Blue Underground // 1979 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // April 20th, 2012
You're a nun whore!
"From the secret files of the Vatican" comes a "film based on actual events that took place in a Central European country not many years ago!"
Shocking! Brutal! Thoroughly ridiculous!
Killer Nun gives us the story of the lovely and zaftig Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg, Boccaccio '70), a veteran nun and nurse in some kind of nursing home/rehab facility/asylum.
Unfortunately, she's also cracking up.
It seems the good sister has recently recovered from a brain tumor, which has left her with a habit -- and not the white cloak and wimple kind. Sister Gertrude is now Sister Morphine, seriously addicted to the pain killer. And when Gertrude's cookin', terrible things are happening to the people around her -- like skull crushing beatings and cotton-ball suffocations.
Even when she's not stoned, Gertrude isn't exactly a Sister of Mercy. While the patients are eating, she regales them with graphic stories of the torture of martyrs; one old lady gets her false teeth crushed by the angry nun's white shoes (though in fairness, the retiree did disgustingly have the teeth in a glass at the dinner table); Gertrude regularly bullies the patients, fails to give them aid, and makes them do a strenuous exercise that looks like jumping jacks without the jumping.
Is it any wonder that the patients hate her? No, but it is a wonder that hospital staffers don't take a closer look at her when bodies start turning up.
Killer Nun, a late-'70s Eurosleaze entry, is a lot of nunsploitation, a little bit giallo, a smidgen of art, and altogether loony. It's not as bad as it could have been, but it's not especially good either. Though there are an awful lot of slow stretches, the delirious awfulness ends up shining through.
Killer Nun follows an oddly choppy path, with all sorts of semi-sleazy, semi-blasphemous stuff thrown in, but not much in the way of a real through-line. There are murders. There's Sister Gertrude's outright meanness; she does nasty things to other people, and immediately has interior monologues that basically consist of her saying, "Why did I do that?" There's an unfocused lesbian subplot involving Gertrude and a younger nun (the frequently and appropriately naked Paola Morra). There's Gertrude's decidedly un-nunlike behavior on a trip over the wall ("Sister Gertrude's dying to get laid!") There's a duplicitous Mother Superior. There's the late-game appearance of a sexy young doctor (Joe Dallesandro, Trash). Plus! There's sadism, Gertrude's drug-induced hallucinations, wacky patients, and dirty talk. Sadly, it all doesn't really come together.
All the sleaze just plays out like raunchy vignettes in search of a cohesive story. Ideas that might be interesting -- Gertrude's conviction that she still has cancer despite evidence that she's been cured, or a patient's lust for Morra's young nun -- aren't developed in a satisfying way. Scenes in which patients are tortured are yuckier than usual because most of the patients are old people; watching an elderly woman having pins jammed in her eyes isn't just gross, it's kind of depressing. Even the hallucinations are pretty low-key, not to mention too few and far between.
Anita Ekberg was in her late 40s when she made this film and, as director Giulio Berruti notes in an interview, she was no longer the girl from La Dolce Vita. Heavily made up, her body covered up even in the sex scenes, she looks a bit like a parody of her former self. While the drug-addled nun is supposed to be confused about everything that's going on, Ekberg herself seems confused, never really getting a handle on the character.
Ekberg doesn't play repression well, but she's in her element in the sex scenes, even if said moments are largely sexless. In one noteworthy sequence, she cruelly mocks the inexplicably love-struck Morra, and then makes her put on stockings as a prelude to love makin'. This actually should have been the best scene in the film, in terms of skeeviness and stupidity. Morra's Sister Mathieu has no problem parading around naked, begging Sister Gertrude for sex, helping her get drugs, and covering up crimes, but she recoils at the idea of putting on a pair of silk stockings! I guess even oversexed, corrupt nuns have standards. Unfortunately, Berruti stops the scene just as it gets going, denying us the kind of full on, nun-on-nun loving grotesquerie that would put this one over the top on the sleaze meter.
The supporting cast is like a who's who of Eurosploitation second bananas, including Lou Castel (Orgasmo), Massimo Serato (Autopsy), Laura Nucci (The Long Hair of Death), and Daniele Dublino (Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man). One-time legit actress Alida Valli has two brief scenes as the Mother Superior. Morra -- who appeared in Behind Convent Walls -- is fine in the underdeveloped lesbian subplot, though hipster-sleaze prince Dallesandro -- overdubbed to eradicate his trademark New York accent -- is wasted in the serious, non-naked role of a young doctor. At least, I think he's non-naked: one of Gertrude's morphine-dream sequences features a penis that looks like it might have appeared in a Paul Morrissey film (or not, it's hard to say).
On the upside, there's plenty of sleaze, reasonable gore, and a goofy twist ending.
Like its recent Blu-ray release of Strip Nude for Your Killer, Blue Underground's HD release of Killer Nun offers a transfer that's much better than the previous DVD, the same slate of supplements, and a significant upgrade in the audio department. The first release of Killer Nun contained an English dub and subtitles. This Blu-ray gives us the English dub as well as the original Italian language track, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Though the 1.85:1/1080p image improves upon the earlier release, it's still something less than a marvel, occasionally taking on a sort of flat, creamy look. Colors are acceptable, and there's a bit of grain, but depth is negligible. DP Antonio Maccoppi did most of his work in Italian exploitation (Nude for Satan, Red Nights of the Gestapo), and his work here is serviceable but hardly an ambitious visual feast. The fact that the image is acceptable but not eye-popping isn't as huge a liability as it might otherwise be.
The main bonus feature is a pretty great interview with director Giulio Berruti, who mostly worked as an AD, writer, editor, and documentarian; Killer Nun was one of only two narrative films he directed. Berruti well remembers the film, and he's pretty candid about the experience of making it. He also expresses his displeasure with the "From the Secret Files of the Vatican" tagline, which resulted in the film being pulled from Italian screens during its initial run. Berruti recalls a scene that was heavily cut, wherein Sister Gertrude shooting up morphine is done in such a way as to resemble a mass, suggesting he had more ambitious ideas for the film than what ended up in the final product.
I wish Blue Underground would start upgrading their supplements; the company is one of the best sources of cult oddity films. But in the increasingly competitive Blu-ray market, they're going to need more than just significantly improved audio to encourage double dipping; particularly when the older, SD releases are still available at much lower prices.
Killer Nun isn't a "must see," but it is a "should see" for fans of stupid Eurosleaze. Blue Underground's Blu-ray is decent, but if you have the earlier release, it's not enough of an upgrade to warrant a double dip.
Guilt all around. The accused is sentenced to 18,000 Hail Marys and a promise to never sin again...or at least to sin in better movies.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Mono (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Image Gallery