Killer Nun (US - BD)
Gabe thinks that sister Gertrude might not best personify the Church's purport
Legendary Swedish sex bomb Anita Ekberg stars as Sister Gertrude, a cruel nun who discovers depraved pleasure in a frenzy of drug addiction, sexual degradation and sadistic murder. Joe Dallesandro, Lou Castel, Alida Valli and the luscious Paola Morra co-star in this notorious 'Nunsploitation' based on actual events that took place in a Central European country not many years ago! (From Blue Underground’s back of the box synopsis.)
Have I really written up nearly 1000 reviews and articles for DVDActive/DVDAnswers without once covering the all so important topic of the Nunsploitation subgenre? That seems awfully unlikely, doesn’t it? This oversight may have something to do with my generally lack of a pony in the race. Usually I can name three or four ‘top’ films in a specific exploitation genre, but among Nunsploitation I’m drawing a blank, especially since the films tend to blend into each other without a whole lot of distinction between films. Like the equally beloved Nazisploitation genre, Nunsploitation is often categorized as a subgenre of the Women in Prison, or WIP genre, including sadistic/masochistic Padres in place of sadistic/masochistic prison wardens, and innocent prisoners/nuns driven to lesbianism. The perverted/possessed/evil nun story goes back about as far as Catholicism, and have been included in some capacity in films since Benjamin Christensen’s silent ode to the occult Häxan, but the most obvious starting point for the genre’s brief ‘70s boom would probably be Ken Russell’s masterpiece The Devils.
Not surprisingly the bulk of Nunsploitation’s ‘golden era’ output came from Italy, Spain, and Japan, with a bit of additional regional help from France and Germany. Why America never kept up is a constant source of exploitation movie mystery. Also not surprising is the fact that sleaze flick ‘favourites’ Jess Franco ([/I]Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun[/I]), Joe D’Amato ( The Nun and the Devil and Images in a Convent) and Bruno Mattei ( The Other Hell and The True Story of the Nun of Monza, filmed back to back on the same sets) all dabbled in the genre, with mixed-to-terrible results. I’ve personally never seen any of the Japanese entries in the genre, but promise to remedy this the next time I have spare time (and access to Japanese Nunsploitation movies). If forced to pick a genre favourite outside of The Devils (which is so good it transcends exploitation) I’d probably pick Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda, which is a surprisingly arty and even occasionally beautiful Spanish entry.
Giulio Berruti’s Killer Nun (aka: Suor Omicidi and Deadly Habits) is not one of the genre’s shining achievements, but is among the most famous Nunsploitation films thanks to its simple and straight ahead English title, and its banned status in the UK during the Video Nasties scare in the 1980s (it was just made available uncut in the region on DVD in 2006). Blue Underground’s original DVD release also helped keep the film in the public eye more prominently than other genre favourites. Berruti only directed one other film in his career, some softcore thing called Noi siam come le lucciole (I can’t find any information on it outside of cast on imdb), but he worked as a writer and second unit director on Corrado Farina’s They Have Changed Their Face and Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga (which I reviewed a couple months ago). Berruti’s work isn’t standout, but he’s no visual pushover and does well to infuse his violence and smut with charm and levity. There’s no mistaking Killer Nun for something subversive or as an intended satire of the subgenre, but hints of intended comedy and amusing background characters go a long way in making the experience palatable. The screenplay is all over the place with very little regard for normal narrative rules, or rules pertaining to character development, as Gertrude changes up her character traits entirely from scene to scene. Berruti and co-writer Alberto Tarallo seem to be going for the grab bag approach to exploitation, which leaves them open to brands of debauchery not often found behind covenant walls. The only thing they miss out on is the supernatural element that often goes hand in hand with nefarious nuns.
Killer Nun scores points for mixing parts of the giallo genre into its sacrilegious smut. Around the second act Gertrude ups and leaves the hospital and goes manhunting, very much in the tradition of upper-class sexpot Jane Lodge in Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper. Later Gertrude begins to hallucinate during some genuine murders. The mystery behind these murders isn’t exactly mind-boggling, but there are some traditionally giallo-tastic red herrings, stalking sequences, and malevolent gloved hands (pink gloves, not black, unfortunately), adding further texture to the catchall. These giallo elements, especially those outside the hospital, don’t really amount to much, but are amusing diversions. Things fall apart when Berruti gets too wrapped up with the melodrama of Gertrude’s malevolent reawakening, which gives his actors a chance to chew up the scenery, but mostly just dulls the impending edge of graphic sex and violence. There are attempts made at transcending the genre into something Fellini-esque, but these usually falls short into the less virtuous area of silliness. There isn’t an excess of graphic violence, but when Berruti gets gory he doesn’t pull any punches. The ickiest scenes include a dream sequence pertaining to Gertrude’s brain surgery, and a sadistically slow needle and scalpel kill.
