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Perverted, possessed, and/or evil nun stories have likely been around as long as Catholic women have donned the habit and pledged themselves to God. In the film world, naughty nuns had existed since the silent era, when Benjamin Christensen’s occult pseudo-documentary Häxan (1922) portrayed a series of sinful sister antics, but it wasn’t until Ken Russell’s masterpiece The Devils (itself also based on a true story, 1971) shocked censors and titillated international audiences that the concept of Nunsploitation took off. Spurred by the equally “beloved” Nazisploitation genre, ‘70s Nunsploitation was usually an extension of the Women in Prison (WIP) genre, including sadistic/masochistic Padres in place of sadistic/masochistic prison wardens and innocent prisoners/nuns driven to lesbianism.

Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

The Other Hell


A level-headed abbot is sent to an Italian nunnery to investigate the mysterious deaths of two of its residents. He is soon tied up in a nightmare of demonic possession, lust, and violence.

Not surprisingly much of the ‘golden era’ of Nunsploitation came from Europe’s ‘greatest’ trash filmmakers, including Jesus ‘Jess’ Franco ( Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, 1977), Joe D’Amato ( Convent of Sinners, 1986), and Bruno Mattei, who shot The Other Hell (Italian: L'altro inferno) and The True Story of the Nun of Monza (Italian: La vera storia della monaca di Monza) back-to-back on the same sets in 1980. While Franco and D’Amato had their share of successes throughout their very, very long careers, Mattei, along with his favourite collaborator, Claudio Fragasso (this particular Nunsploitation double-feature was actually their first time working together), never earned much in the way of genuine praise. As I mentioned in my own review of Blue Underground’s Hell of the Living Dead/Rats: Night of Terror Blu-ray, they rarely gave fans much of a reason to respect their work, outside, of course, the pure entertainment value of its sleazy sex and violence. However, if there was ever a reason to assume Mattei and Fragasso had the potential to be arthouse garbagemen on the level of Franco or D’Amato, it would probably be The Other Hell.

Arguably, this is a case where the cost-cutting measures that make most of Mattei’s films so terrible have worked in the film’s favour. Together with cinematographer Giuseppe Bernardini, Mattei wrings the Convento di Santa Priscilla location for every penny it’s worth, roaming the hallways with shaky, handheld cameras and drawing atmosphere out of cramped, dimly-lit, and surprisingly colourful sets. Few Nunsploitation movies are built to fit the horror mould as clearly as this The Other Hell, which is one of the only movies to directly connect haunted house/possession movie tropes to the Nunsploitation genre (one notable exception would be Juan López Moctezuma’s genuinely frightening Mexican nun-horror opus, Alucarda, 1978). This is still a Mattei/Fragasso joint, so viewers should be prepared for some long, boring stretches where characters discuss the ethics, metaphysics, and ‘science’ of Catholic law and mythology. But even these dull moments have a certain appeal, especially when one considers the irrational vibe running through the dialogue. Like some of the better Eurohorror nonsense, specifically the Gothic horrors Lucio Fulci was producing around the same time, The Other Hell deals in nightmare logic. This is a universe where the typical terrors of burning bibles, skull-filled catacombs, lightning storms, and gory violence are no more frightening than baffling insert shots of dangling nude dolls, spider webs wafting in the wind, or cats that are so content, they can barely keep their eyes open. The gore effects are pretty impressive, too, for the record, especially the spontaneously generated stigmata wounds.

