Laura De Marchi
96 mins (uncut)
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Flavia The Heretic (1974)
8th Aug 08
As opposed to Hilda The Heretic or Harriet The Spy. Nipple-snipping, horse castration and exposed 70’s bush served up for your delectation.
Brazilian-born Florinda Bolkan has enjoyed a long career in movies of all kinds though all that really matters to folks like us is the fact that she worked for Fulci in Don’t Torture A Duckling and the sublime Lizard In A Woman’s Skin and enjoyed the title role in this full-blooded Italian exploitation flick from the same period.
As a little girl, the lovely Flavia watches her dad being beheaded on the battlefield in the very first scene. One of those proper fake 70’s heads in a proper old-school decapitation, not the kind of weird slick, even faker-looking CG noggin removals you get these days. We’re in Southern Italy, circa 1400 and Flavia grows up to be a nun at a convent that’s invaded by “The Tarantula Cult”. While parallels are unsubtly drawn between the cult and the convent, it’s the former whose infiltration changes everything.
The cult instigate bouts of crazy dancing, crazy sing-songs (“arms and legs, arms and legs!”) and writhing around in an overtly sexual fashion clearly patterned on Ken Russell’s then-recent The Devils. Flavia refuses to stand for such boisterous behaviour and speaks out against male tyranny and cruelty. She strives for freedom, takes up with a friendly bit of rough (hobbies include running on the beach) and flees her oppressive world. She’s captured and flogged after a fashion but also enjoys losing her virginity to a sensitive, tender dude, a guy so sensitive that even his beard seems caring (“I noticed you were afraid when we made love…”).
The influence of contemporary shockers is apparent throughout Flavia The Heretic. The effectively jarring juxtaposition of graphic violence with the gorgeous rural cinematography of Alfio Contini and Nicola Piovani’s ironically lovely main themes, for instance, suggest director Gianfranco Mingozzi was an ardent admirer of the not dissimilar Witchfinder General. The sensationalist tone, however, is often closer in spirit to something like Mark of the Devil : there’s plentiful hairy 70’s bush on display, lots of women with bizarrely tiny boobs and huge nipples, a close-up, hard-to-watch horse castration (if you like that sorta thing), a pig-pen rape (the rapist, sporting a porno moustache, gets a suitably nasty comeuppance much later on) and a previously-censored scene in which a woman’s nipple is sliced off with a knife in grim (if fake-looking) detail.
This catalogue of depravity coupled with rigorous battle scenes and a whole bunch of surrealistic imagery (including a woman climbing inside a cow’s gutted carcass) helps overcome some longeurs and heavy handed religious symbolism. Flavia’s rise to become a commanding leader-figure is effectively conveyed, ensuring there’s some impact to the fashionably downbeat finale, in which she endures further graphic unpleasantries after valiant efforts to flee her cruel, self-contained world. The violent finale also contains an applause-worthy moment in which a guy gets a spike shoved up the darkest of dark orifices, a visceral variation on the kind of traditional family entertainment we humble country folk rely upon when there’s nothing on telly at Christmas.
Versions Obviously we recommend the Shameless Films edition, which is a great print and completely uncut.
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