Killer Nun also has a place in non-exploitation film history due to its bizarrely outstanding cast. First off, it stars Anita Ekberg as Sister Gertrude. Pin-up turned actress, Ekberg appeared alongside Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda in King Vidor’s War and Peace, and made a real name for herself starring with Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vida. How exactly she ended up in Berruti’s exploitation opus is likely a sad story, but she adds a whole lot of class and bite to an otherwise less than impressive production. Perhaps even more impressive is the inclusion of Alida Valli in the smaller role of Mother Superior. Valli, who was christened Baroness Alida Maria Laura Altenburger von Marckenstein-Frauenberg of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, famously starred in some of the finest films ever made, including Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, Carol Reed's The Third Man, Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido, Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 and Dario Argento's Suspiria. Unfortunately, she only appears here for a matter of minutes. Paola Morra, who plays Sister Mathieu, is perhaps a bit less well known among cineastes, but gets credit for getting a jump on the whole Nunsploitation thing by starring in Walerian Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls the year before Killer Nun. Also of note is Joe Dallesandro, who plays replacement doctor Patrick Roland, and is best known for his role on many Andy Warhol productions, not to mention his crotch bulge on the cover of ‘Sticky Fingers’.
It’s been way too long since I saw Blue Underground’s original DVD to properly compare that disc to this Blu-ray, but there are some decent screencaps across the internet to give me a decent idea of improvements. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is about as good looking as we’ve come to expect from the folks at the Underground. The film shows its age, of course, and is pretty grainy throughout, but there aren’t many obvious telecine scanning issues or other digital production artefacts to complain about. In fact, I find the grain levels here quite pleasing and natural for the most part, and was only really bothered by occasional warping in the film. All the full sized image I can find from the original DVD release reveal a lot more in the way of blocking and colour bleeding. Details are stifled a bit by the grain and soft focus, but are generally quite satisfying. The sterile whiteness of the bulk of the backgrounds and costumes is a bit jarring, but doesn’t blowout too many edges, or damage colour and black levels too much. A few minor details go missing during the brightest scenes, and the darkest sequences are so grainy image doubling occurs, but these are likely issues with the source material, and hopefully not contrast problems made during the remastering process. Beyond the slight increase in detail, and slight clean-up along the edges, this Blu-ray’s big advantage over the DVD appears to be colour quality, including more natural skin tones, softer gradations, and much more effective highlight elements, such as greens, blues, yellows and reds.
Blue Underground has included two DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono soundtracks, one in English and one in Italian, and once again it’s important to note that both tracks are technically post-dubbed, as per the norm with Italian period releases. The English track gets higher points for volume levels, and general clarity, especially in the musical track, which features sizably more bass support and dynamic range than the music on the Italian track. On the other hand, though neither track features a great deal of distortion or hiss, the Italian dialogue is a bit more consistent in terms of volume levels. Without subtitles, it’s occasionally difficult to make out what characters are saying. Sound effects are similar on both tracks, and generally pretty low key, but the English track is a hair sharper, and usually a bit louder as well. As occurs with many of these uncut Blue Underground Italian release there are a few sequences that only feature Italian dialogue. Here, as on the DVD, the English dialogue will briefly switch over to Italian, and English subtitles will crop up temporarily.
The extras here match those of the original Blue Underground DVD release, beginning with From the Secret Files of the Vatican - Interview with Co-Writer/Director Giulio Berruti (13:40, SD). Berruti runs down the film’s preproduction process, which was apparently all producer Enzo Gallo’s doing, the supposed true story inspiration, casting, gore effects, and censorship cuts. Things end with a trailer and a poster and still gallery.
It’s no classic, but Killer Nun is a good enough exploitation romp to earn a nice remaster from the fine folks at Blue Underground. It’s a good place to start for those not already versed in the beautiful Nunsploitation subgenre, and another tick off my ever-shrinking official BBFC ‘Video Nasties’ banned list. This 1080p transfer is plenty sharp without too many digital bells or whistles, and both the English and Italian DTS-HD mono soundtracks sound great. The extras are brief, but somewhat entertaining. Now bring on Bullet for the General and Django Kill Blue Underground, we’re ready for ‘em.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and DVD releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the Blue Underground Blu-ray screen-caps.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 24th April 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English and Italian
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, English for Italian Version
Extras: From the Secret Files of the Vatican - Interview with Co-Writer/Director Giulio Berruti, Trailer, Poster and Still Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Giulio Berruti
Cast: Anita Ekberg, Joe Dallesandro, Lou Castel, Alida Valli, Paola Morra
Length: 88 minutes
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