Sunday 1 April 2012

The Killer Nun


The Killer Nun (aka Suor Omicidi)
Italy 1979
Directed by Giulio Berruti
Shameless Screen Entertainment Region 2

I’ve been wanting to see this genre mash up of Italian giallo cross-pollinated with nunsploitation ever since first becoming aware of it when they used to show it regularly on cable television, back in the 1990s. I never quite got around to it then and it was always censored anyway. I believe this might be one of the casualties of the original UK Video Nasties hit list back in the 1980s but, if it was, it was definitely one of those which would make anyone watching this slightly bitter confection today scratch their heads in wonder... which, to be fair, is something you could say about pretty much any title on the notorious “list”.

A few years back, those brilliant people at Shameless Screen Entertainment released an uncut UK Region 2 edition of this film and, because it was relatively cheap compared to the US edition, released by Blue Underground (who also used to be quite a good label before they hopped on the Blu Ray and reissues bandwagon), I picked up the UK edition and I’ve now finally got around to watching it (got quite a few of those yellow Shameless spines on my shelves waiting for my attention).

I’d have to say, on having seen this now, that the expectations raised by putting the legendary Anita Ekberg in a movie blending two genres that tend to go in for pretty lurid content were not really met with the enthusiasm I would have hoped for in either genre and although the film is certainly interesting in places... it’s no masterpiece. Somewhere along the way the prospect of mixing up the gory, serial killer whodunnit paraphernalia of a solid Italian giallo thriller with the sadomasochistic lesbianism of classic nunsploitation got diluted to the nth degree and what we have left is a very lukewarm example of both.

Anita Ekberg plays Sister Gertrude, who works and lives in a hospital with her fellow nuns. She is obsessed with the idea that her former cancer is still malignant and is addicted to the morphine derivative drugs she was originally prescribed. It seems Sister Gertrude is less than a pinnacle of her chosen calling however, as she soon shows herself to be not above stealing the money of her dead patients and using them for little trips into town to buy more drugs for herself. While she’s on these little journeys, of course, she also “ditches her habit” and enjoys the obviously spiritual past time of picking up men in fancy restaurants and going with them someplace to have a quickie up against a wall.

When various people in the hospital start dying from violent deaths, some of the patients start to suspect Sister Gertrude who, to be fair, does look a little worse for wear and a bit like she’s coming unhinged. The film adds to the nunsploitation element by having Sister Gertrude’s room-mate, who was a 1978 Playboy playmate of the month in real life, declaring her love to Sister Gertrude repeatedly while coexisting with her in a mentally masochistic relationship... but this stuff is really all just lip service and there’s nothing here which really alleviates boredom.

Experienced actor Lou Castel, who was so good in spaghetti western A Bullet For The General (aka Quien Sabe?) is on hand as one of the patients but his character is so out of touch with the spirit of the rest of the movie that the dramatic tone seems to shift from scene to scene. It’s almost like this guy is intent on being the Colombian Jack Nicholson and this movie is his idea of One Flew Over A Cuckoo’s Nest... rather than actually adapting the character to the style of the movie. Which is kind of a shame since he’s really good in it, in an understated kind of way... just at odds with the general style of the piece.

Also thrown into the mix are Joe Dallesandro (yeah... that Little Joe, who is featured in Lou Reed’s song Walk On The Wild Side) and Alida Valli, female star of The Third Man, who was no stranger to exploitation cinema and was in the first two parts of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy which came out the year before and after The Killer Nun... Suspiria and Inferno.

I have to confess that while there are some nice little sequences in this movie, like the scene where Lou Castel is trying to ascend a flight of stairs without his crutches before the killer comes back to finish him off, I mostly found this movie to be dull and plodding in all the wrong places and, though there is some great camerawork and shot design going on (enough to recommend this movie to people who like either genre enough to be interested in such things as shot design), I did find my mind wandering a fair few times.

The music on this movie is composed by Alessandro Alessandroni, who many people will recognise as “the guy who did the whistling” on all those early spaghetti western soundtracks by the likes of Ennio Morricone, like A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. The score is okay... I wasn’t too overstruck on it. I will say though that there is a nice little hallucination/murder sequence, however, where Sister Gertrude starts tripping out on the drug of her choice. Alessandroni’s music for this part of the film is very striking and absolutely superb. I would love to get a hold of a soundtrack album of this (Come on Digitmovies! Lets have a score album please.) just so I can have the music to this scene. It’s a very jaunty piece and would probably not be out of place in a spaghetti western itself.

All in all though, I’d have to say that I would only urge long time watchers of both the giallo or nunsploitation genres of cinema to bother taking a peek at this one. It’s not a dreadful movie by any means, but it rarely raises itself up from the mediocre for most of its running time I would say. Of course, repeat viewings could become quite habit forming.

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