977)
The cult following that this picture enjoys even today is highly commendable, and it probably is the most popular film of the entire series. Joe D’Amato has a refreshing way of executing his campy style such that his films become a joy to watch, and situate enough grounds for a second viewing. It’s also interesting to note that while this picture may be one of Gemser’s most explicit films (1980’s ‘Porno Esotic Love’ may be number one in that category, but shouldn’t count as it is basically a rehash edit of a couple of the actress’ previous films), she never actually performs in any of the hardcore scenes. In fact, close to none of her films have her take part in any of their most “out-there” sex scenes. In ‘America’, she plays a journalist who goes out of her way to get anything and everything that she can find, closely spying on a group of kidnappers who force women into participating in snuff films. Once again using her sexuality to pretty much hypnotize the people around her, this is the one film in the entire collection wherein we finally follow the titular character as she goes about her secretive mission.
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3. Velluto Nero (1976)
It still baffles me to think that Brunello Rondi, the man who wrote the scripts to such classics as ‘8 1/2’, ‘La Dolce Vita’, and ‘Satyricon’ directed this exploitation piece a little after his prime. The picture doesn’t offer the relaxed viewing experience we’ve been so accustomed to through the other ‘Emanuelle’ films, but frankly, I feel it surpasses pretty much every other movie that had Gemser playing that character. For starters, this is the most stylistically pleasing movie in the series, sporting some excellent cinematography and memorable music. The character of Emanuelle is a fashion model here (“number one in the world”, as they put it) and the story follows her relationship with a modern, young American woman in Egypt. As the film reaches a close, things get dramatically sinister and confusing, and those moments alone contribute to some of the best work Gemser has ever done in her career.
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2. Black Cobra Woman (1976)
Of all the films that Gemser has played a role in, ‘Black Cobra Woman’ would have to be the one that has my favorite title. Just like it, the story is straight and to the point, about a wealthy playboy (played surprisingly by renowned actor Jack Palance) who happens to have an obsession with snakes. The film follows his attempts to attract and seduce a woman who he sees dancing with snakes as a part of her act at a nightclub (played by Gemser). Impressively directed in comparison to other sexploitation features, ‘Black Cobra Woman’ is a very interesting watch from start to finish. My only issue with it would have to be (considering it is a B movie) that the usage of surreal imagery that suggests sex feels unnecessary and completely out-of-place. It is quite astonishing to watch Gemser fearlessly carry out her performance that requires direct contact with deadly, potentially poisonous creatures, and the film never has a dull moment.
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1. The Alcove (1985)
‘The Alcove’ is unlike any other picture that Laura Gemser has acted in. It has to do with an English soldier who arrives home from the Zulu war with a tribal king’s daughter as his slave (played by Gemser). On the side, the soldier’s wife has been having a lesbian relationship with the housekeeper while he’d been away, something that the slave discovers in a short while of being there. Due to the way they have been mistreating her, she begins to plan her revenge against the woman of the house and her extramarital partner. I like director Joe D’Amato’s take on this story very much, because while it never gets too serious, its many scenes have creativity oozing out of them. Despite all of this, the story is rather weak and poorly written, and some of the characters are unrealistic. The unavoidable element of sex has been utilized here as a necessary plot-point, which helps to make the movie that much more interesting.
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