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Killer Nun Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Arrow Video

Killer Nun Large

Directed by Giulio Berruti
Written by Giulio Berruti and Alberto Tarallo
1979, 87 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 15th, 2019

Starring:
Anita Ekberg as Sister Gertrude
Paola Morra as Sister Mathieu
Alida Valli as Mother Superior
Lou Castel as Peter
Massimo Serato as Dr. Poirret
Joe Dallesandro as Dr. Patrick Roland
Laura Nucci as The Baroness

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Review:

Sister Gertrude hasn’t been herself since the operation. A few months ago she underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor and has since suffered post-surgical stress. Her behavior has become erratic and she experiences violent mood swings, blackouts and auditory hallucinations. She tries to bury herself in work at the hospital assisting Dr. Poirret as head nurse, but she can’t handle the sight of a scalpel. Poirret refuses to believe there is anything wrong with her and when she begs the Mother Superior to admit her to the hospital she is told it is a nun’s duty to suffer. The only person lending any moral support is her beautiful, devoted roommate Sister Mathieu.

Sister Gertrude has a few secrets, including a growing morphine addiction which has triggered her breakdown. When she runs out of drugs she steals a ring from one of the elderly patients and travels into town to sell it. She takes the money to a bar where she smokes, drinks and picks up a random stranger for anonymous sex. Gertrude returns to the hospital feeling much better but soon faces a new problem with the arrival of Dr. Patrick Roland, a younger official who pays close attention to detail. The hospital suffers a series of mysterious deaths and the patients suspect Sister Gertrude is responsible due to her deteriorating mental state. As it turns out, someone is indeed murdering patients and it is unclear if Gertrude is a psychopath or potentially the next victim.

“Nunsploitation” is a subgenre of exploitation cinema that focuses on deviant behavior from religious women of the church, usually set in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. Kickstarted by the success of Ken Russell’s wildly controversial The Devils (1971) and later championed by Italian filmmakers including Jess Franco (Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, 1977) and Joe D’Amato (Images in a Convent, 1979), there was no shortage of lurid tales of nuns behaving badly. One of the better-known titles associated with the material is Giulio Berruti’s Killer Nun (1979), a dark story of madness and murder inspired by actual events that occurred in Belgium in 1976.

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At its heart, Killer Nun is an exploitation picture, but Berruti shows restraint when it comes to delivering the goods. To be fair, the film features shocking content including drug abuse, gratuitous nudity, graphic violence and lesbian nuns, but the movie does not wallow in sleaze. It has its moments, to be certain, but aspires to serve more as a psychological thriller. Unlike the majority of nunsploitation flicks that are generally period pictures, this one has a contemporary setting and takes place inside a hospital instead of behind convent walls. There isn’t much in the way of social commentary or reflections on the church’s role in society. As a murder mystery there are not a lot of viable suspects so there isn’t much of a riddle to solve, but it kind of works as a character drama.

Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita) delivers a wonderful performance as the desperately unhinged Sister Gertrude. She shines in the scenes where the nun displays her mean streak towards the patients and even more so as she descends into madness. She chews her share of scenery but carries the picture with ease. The supporting cast features a few familiar faces including the beautiful Paola Morra (Behind Convent Walls) as the dedicated Sister Mathieu and Alida Valli (Suspiria) as Mother Superior.

Killer Nun managed to earn a spot on the infamous Video Nasties list of forbidden titles imposed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) in the 1980s, based largely on the title alone. It was removed from the list in 1993 with thirteen seconds of cuts and later released uncut in 2003. Nunsploitation still exists in mainstream cinema with such titles as diverse as Sister Act (1992) and The Nun (2018), but the content has been sanitized. Fans of Euro-sleaze who have seen the marketing material will likely be disappointed but viewers looking for a campy drama containing some fun performances and a few surprising twists should leave satisfied.

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Video and Audio:

The original camera negative has received a 2K scan and restoration and the image is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film was previously released on Blu-ray in 2012, but this new transfer improves picture quality with richer colors and more stable contrast levels.

There are two audio options, both featuring uncompressed 1.0 LPCM mono tracks, one in the original Italian and also the international English language dub. Domestic viewers will be familiar with the dubbed version but may want to give the Italian track a listen as it is far more effective.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

The disc features a new audio commentary by Italian genre film connoisseurs Adrian J. Smith and David Flint who jump right in with their love of this film. They begin with a recounting of the factual origins of the story in Belgium, 1976 of a nun killing elderly patients in a hospital. From there they provide notes on the cast and address the film’s reputation and brief appearance on the Video Nasties list. There is much discussion of star Anita Ekberg, and some discussion of the crazy score by composer Alessandro Alessandroni (The Devil’s Nightmare)

Film critic Kat Ellinger contributes the insightful video essay Beyond Convent Walls: The Killer Nun and Nunsploitation (29 minutes) that takes a thorough look at the subgenre. She reveals some of the ancient literary influences including the writings of the Marquis de Sade. From there she provides an overview of nuns in cinema who were presented as strong, morally pure women for decades. She talks about how this image changed in the 1960s and 70s with the rise of exploitation cinema and provides insight into the frequent themes and public reaction to the new style of storytelling.

In the newly-filmed Our Mother of Hell (52 minutes), director Giulio Berruti shares his memories of how the movie came together. He talks about co-writing the script and working with producers and better still is quite candid on his thoughts on the cast. He praises leading lady Anita Ekberg’s performance but has no qualms when it comes to pointing out which actors were problematic. He shares some colorful production stories and tells of the pressure from the Vatican that resulted in a truncated release. The interview is conducted in Italian with English subtitles.

Editor Mario Giacco reflects on his time working on this picture in Cut & Noise (21 minutes). He didn’t have the smoothest relationship with the director and left the project before completion and his memories of the details are vague. He is more interested in talking about his work as a Foley artist than as an editor, which leaves this discussion frequently off-topic. This interview is in Italian with English subtitles.

Starry Eyes (24 minutes) catches up with actress Ileana Fraia who played one of the prominent patients in the film. She offers a look back at her bumpy career as an actress and her work as a dubbing artist. She shares her thoughts on the Italian film industry at the time and her opinion on nude scenes.

Original Italian and international theatrical trailers are included.

A still gallery (23 images) offers a look at lobby cards, promotional photos and VHS cover art.

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Grades:

Movie: Twoandahalfstars Killer Nun Small
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourandahalfstars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Fourstars
Overall: Threeandahalfstars

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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