During the late 60s-70s, filmmaking experienced an exploitative trend all throughout the world, a time when just about anything and everything that could be exploited, was. So of course, the male fantasy of hot nuns under all of that clothing that stripped, screwed and slashed became a popular sub-genre. Killer Nun (1979), restored for all to see by Arrow Video, is one of the more well-known nunsploitation flicks of the bunch…
…Claiming to be based on actual events (and according to the commentators on the Arrow Video release, Adrian J. Smith and David Flint, it really was based on a case in Belgium), Killer Nun was directed by Giulio Berruti and written by Berruti and Alberto Tarallo. One of only two films from Berruti, Killer Nun follows Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg), a woman who is slowly slipping into madness, as well as opening herself up to as much sin as possible. When a series of killings begin to occur at the general hospital which Gertrude helps to oversee, she is forced to wonder, has she finally lost her mind to the desire to kill, or is there another madman (or woman) on the loose?
As Smith and Flint describe on the disc’s lone commentary, Killer Nun was a film murdered by audiences and critics alike, largely due to “expectations”. Anyone going into a film called Killer Nun during the nunsploitation era probably expects a heavy dose of sex, blood, and more sex, and while the film has all of that, it isn’t quite what people were used to with the genre. You could even say Killer Nun is one of the classier examples of the nunsploitation genre, in that only a few scenes are extremely exploitative, rather than most of the movie.
Anyone hearing the title Killer Nun understandably might not expect something so cerebral, but this film is actually a serious study of mental health, and the way it was and still is so easily dismissed, especially when it comes to women. We learn early on that Gertrude is a brain cancer survivor, but ever since her operation, she has the sense that something isn’t right with her mind. She feels as if she is losing control of herself, but according to the doctors around her, she is simply “hysteric”. Yeah doc, great explanation for why Gertrude is cutting off air to patients, smashing an old lady’s fake teeth, and blacking out…moron. The choppy editing by Mario Giacco and the chaotic score from Alessandro Alessandroni work to highlight Gertrude’s state of mind, played wonderfully by the former Miss Sweden, Ekberg.
While Killer Nun is an interesting descent into madness that pays more attention to story than breasts, it isn’t without its fair share of sexual insanity as well. As the film goes on, Gertrude begins to strip off a lifetime of repression, indulging in “sinful” awkward sexual encounters and voyeuristic explorations, while also forming a bond with Sister Mathieu (Paola Morra), a sexually adventurous nun who has taken an interest in Gertrude. Audiences are treated to nuns hanging out in the nude, BDSM shaming, steamy belt-tonguing’s and one of the stranger sex scenes I’ve ever seen, in which young actress Ileana Fraia has a hardcore encounter with a wheelchair bound old man in the rain. I don’t know why nunsploitation fans were so harsh towards Killer Nun originally. That’s plenty of senseless indulgence in sexual fantasies for me.
Arrow’s crisp restoration of Killer Nun really brings to life the colors of the film (mostly soft white), especially the reds of blood spilled during Giallo style murder sequences where we only see the killer’s hands and feet (including one moment that will make needle-phobics cry). As Smith and Flint mention on the commentary, the restored look of the film allows audiences to see that this movie is not the home-video style trash it was once perceived to be, but professionally made trash, created by people who really cared about what they were doing. Unfortunately, the best restoration experts in the world can’t fix the score.
I’ve mentioned Smith and Flint’s commentary a few times already. That’s because these two clearly have a genuine love and respect for the nunsploitation genre, and are quite knowledgeable during their discussion of Killer Nun. Other extras on the disc include “Beyond Convent”, a video essay by critic Kat Ellinger that offers a rich history on nunsploitation that’s great for anyone who is unfamiliar and wants to learn more. “Our Mother of Hell”, an interview with director Berruti, is a sinful treat for fans of the film, with Berruti detailing how the film came to be.
Additional interviews such as “Cut and Noise” with editor Mario Giacco, and “Starry Eyes” with actress Ileana Fraia, don’t reveal much about Killer Nun, as both have vague memories around the film, yet each interview highlights their careers and how they got started, and it’s particularly interesting to listen to Ileana describe what it was like to work in sleazier film genres, during a time when the men behind the camera all referred to nudity and sex as “artistic”, which Fraia says with a clear disdain.
Killer Nun itself has its fair share of issues, but there’s more going on here than in the average nunsploitation flick, and it’s a film in which fans who like their films a bit scummy will find something to enjoy. Arrow has provided a good number of extras on this disc, making it a naughty delight for any Killer Nun fan.
Killer Nun is now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Full Blu-ray Specs:
New 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Uncompressed mono 1.0 LPCM audio
Original English and Italian soundtracks, titles and credits
Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
New audio commentary by Italian genre film connoisseurs Adrian J. Smith and David Flint
Beyond Convent Walls, a new video essay on nunsploitation and Killer Nun by critic Kat Ellinger
Our Mother of Hell, a new interview with director Giulio Berruti
Cut and Noise, a new interview with editor Mario Giacco
Starry Eyes, a new interview with actress Ileana Fraia
Original Italian and international theatrical trailers
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Daryl Joyce
By Matt Konopka