The Other Hell was discovered by most stateside exploitation fans via Vestron Video’s VHS, before being released on anamorphic, 1.66:1 DVD by Media Blasters under their long-defunct Shriek Show label. There was also a R2 anamorphic release from Néo Publishing with forced French subtitles. According to specs, Severin’s new Blu-ray debut was newly transferred from a 35mm print discovered behind a false wall in a Bologna nunnery. The Bologna nunnery part is clearly a bit of fun hullabaloo, I assume that they were, indeed, handed a digital master that was taken from a 35mm print. Some notes claim that it was actually a blow-up print, which makes sense, because it sort of looks like a 16mm source. This leads to some issues with blotchy spots, discolouration, and a few print damage artefacts, though the scan itself doesn’t bear many signs of the kind of telecine noise that typically appear on HD masters from Italian companies. As per usual, Severin has done an admirable job cleaning up the image, pumping up the colours, and avoiding compression noise artefacts (there are hints of blocking among some of the more delicate gradations). Close-up patterns are sharp and, though wide-angle shots do suffer from a bit of blow-out (a side effect of the printed source format), lines and shapes are neatly defined throughout the transfer. Black levels are nice and deep, but the image itself is rarely so dark that it appears muddy, which was an ongoing problem for VHS and DVD versions.

Severin has included the original English, Italian, and French mono dubs in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 sound. As per usual for most Italian films from the era, the movie was shot without sound, so all tracks are dubbed. In this case, the cast appears to be mostly acting in English, but are not dubbing themselves. Each track has its advantages and disadvantages. The English dub has the best vocal quality, but also features more obvious track damage (there is considerable crackle) and is missing some of the sound effects found on the other two dubs. The French track is the strongest of the three with the widest aural range and best sound effects, while the Italian track is pretty heavily muted all-around. The musical soundtrack is provided by Dario Argento’s favourite progrock band, Goblin. Well, ‘provided’ is a bit of a misnomer, because Mattei sort of stole his Goblin soundtrack from a different movie, as he had done with Hell of the Living Dead. This time he swiped music from D’Amato’s Buio Omega (aka: Beyond the Darkness and Buried Alive, 1979). Stolen or not, the music fits the film pretty well and has rarely sounded better (especially on the English and French tracks).

Extras include:
  • Commentary with co-director/co-writer Claudio Fragasso – This commentary track is moderated by Freak-O-Rama's Federico Caddeo and I believe it is the same one recorded for Néo Publishing’s French DVD. Fragasso takes the opportunity to talk about the rest of his filmography, which is fine, since he hasn’t otherwise had the chance to talk about many of his movies outside of Troll 2 (1990).
  • Sister Franca (13:13, HD) – An interview with actress Franca Stoppi (Mother Superior Vincenza), who recalls her work on the film with a sense of humor.
  • To Hell And Back (11:22, HD) – These archive interviews with Mattei and actor Carlo De Mejo are taken from the OOP Shriek Show DVD and cut together to create a single featurette. A lot of the discussion surrounds the fact that Mattei and Fragasso were sneakily shooting two movies at once.
  • Trailer


 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature


Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

Dark Waters

(1994)
When a young Englishwoman attempts to discover her mysterious connection to a remote island convent, she will unlock an unholy communion of torment, blasphemy, and graphic demonic depravity. (From Severin’s official synopsis)

Mariano Baino’s Dark Waters was released in 1994 – a time when the Italian horror industry was lumbering out of its golden era and into complete collapse. It was also the same year that Michele Soavi released Cemetery Man (Italian: Dellamorte Dellamore), which would go on to become the region’s last genre hurrah. Baino’s film ended up being overshadowed by Cemetery Man’s good press and the percieved quality of most of the period’s Italian STV output. As a result, most of us missed out on this loving ode to that golden age. Baino was working from a modest budget and under trying circumstances (he and writer Andy Bark apparently had a much larger and even more American-friendly production in mind, but had to dial back on their plans, due to budget constraints and the challenges of filming in the Ukraine), but he also clearly and deliberately designed the film’s arthouse aesthetic, rather than stumbling onto it like Bruno Mattei and other bargain basement exploitationeers.

Dark Waters doesn’t quite deliver on the introductory sequence’s delectable promise of enigmatic, dialogue-free vignettes, but Baino still manages to deliver scene after scene of purely visual storytelling. As he delves into surrealistic violence and moody seaside landscapes, he draws upon traditions from Fulci, Bava, and even Soavi (it would fit nicely alongside The Church, 1989), but specifically recalls the point-of-view shots, extensive explorations of labyrinthine catacomb sets, and obsession with rain seen throughout Dario Argento’s supernatural thrillers, specifically Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). At the same time, Dark Waters is a bit more concerned with plot and character development than the typical Argento witch story. The specific references to the oceanic terrors of H.P. Lovecraft and fact that the central character is an outsider to the convent actually make it difficult to include the film under the greater Nunsploitation banner (given the occult mysteries plaguing the convent, one could draw obvious parallels to Suspiria’s evil ballet academy). Perhaps Catholicsploitation would be the better genre designation?

