There exist some movies that don’t ask to be criticized. Their only purpose is to give the audience exactly what they expect and add very little to this expectation. One specific type of these films is the ‘exploitation’ genre, which thrived in the ’60s and ’70s, and still continue to put out films (albeit of much poorer quality) to this day. The genre is further divided into several sub-genres, of which ‘sexploitation’ films are the ones I consider most interesting. The plots in the best of these movies are usually very intriguing – naturally they revolve around sex and everything related to the act. Most sexploitation flicks are downright B Grade movies in style, with low budgets, mostly unprofessional actors, and no backup from major studios.
I find such films very entertaining, because despite the many things they lack, sexploitation movies are always powered by this drive brought on by independent filmmaking. Legends of the genre like Joe D’Amato and Russ Meyer show in their films what aptly budgeted films wouldn’t dare to. It’s that sort of “rebellion” mindset that I enjoy the most. Secondly, the stories of these films are sometimes shocking and other times mindlessly exaggerated to the point where they become attractive in their own way. Lastly, sexploitation flicks look at the world from a totally unique perspective that watching some of them feel like opening up a strange time capsule showcasing the rawness of human life at a point of time. Presented below is the list of top sexploitation cinema ever made. The list also includes sexploitation horror movies. You can watch some of these best sexploitation movies on Amazon Prime or Netflix or Hulu.
10. Adventures Of A Taxi Driver (1976)
The release of this film in the same year as Martin Scorsese‘s ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976) is mere coincidence, as there is nothing similar between both movies other than the protagonist’s occupation. Barry Evans of ‘Mind Your Language (1977)’ fame plays a cab driver named Joe who uses his car as bait to attract females so as to have sex with them later. Although it is a comedy, many of the jokes fall flat and it doesn’t work because of what it was intended to do, but despite this it still remains a hilarious experience.
The many fourth wall breaks in the film when Joe talks directly to the audience is really fun (mostly because he tells us what he thinks of the “broads” while they’re sitting inside the cab), and the boyish charms given off by Evans makes his character quite relatable in that campy sort of way. Overall, this is one of the most different British sexploitation films ever made, due to its number of characters and good cast, and it has a catchy song that plays on repeat throughout its runtime.
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9. Private Lessons (1981)
One of those coming of age movies that took a bold step and showed pretty much everything it needed to show, ‘Private Lessons’ is a film quite different from the previous one on this list, simply because here, it works. The jokes are actually funny, and the premise feels a little too well planned out for a film of this kind. Starring the actress and popular sex symbol Sylvia Kristel, the story of this picture is about a young boy who falls in love with his attractive French maid, and when she catches him peeping at her undressing one day, well, she strips down for his pleasure and the two are immediately attracted to each other.
There are a couple of interesting characters here, and the twist in the plot is quite well done, in that I absolutely did not see it coming. This film is able to excite you and grab your interest. It is very flawed, but most sexploitation films are, and this one is quite self aware, thereby not allowing its shortcomings to dent the overall quality of the picture.
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8. To Be Twenty (1978)
‘To Be Twenty’ doesn’t have a coherent plot per se. It’s about two laid-back hippy girls who hitchhike their way to a place where they believe they can find sexual freedom of some kind. Then it goes on to show all the different times they use their bodies and charm to pretty much hypnotize other people into doing things for them. Not a lot of ‘To Be Twenty’ really makes sense. There’s an unexpected rape scene that doesn’t go anywhere, and there is this weird mime character who stays in the lodge along with the two girls and watches them go about their “activities”.
The film stars the popular B movie actresses Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati, and they are part of the reason this film ultimately achieves its (satisfactory) merits. It might be the soundtrack, the cast, the direction or a combination of all of these that make this film quick paced and energetic. There never really is a dull moment and they find ways to use their lack of a decent story smartly by stuffing in everything else that springs into their minds.
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7. Bad Girls Go To Hell (1965)
I find many similarities between this film and Ed Wood’s ‘Glen or Glenda (1953)’ in their unique surreal execution. ‘Bad Girls Go To Hell’ finds a way to live up to its great title by having an intriguing story about a woman who flees her apartment building after killing the janitor who tried to rape her when her husband was away. One of the few sexploitation flicks on this list that was actually shown to a viewing audience in drive-in theaters, this movie is soaked in “grindhouse” cliches of the time but stays effective due to its chic style.
The twist of the story is predictable because of how overused it is in these kind of pictures (see ‘Suor Emanuelle (1977)’ for the exact same turn of events), but factors like the way it was handled as well as the quippy score help to keep it alive for its hour long existence. The film isn’t too explicit – it may very well be the most harmless one on this list – but everything about it revolves around sex. Gigi Darlene is charming in her role, and though the film is called one of the worst ever made, I find it recommendable as well as enjoyable. One of Doris Wishman’s best works.
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6. Up! (1976)
This wouldn’t be a complete list about sexploitation films without the inclusion of Russ Meyer’s directorial efforts. (and we have two of those) I’m not completely sure of what ‘Up!’ is about. From a distance, it feels like a sex-comedy with satirical elements included. A Chaplin-‘stached man named Adolf (of course) is killed at the beginning of the film in one of the most outlandish scenes ever, and there’s something of a mystery surrounding his death. The film then takes place in peculiar locations and sports “erotic stunts” so over the top and insane that you’d have to make sure your mind is in the right place by the end of the picture.
