There’s always cruel omissions when consulting various lists of the great beauties of the 7th Art. Are people too shy, or maybe ignorant, to include names that are essential to honor? Too many actresses having played in so-called dubious productions are more often than not ignored; on the other hand, actresses with more straight (or boring) filmographies are unjustly adulated. With this site, I’m trying to pay homage to some of these women (Edwige Fenech and Daria Nicolodi come to mind). Today, it’s time to talk about someone who merits such attention: Laura Gemser. Who the hell is that, I hear you say. My response: Why, you never heard of Black Emmanuelle? You never saw Porno Holocaust or Caged Women? I’m surprised… So, let’s welcome another kind of Siren, a true representative of B-movies we like. (And would you believe that there’s a Yellow Emmanuelle? But that’s a story for another day.)
Born in 1950 in Java, Indonesia, Laura Gemser remains an unique beauty in the history of motion pictures. Her magnificent exotic features are probably the result of mixed origins. There’s not much of a biography to be found about her on the web (besides a couple of German paragraphs, and we all know how well translation software works…). She always was interested in couture, but it’s as a model that her pictures fell between the hands of Italian movie producers, who contacted her agency. She was then hired for her first film, Free Love, in 1974, directed by Ludovico Pavoni. Filmed in the beautiful Seychelles Islands, this first credit was an expectation of thing to come in Laura’s filmography: shooting in breathtaking exotic locations. Let’s note that she previously posed for some European men’s magazines, such as Lui and Playmen, legendary issues that became collectors’ items.
The next year, Laura enjoyed a brief role in the second film of the Emmanuelle series with Sylvia Kristel, Emmanuelle l’antivierge by Francis Giacobetti (whom she knew for many photo sessions). In one of the series’ most memorable scene, Laura is masseuse to the Emmanuelle character with great enthusiasm. All this resulted for Laura to be offered the role of Black Emmanuelle, another series parallel to the original one. Ah, the seventies… Other movies wouldn’t hesitate to put the name Emmanuelle in their title, even if they weren’t part of the series, just for the fact that Laura was in the cast! And it’s sometimes spelled with only an “m”!
Black Emmanuelle came out in 1975, directed by Adalberto Albertini. One of the stars was Gabriele Tinti, a veteran of the industry active since 1952. He noticed Laura as she was visiting the production office in Rome and they began a romance while shooting in Kenya. Consequently, Laura moved to Italy to stay with him and they eventually shared the screen in many films. German actress Karin Schubert was also in the cast, herself more known for European adventure movies. Her career took a strange turn in the mid-eighties, as she played parts in films that can only be described as “adult” (to go from Jean-Louis Trintignant to Rocco Sifredi The Italian Stallion as co-stars is somewhat astonishing, no?). She tried to commit suicide, eventually. Lastly, a personal favorite of mine is also in the cast, Venantino Venantini, as he was in Free Love. Laura is Mae Jordan, photographer sent to Africa for a photo-shoot where she’ll mix duty and pleasure, finding many erotic adventures under a memorable soundtrack.
As mentioned, Black Emmanuelle’s success started a colorful series, under the guidance of Aristide Massaccesi, dominant figure in Italian B-movies, best known as Joe D’Amato. Black Emmanuelle 2 came to be, this time with a different actress, Sharon Leslie, again by Albertini. Confused? Don’t worry and look at the pictures. D’Amato’s experience as a magazine photographer was favorable for Laura, who would not necessarily be embarrassed to be nude in numerous productions to come. By her own words, she admitted to always enjoy working with professional crews. These films contained nothing much explicit compared to today’s XXX productions and became popular for their exotic locations and Laura’s unique beauty.
1976 would be a busy year for Laura Gemser. She married Tinti, union that would last to his death in 1991. She worked with D’Amato for the first time in Girl in a Seminary, a comedy where she plays a maid, with Jacques Dufilho, great French character actor. Emmanuelle on Taboo Island takes to the big screen (with Arthur Kennedy, a veteran American actor who was surely at loss to explain what he was doing in such a project). She worked in Hong Kong with Jack Palance for Black Cobra. Black Emmanuelle in Bangkok opened. Same thing for Emmanuelle in America (where she investigates snuff movies). Finally, she can be seen with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer in Crime Busters as Susy Lee.
Her main series still went on with Emmanuelle and the Girls of Madame Claude, where our photographer investigates a supposed white slavers ring. Then came Black Emmanuelle White Emmanuelle, Emmanuelle Around the World (with a significant title and again a story about white slavers in five short sketches), and more importantly Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals (also known under the charming title of Trap Them and Kill Them), where our favorite heroine is united with a new popular genre of ultra-violent movies depicting cannibals. Many versions exist of this indescribable production, with scenes of violence and/or sexual activity sometimes cut, sometimes not. Still an essential viewing for any Laura fan. Interesting to note that Laura once admitted to often fall asleep on movie sets out of boredom, as various technicians resolved constant problems.