As I mentioned, Dark Waters is a pretty obscure title, but that didn’t stop it from being released on special edition DVD by NoShame Films and limited edition DVD from Ecstasy in France. There were also pan & scan DVDs released in both regions, though every version seems to be OOP at this point. This Blu-ray debut was reportedly remastered from the original 35mm negative and is certainly an upgrade over what I’ve seen from DVD versions. That said, something clearly went wrong during the scanning process, because this is a particularly noisy transfer. Severin tends to deal with the aforementioned CRT/telecine issues that plague so many Italian releases more gracefully than most studios (they’ve been slowly correcting many of Media Blasters’ mistakes the last year or so), so I’m a little taken aback by the obviousness of the issue. The occasional signs of edge enhancement (almost exclusively during the brightest daylight shots) made me think this was an encoding issue, but this vertically strafing noise doesn’t look like a compression artefact, because it doesn’t follow the patterns of image texture or gradation shapes. And it’s a bummer, because, otherwise, the transfer is a nice representation of the independently-produced production. With the exception of those somewhat over-sharpened edges, details are tight, dynamic range is strong, and the warm colour quality is consistent.

The box art claims that Dark Waters is presented in mono sound, but that is a printing error, because the disc actually features an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo track. Unlike the Italian horror films of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, it was shot with at least some on-set sound and in English. I’m sure there was an Italian dub, but it is not included here, nor does it need to be. The sound effects have a canned quality that doesn’t necessarily detract from the surrealistic tone, but does make for a slightly thinner mix, at least when compared to pricier productions from the era. The effects are all quite clean, despite the occasional tinny bits and hissy pieces of dialogue. Igor Clark’s dramatic synth-based score adds considerable production value and volume to the track. There are some warping effects throughout the music and I’m not sure if these were designed this way or if there was some damage to the original tracks.

The extras, which seem to have been taken from the OOP NoShame DVD, include:
  • Commentary with writer/director Mariano Baino – NoShame’s Michele De Angelis moderates this very informative commentary with Baino, who is brimming with so many behind-the-scenes anecdotes that he doesn’t really need any guidance.
  • Lovecraft Made Me Do It (9:51, HD) – Baino discusses his many literary influences, centering on the writing of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  • Let There Be Water (6:44, HD) – The writer/director recalls the challenges of the opening sequence, where water floods the church, including hastily drawn technical plans and the original multi-camera rushes (taken from a VHS source).
  • Controlling the Uncontrollable (5:10, HD) – A quick featurette on Baino’s intricate creature illustrations.
  • Deep Into the Dark Waters (50:27, SD) – An extensive retrospective documentary that includes production illustrations, storyboards, behind-the-scenes photos, and interviews with Baino, camera operator Steve Brooke Smith, script supervisor/editor Rick Littler, and star Louise Salter.
  • Director Intro (2:36, SD)
  • Deleted scene and outtake reel (7:14, HD)
  • Silent blooper reel with commentary by Baino (2:52, HD)
  • The Short Films of Mariano Baino (with optional commentary):
    • [i]Dream Car (16:16, SD) – A lonely stalker finds himself trapped in a haunted car where he is unseen by passers by and eventually dies when the vehicle is crushed in a junkyard facility.
    • Caruncula (21:26, HD) – A young woman with a dark secret is menaced by a sadistic killer after a night at the movies.
    • Never Ever After (13:47, HD) – A woman suffering from body dysmorphic disorder agrees to an experimental surgical procedure in this surrealistic dark comedy.
    • Making of Never Ever After (14:04)
    • ”The Face and the Body" music video (4:30)


 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

 Severin Nunsploitation Double-Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then 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.


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