“What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” – Killer Nun (1979)

killer nun

Nunsploitation

A subgenre of exploitation films which centers on aberrant secularized behavior of religious women and had its peak in Europe in the 1970’s. (Cobbled from Wikipedia.)

This was my first adventure into the dark little corner of this particular subgenre. I think before this the closest I came to seeing a nunsploitation film was 1971’s The Devils. That infamous film had at least ten times the budget of this plus the star power of Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. Killer Nun has the fading star power of Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita, War And Peace) as the lead, Sister Gertrude, and the less than 5 minutes of screen time of Alida Valli (Suspiria) as her Mother Superior.

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Alida Valli (Miss Tanner in Suspiria) as Mother Superior

There are 3 main reasons why I chose to watch this one:

  1. It’s available on Shudder.
  2. It’s a Section Two “Video Nasty”.
  3. I needed to watch a “video nasty” as part of the “Horror x52 Challenge” that I’m participating in on Letterboxd.

Let’s perform our penance and talk about the film for a bit. Set in modern times, which happens to set it apart from the medieval time period used in most nunsploitation tales, Sister Gertrude isn’t the most stable of people after having a brain tumor removed recently and developing a morphine addiction during her recovery. The Sister with a growing smack habit breaks bad and goes to the city to score when her stash dries up at the care home (don’t know what else to call the institution she helps run with its odd mix of residents/patients).

Prior to this outing, we get to see one of her “psychotic” moments of anxiety and distress while assisting the doctor. If you deem to watch this or already have, can you please tell me what instrument they are using for her psychotic break scenes? Seriously. I’m torn between it either being a theremin or a singing saw. Whichever it is, it made me chuckle a bit at the choice of it for those musical stings.

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Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg) with Dr. Poirret (Massimo Serato)

Anyway, back to the outing. Sister Gertrude decides to get some with a rando from the bar, and this leads to one of the more ridiculous simulated sex scenes I’ve ever seen for any Italian horror film out of the 70’s. Given the height difference and doing it standing up against a wall, either the dude was trying to jab it through her navel or his penis can contort like an elephant’s trunk. … Okay, yeah. I nitpick things like this. Sue me.

For the first 40 minutes, not a hell of a lot happens. But then the Killer Nun dons some pink Playtex dishwashing gloves (which made my mind think giallo), and the body count and intrigue both begin to build. Intrigue, you say? Why, yes I do! It’s around this time that the vast majority of the viewers can see a twist coming, but even then it comes off well.

Another “close but not quite” moment I liked was a scene when Sister Gertrude has everyone in their rooms praying for one of the deceased while she kneels in the hallway. As the camera slowly and steadily pulls back down the hallway away from her, she’s kept in the center. This scene would have been a greater moment for the film through the cinematography if it had been a dolly shot instead of handheld. I say this because you can see the minor tilting of the plane/frame as the camera man is backing up, and the centering of the frame shifts just a bit during the pull back as he dodges a couple of chairs that are off to one side of the hall. If they couldn’t do the dolly, they could have at least removed the obstacle of the chairs!

For the aspects that most likely earned it the “video nasty” tagging, there is the drug use, the sex, the violence, some torture (a deliciously done murder using injection needles), but oddly there isn’t really any anti-religion sentiment or social commentary to it. From what I’ve been reading, this also sets it apart from most other nunsploitation films.

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“Okay. Just a little pin prick . . .”

In the end, I can recommend checking this one out. Not a great film, but not a bad one either. Give it a view if you have Shudder, or check it out elsewhere. You just might make a habit out of nunsploitation films!

Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!

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