1978 saw the coming of Sister Emmanuelle where the character decides to become a nun, expecting a full pardon for her carnal sins… yeah, sure. Then came Emmanuelle in the Country and Emmanuelle the Seductress. Laura found time to be in a movie from Belgium, Exit 7, as a stewardess. In 1979, she can be glimpsed in one of the three sketches of Collection privée, directed by Walerian Borowczyk, Shuji Terayama and Just Jaeckin (director of the first original Emmanuelle). She plays the princess of an unknown island populated only by women who welcomes a male castaway. She shot Woman from the Torrid Land with another struggling American actor, Stuart Whitman. In Emmanuelle Queen of Sados she’s actually married but wants her abusive husband killed. To close the year, she took a small part in The Bushido Blade, actually joining the best cast so far in her career: Richard Boone, James Earl Jones, Toshiro Mifune, Mako and Sonny Chiba! The movie is an interesting period piece.
In 1980, Laura is under the direction of Riccardo Freda for Fear, the director’s last movie, he who’s considered the father of the Golden Age of Italian horror pictures for his I Vampiri in 1956 (actually partly directed by Mario Bava). Then comes Erotic Nights of the Living Dead by D’Amato, one of my favorite titles of all time, where we can observe a mutant monster with a murderous penis (?). The success of Bob Guccione’s Caligula inspired Caligula: The Untold Story, offering many more gory excesses from our favorite deranged Roman emperor. And with wonderful costumes for Laura, by the way. Divine Emmanuelle is produced in 1981 and proposed a story about a sex cult with Laura as High Priestess. Who can argue with such logic? The series continued in 1982 with Emmanuelle in Hell, with a script about Emmanuelle finding herself in some female jail in order to investigate its inhuman reputation, and with Emmanuelle Queen of the Desert. The same year, Laura is reunited with Stuart Whitman and a couple of other old and tired actors, Edmund Purdom and Woody Strode, for Horror Safari, with the inestimable collaboration of a former James Bond villain, Harold Sakata (Oddjob in Goldfinger).
In 1983, Laura played a telepath in a futuristic action movie, Endgame, enjoyable in the new-popular post-apocalyptic genre. Ator the Fighting Eagle followed, another then-current genre, that of the barbarian movie. Ator is played by stoic Miles O’Keefe and Laura is a witch. Let’s speak truthfully and admit that the Ator series is a lousy one. But the biggest surprise in 1983 for Laura fans is a major role in an American TV movie, Love Is Forever, co-starring wholesome Michael Landon! Even after hiring her, the director didn’t want anyone to know about Laura’s “dubious” filmography, so her name was changed to “Moira Chen”, at her great displeasure. The story is about a journalist who tries to come to the rescue of his fiancee from Laos, as the country is being ruled by communists. Jurgen Prochnow, Edward Woodward and Priscilla Presley (!) co-starred. Even so, there was more Emmanuelle in Laura’s future, with Unleashed Perversions of Emmanuelle and Emmanuelle Escapes from Hell, this one being the last of the series with another stale script about prison abuse.
As of 1984, Laura began a less hectic working schedule. European “softcore” is less imported and if so, only on VHS in North America. The Italian movie industry began a long crisis. Laura still remained loyal to Joe D’Amato and continued to appear in his erotic titles. In 1987, Laura made a cameo in a Tracy Lords movie, Object of Desire! The meeting of two erotic legends? Ah! The same year, our actress was in Metamorphosis, an horror picture where a scientist experiments with a serum and becomes a gelatinous monster.
While shooting Dirty Love in 1988, D’Amato learned that Laura used to study fashion. He suggested that she become dressmaker for his future films (but still pays her only the same actress salary! ah, low-budget Italian film making!). Her minutes on screen are reduced, but she begins this new angle of her career with enthusiasm. In 1990, it’s a return to the Ator series with Ator III: The Hobgoblin. Finally in 1992, Laura Gemser shoots her last film, Love Project. A Joe D’Amato production, needless to say. She retires from the screen, probably tired of all this life and to find herself after the death of her husband Gabriele Tinti.
Unexpectedly, on January 23, 1999, D’Amato died of an heart attack, leaving more than a hundred films to his credit, close to twenty with Laura. A documentary on the filmmaker is soon produced, Joe D’Amato Totally Uncut, where we can enjoy scenes with Laura (who figures on the video jacket). A must-see. Was it too ambitious to create a Laura Gemser biography page, considering the rarity of information? Furthermore, I had to suffer through a long PhotoShop session to edit photographs illustrating this article, as I wanted this site to remain a model of prime family viewing. I enjoyed remembering the era when European “softcore” was popular (and surprisingly creative). Laura as High Erotic Priestess of the Cinematographic Arts? I can see no other title to award her.