Nunspoitation / Giallo
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The Killer Nun (1978)
20th Dec 07
A crazed nun goes to desperate measures to sustain her morphine addiction while dead bodies pile up around her in a convent. And a really hot nun gets naked quite a lot.
Believe it or not, this wasn't one of Mary Whitehouse’s favourite movies. In fact, she encouraged the DPP to ban in back in the year that still sends shivers down the spine of any horror fan who is old enough to remember...1984. Thankfully, Mary's disapproval is encouragement enough for us to give up a very manageable 82 minutes of our time to bathe in the fleshy wonders of nunsploitation at its best, starring none other than buxom Swedish diva Anita Ekberg (from La Dolce Vita).
After recovering from a brain tumour, Sister Gertrude (Ekberg) returns to work in a convent-hospital for the old and infirmed, but soon becomes very concerned about “blackouts” and moodswings during which she bullies the terrified patients. When no one takes her new symptoms seriously she resorts to unethical measures in order to source morphine. These unethical measures include weekend trips into the city, where she changes into normal attire, exchanges her mother's precious ring for fix money, then shags a stranger against a wall. Dirty, naughty nun. Soon however her condition spirals out of control – she orchestrates the sacking of the head doctor only for a younger, more suspicious one to be appointed, dead bodies start turning up, and patients become so scared they refuse to eat the convent meals in fear of being poisoned.
Sister Gertrude's erratic behaviour is tolerated by young sister Mathieu (Paula Morra) – a strange soul who harbours strong feelings of an intimate nature for the older nun. This is helped by the fact that they share a room, which results in some after dark lesbo nun action. Which is nice, because we get to see Italian Playboy beauty Paula Morra in the nude - in itself a reason to see this movie.
Generally, I found this to be terrific fun. If and where there is a lack of gory detail, director Giulio Berruti instead opts for strangely edited set-pieces designed to give some scenes more ambiguity - and it's not without good reason. Besides, it all adds to the ludicrous nature of the whole affair. For example, where else can we witness an old wheelchair-bound man having sex before a mad nun suffocates him with cotton wool? The delirium on show makes up for Berruti’s refusal to go to extremes in the depiction of nun sex – after all, we do have two Eurobabes indulging in naughty convent sex, but don’t expect much more than ample nudity and sleazy teasing.
Contrasting with other entries from the Italian nunsploitation subgenre, this one takes place in the present day and is in fact as much a giallo entry as it is a nun flick, and although it might not always quite as violent as the title might suggest, there is enough in the way of bloody violence to keep gorehounds satisfied. For example, you can look forward to a very unpleasant scene involving a patient’s face being jabbed with a multitude of needles (as depicted on this Shameless DVD release cover).
The bizarre antics on display are ably complimented by an intermittently frantic score courtesy of Alessandro Alessandroni (the man who whistled Leone's Once a Time in the West theme), and this is part of the reason why a low budget movie like The Killer Nun does manage to generate some genuine atmosphere. The real-life convent location no doubt helped, too – some of the cinematography in the dark corridors works as absolute treat, particularly towards the end when Sister Gertrude’s universe is collapsing around her.
Anita Ekberg has thrown herself into the role with aplomb – she is fantastic to watch as she flaps about the scenery scaring the bejesus out of the unfortunate patients and stamping on their dentures. Given that she is a former Miss Sweden, the idea of Ekberg as a hot-tempered, horny nun should be a sexy treat for us all, but the years do unfortunately show her age, even if you can still see remnants of her beauty through all the cosmetic attempts to hide the years. She suits the role to perfection regardless, lending the proceedings considerable help in the sleaze department, not least during her excursion to the city, where she wonders into a trendy bar and requests "A Man. I mean a cognac." Her admirer in the convent is played to total perfection by Paula Morra - she is not only great to look at (preferably naked) but turns in a magnetic performance as the twisted, tortured Sister Mathieu. Joining in the fun is the strangely vacant Joe Dallesandro as the newly appointed doctor, as well as Susperia's own Alida Valli as the Mother Superior.
This is a whacked-out, hysterical ride of a nun movie. It's fun, it's sleazy, it's competently directed and it does manage to generate enough unpleasantness and atmosphere to also work as an above-average giallo. I laughed my ass off in one scene; in the next I was spellbound. It’s a shame Berutti didn’t make anything else of note.
Amazingly, this wicked tale was allegedly based on true events which took place in Belgium shortly before the film was made.
Versions This new Region 2 DVD release includes an interview with Anita Ekberg.
26th Apr 04 It’s not all bad of course. This is Tarantino, after all, and there are plenty of highlights. Action scenes are handled very well, (the fight between Black Mamba and Darryl Hannah in particular, is a poke in the eye to any who doubt that),
Top Tom Ten Atkins 6th Jun 06 This is as good as it gets for Tom, and I’m sure if you were to talk to him, he would tell you the same thing.