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

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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!

[TV Review] AMC’s “The Terror”

by Joe Meyers

“The Terror”

Series Premiere Air Date: March 25, 2018
Season 1 Finale Air Date: May 21, 2018

Starring:
Jared Harris as Captain Francis Crozier
Tobias Menzies as Commander James Fitzjames
Paul Ready as Dr. Harry Goodsir
Adam Nagaitis as Cornelius Hickey
Ian Hart as Thomas Blanky
Nive Nielsen as Lady Silence
Ciarán Hinds as Captain Sir John Franklin

Based on the 2007 novel, “The Terror”, by Dan Simmons

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“Based on a true story.” That line has been used on so many works of the horror genre, and beyond, that it sometimes seems like it’s lost any real meaning. However, in the case of AMC’s “The Terror”, it’s 100% earned. The series is the recounting of Captain Sir John Franklin’s expedition to the Arctic, via the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, to locate the Northwest Passage in 1845–1848. The expedition was lost, it took over the next 150 years for people to piece together the crews’ fate, and the two ships were not discovered until September 2, 2014 (the HMS Erebus) and September 12, 2016 (the HMS Terror). Of course we don’t know exactly what happened to the crew on their voyage, but Dan Simmons uses the factual information we have to create several plausible reasons in his novel for why the crew was doomed. Oh, and he also throws in a monster that stalks the crew members as they’re trapped in the icy wasteland.

The showrunners, David Kajganich and Soo Hugh, did a great job guiding the adaption of the 784 page book into a ten episode story. This was all about building atmosphere, wallowing in the dread, and allowing the characters to develop over time. The cast is outstanding, with Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Ciarán Hinds, Adam Nagaitis, and Paul Ready as clear standouts. The look of the series is quite breathtaking as well. From the opening credit animation to the set design, it all melds to feel desolate and overwhelming. This helps put you in the mindset of the characters as they struggle to survive.

The plot revolves around the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror becoming stuck in the ice pack as they search for the Northwest Passage. Things only get worse when the crews’ actions unwittingly releases a monster upon themselves. When the ice doesn’t melt enough for the ships to move on, some hard decisions are made. Further compounding their problems is the food stored for the journey may be slowly poising them as the crew begins to succumb to various symptoms. Finally they deiced to leave a small contingent behind at the ships, and the remaining crew takes off on foot in an attempt to eventually, hopefully, get rescued.

While the monster takes on way more significance in the novel, the series uses it sparingly. It delights more in using the terror of the ugliness of the human race, and the uncaring force of nature itself to create horror. So, while the monster is a threat, the greater menace is the darkness in man and the depths they’ll go to in order to survive. Make no mistake, “The Terror” is a bleak, slow burn of a character study.

I have very few complaints about the series. I do wish the monster wasn’t shown as early as it was, and the CGI used to render the creature could have used more of the budget. There was a chance to really build some tension throughout the ten episodes regarding the creature that wasn’t taken advantage of but they decided not to allow the mystery to linger. I also thought they didn’t quite convey the passage of time well. These episodes take place over the course of three years, but I think that doesn’t get shown properly to the audience. A friend I spoke with about this show actually thought they had missed an episode at once point because of this issue.

Besides that though, “The Terror” was a triumph of horror television. As with most adapted stories I prefer the source material. I’m actually glad I waited a month to write about the television series. When it first ended I was comparing to the novel too much, and time made my enjoyment of the show grow. If any of you even half way enjoyed the series, please pick up the Dan Simmons novel. It’s easily one of my favorite books over the last 15-20 years. While this tale is over, “The Terror” as a television series may not be done yet. The producers are working with AMC to see if it will be renewed. The idea is to use the series as an anthology, with each season being a self-contained, and non-connected, tale of horror. With “American Horror Story” long ago deciding to tie all of their seasons together, I welcome this idea. Everyone involved in season 1 proved they know how to put together a top notch product, and I’d love to see where they take it from here.

[TV Review] The “State of the Union” of…FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, Season 4A

by Joe Meyers

***THE FOLLOWING CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS***

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I admit I was seriously skeptical about the “crossover” with THE WALKING DEAD and FEAR THE WALKING DEAD when it was first announced. I couldn’t wrap my head around how they were going to make it work. Thankfully, any and all doubts I had about the event have been entirely erased. The new showrunners, Andrew Chambliss and Ian B. Goldberg, have course corrected the series with Season 4A of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD in a big bad way.

The start of Season 4 had us time jumping all the way to events after the Season 8 finale of THE WALKING DEAD, as Morgan (Lennie James) decides enough is enough with Rick Grimes and Company and he begins a trek out west. I’m actually glad they chose Lennie James to move to FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, because he’s such a great actor and Morgan deserves more of the spotlight than he was getting on AMC’s flagship zombie series.

Along the way we meet the rest of the new characters for this year. John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) has immediately become my favorite character in the Walking Deadverse. His sweet, odd, retired police officer, and sharpshooter worked his way into my heart from his first scene. I’m really enjoying Maggie Grace’s Al, short for Althea, as well. Having her act as a journalist, documenting the stories of people she comes across, was the perfect way to find out what happened to the core cast from the end of season 3, as well as information on some of our newcomers. Thankfully, Al is much more than just a plot device character. Topping off our new characters is the mysterious June (a.k.a. Naomi, a.k.a. Laura), played by Jenna Elfman, who ends up being a major player in the show’s new direction.

Eventually John Dorie, Al, and Morgan run into the old guard of Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), Luciana Galvez (Danay García), and Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) all looking worse for wear. I enjoyed the interactions between the two groups, and this is where the season really kicks off. We have several different plot threads running across two timelines for this first half of the season. We find out John Dorie is looking for the love of his life, who up and left him one day. Over the course of several episodes we get more information on “Naomi”/”Laura”/June, and find out she’s the one John Dorie’s been looking for. Alicia, Victor, Luciana, and Nick’s journey from the end of season 3 until now gets teased out through the entirety of season 4A, with the culmination of the story ending at the close of the mid-season finale.

Over the course of the first eight episode, we lose two major characters who’ve been with us since the start of the series. The first to meet his end is Nick Clark. Now, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this character at the beginning, but I grew to really enjoy him on the series. I was unaware that Frank Dillane had requested to be written out of the show, so Nick’s death was a total shock to me. His exit really reminded me of Tyrese’s good-bye seasons ago in THE WALKING DEAD. While it was alluded to over the course of these eight episodes, the fate of Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) was held until the mid-season finale. I don’t think it was a shock to anyone that Madison was dead with the way the older group were acting, and the fact she was only seen in the flashback plot. Unlike Dillane, Kim Dickens did not ask to leave the show as it’s been revealed the new showrunners made the call to shake things up.

I know both of these deaths have angered some longtime fans, but I welcomed them. It truly does show that on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD everyone truly is in danger. Now I want to tune in every week because I’m unsure of what will happen next. This has sorely been lacking in THE WALKING DEAD for some time, and I hope they take a page from this series when they return for season 9 at the end of the year. As for FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, this is now “must see TV” for me, and I can’t wait for the mid-season premiere for episode 9 on August 12th, 2018.