It looks bright and colorful (comparable to the style of ‘Alice In Wonderland: An X Rated Musical Fantasy (1976)’) and many of the topical events of the film feel very out of place due to its immature style. The story has to do with a bodacious female hitchhiker who is raped (in graphic detail) and follows her as she takes revenge on the perpetrator. As serious as this may sound, ‘Up!’ is at its heart a comedy, and it’s one of the more popular films on here. Rightfully so, I might add.
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5. Paprika (1991)
It’s difficult to think of a more artistic filmmaker who delves into the realms of sex and everything to do with the subject than Tinto Brass. His approach towards filmmaking is distinctive, colorful, quick, chippy, and very Italian-inspired. ‘Paprika’ is a different film from everything else on here because of its dramatic elements despite it being a comedy overall. The story has to do with a young woman who takes up the occupation of a prostitute in order to get enough financial freedom so as to help her husband out with his business. The film basically traces her as she prepares for the job, and later as she performs it.
The thing I enjoy most about this picture is the way it has been filmed: quick zooms and shots from every possible angle, mirror reflections, the whole package. The film rarely made me laugh, but it does have enough to keep one interested throughout. Deborah Caprioglio plays the beautiful and seductive title character with such grace that she becomes quite memorable.
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4. Vixen! (1968)
The other great film by Russ Meyer, ‘Vixen!’ is a film I really like for what it is. For its time, the film was very controversial and became the first widely released feature to get an X rating. Watching it now, I don’t think the film is as explicit as the erotic exploitation films that followed it, but ‘Vixen! is definitely the movie that got the “skin flick” fad going. (which is to be differentiated from “porno chic”, brought on by the release of ‘Deep Throat (1972)’) Erica Gavin plays the nymphomaniac Vixen, who along with her husband – a pilot by profession – owns a successful estate cum resort from where she lures men and women in order to have sex with them when her significant other is out flying.
The majority of this film is concerned with her many encounters, but thrown into all of this are a couple racist moments (relating to her brother’s black friend, a man she denies the chance to sleep with based on his skin color) and bits of artistic merit. The film has been referred to as the first “great” Meyer film, and though I would argue that calling his pictures great is taking it a little too far, I really enjoyed what this had to offer and had a good time overall.
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3. Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS (1975)
Even sexploitation films are divided into several categories, and one of the most popular of these is the “Women In Prison” genre. Add to that elements of Nazism and you’ve got ‘Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS’. The film actually exploits painful episodes of human cruelty and uses these as elements of the story, in a way that it almost mocks real events. I like to think that this is what makes all the films in the ‘Ilsa’ series particularly entertaining. The story has to do with an evil Nazi warden named Ilsa (played voluptuously by Dyanne Thorne) who trains women in rigorous sexual torture methods in order to make them strong and “acceptable” citizens of society.
There is a lot of blood and gore in this one, and it is hard to watch sometimes. I love the fact that they actually had the guts to go as far as they did here, taking advantage of every taboo topic they could get their hands on. It has excessive nudity, ballsy dialogue, and a completely absorbing story, as far as B movies go. This film is easily one of the most rewatchable sexploitation films ever made, and it is sure to take you by surprise in one way or the other.
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2. Black Cobra Woman (1976)
B Movies are well known for their catchy and hilarious titles, and nothing gets more to-the-point than Joe D’Amato’s 1976 film, ‘Black Cobra Woman’. Led by Laura Gemser, one of the greatest exploitation film actresses of all time, and Jack Palance, this film sets its “free spirit” mood and feel on screen right from the opening scene. It has a killer soundtrack that I find highly addictive to listen to, and the plot involving a snake-collecting billionaire’s attraction to a night-club dancer (who performs with, as you may have guessed, a snake) is carried out with surprisingly realistic characters, charismatic acting and good dialogue.
The film tries a little too hard to blend the story with elements suggesting sex, even going as far as to include a couple out-of-place erotic dream sequences just to increase the runtime and nudity, but I find it very self aware and focused otherwise. ‘Black Cobra Woman’ is extremely entertaining if seen by the right audience, and it is visible throughout the picture that a lot of work and skill was put into it. along with the fact that the cast and crew had a lot of fun.
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1. The Image (1975)
‘The Image’ has everything. The story is compelling, the nude scenes are nicely presented, and it has shock value. It is quite mysterious in the way it chooses to tell the story – there is something hidden at all times. The plot is narrated to us by the protagonist, a man who meets an old friend named Claire (Marilyn Roberts) and tells us the incidents that follow. Claire keeps with her a beautiful and seemingly innocent sex slave named Anne (Mary Mendum), whom she exploits in every manner possible, even going as far as to force her to urinate in public. The man and his friend start to play around with her, beating and torturing her, but strangely enough, she appears willing and loyal throughout.
The film has no resolution by the end, and we are left to think for ourselves the aftermath of the situation. ‘The Image’ is a very good exploitation film that understands itself well and pushes the boundaries of what it has the power to show. Though it has flaws, the film provides for a very entertaining watch that proves to be highly rewarding by the time it ends.
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