CRISTIANA, DEVIL NUN
Color, 1972, 92 mins. 4 secs. / 101 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Sergio Bergonzelli
Starring Toti Achilli, Magda Konopka, Vassili Karis, Gerardo Rossi, Maria Virginia Benati, Eva Czemerys
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
STORY OF A CLOISTERED NUN
Color, 1973, 98 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Domenico Paolella
Starring Suzy Kendall, Catherine Spaak, Eleonora Giorgi, Martine Brochard, Ann Odessa, Umberto Orsini
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), NoShame (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
IMAGES IN A CONVENT
Color, 1979, 102 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Starring Paola Senatore, Angelo Arquilla, Paola Maiolini, Giovanna Mainardi, Donald O'Brien, Marina Hedman,
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)
THE TRUE STORY OF THE NUN OF MONZA
Color, 1980, 93 mins.
Directed by Bruno Mattei
Starring Zora Kerova, Mario Cutini, Paola Corazzi, Franco Garofalo, Annie Carol Edel, Franca Stoppi, Paola Montenero
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Le Chat Qui Fume (Blu-ray) (France RB HD), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Of all the many "-ploitation" crazes that swept Italian cinema from the '60s through the '80s, none was more representative of its native country than nunsploitation. The overwhelmingly Catholic mindset of Italy was essentially a cinematic powder keg ready to go off after the release of Ken Russell's The Devils, showing how much spectacle could be generated when viewers got a look at what happened to female libidos confined within convent walls. (On the other hand, nobody seemed all that interested in what monks got up to when the lights went out.) Thus we got a tidal wave of naughty nun epics that, perhaps not coincidentally, had about the same trajectory as Italy's Nazisploitation craze that also started to peter out around the end of the '70s. Though English-speaking demand for these films was fairly limited with only a handful getting theatrical releases, the naked nun fad did spread to a few other countries as well including Germany (most notably Jess Franco's Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun and The Demons) and Japan (including the masterpiece School of the Holy Beast and several Nikkatsu quickies). Along the way you even got the giallo-nunsploitation hybrid Killer Nun, and eventual it all petered out by the last significant release, 1987's The Devils of Monza (which got a pretty wide U.S. VHS release as Sacrilege). That brings us to Severin Films' 2021 four-film Blu-ray set Nasty Habits: The Nunsploitation Collection (also available as part of the brilliantly named The Nundle package) which presents some prime examples of the subgenre in all their habit-ripping glory.
First up is perhaps the most bonkers of the bunch, Cristiana, Devil Nun, originally shot as Cristiana monaca indemoniata. A major case of celluloid whiplash from directorial madman Sergio Bergonzelli (who brought you In the Folds of the Flesh, Porco Mondo, and Blood Delirium), this was given an English-dubbed theatrical release as Loves of a Nympho (complete with brief hardcore inserts) and then issued on VHS in an edited version by Private Screenings as Our Lady of Lust.
Well-to-do Cristiana (Achilli) and her boyfriend, Luca (Rossi), are so in love during their Greek vacation that they accept an endurance wager to join the mile high club in front of all the passengers on the flight back home. The public lovemaking doesn't sit too well with a couple of nuns aboard, but that's nothing compared to the sudden storm that threatens to bring the plane down. Swearing she'll devote her life to Christ if the plane lands safely, she finds her bluff called when they do indeed make it out alive. Upon taking her vows, she finds convent life a bit more colorful than she anticipated thanks to a frisky painter who wants her to be a model, a lesbian sister of the cloth who wants to get under her habit, and the temptation to smuggle Luca inside the walls when nobody's looking. That's just for starters though as Cristiana's life turns into a major spiritual crisis that sends her careening though a string of carnal adventures scored by rockin' guitar music.
God only knows what audiences thought of this one when they caught it in theaters. Technically it does fall under the nunsploitation umbrella, but there's so much other insanity going on here that it almost defies categorization. Weirdly enough, it also ends up being rather emotionally affecting with Achilli (in her sole screen appearance) taking a unique and ultimately dramatic path to realization. That journey works better in the Italian cut of the film, which is included on the Severin disc as an extra with the option to watch it entirely in the original Italian with English subtitles or a composite with the English dub filling up as much of the running time as possible (and subs for the extra bits). The default play option is the X-rated English-dubbed version, which runs nearly ten minutes shorter. That doesn't quite tell the whole story though; as mentioned above, the English cut has some jarring explicit insert shots (mostly in the painter sex scene), but there are also alternate nude shots here from the original film itself, most notably a third act orgy that has copious female and male frontal nudity here but with all the actors covering themselves up with underwear or towels in the Italian version. So, basically you need to watch 'em both! Both versions are taken from what appear to be the sole surviving prints; quality is fine all things considered, with the Italian looking scratchier during its exclusive footage. It won't win any awards for demo quality or anything, but at least the color looks pretty good and it's fully letterboxed. For some reason this is encoded with the antiquated MPEG-2 codec (not the only one in this set), which is odd but not a big deal breaker in the case of this particular title. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono tracks for both are fine considering they're from exhibition prints. The only real extra here is "Sisters of Vice and Virtue: The Marquis De Sade and Nunsploitation" (12m49s), a video essay by Lindsay Hallam about the subgenre's wallowing in mixing pain, pleasure, and religion. There actually isn't anything terribly Sadean about this particular film, but it definitely applies to the rest of the set!
Far more traditional and easily the most respectable film in the set comes next with Story of a Cloistered Nun (Storia di una monaca di clausura), a follow-up of sorts to director Domenico Paolella's successful The Nun and the Devil (Le monache di Sant'Arcangelo) with Ornella Muti, Anne Heywood, and Luc Merenda. Retaining that film's composer, Piero Piccioni (who does a bang-up job here as well), it's another all-star, lavish period piece with a bit of titillating nudity to keep it within nunsploitation parameters.
Betrothed from birth to a wealthy landlord, Carmela (Inferno's Giorgi) instead loves Giulio (Tis Pity She's a Whore's Falsi) and refuses to go through with the contract. Feeling she's dishonored the family, her father ships her off to a convent where her frizzy-haired presence proves so disruptive they lock her in a cellar for her first month. Soon she becomes an even more volatile element between the stern Mother Superior (Torso's Kendall) and uppity bisexual Sister Elisabeth (The Cat o' Nine Tails' Spaak), not to mention Eyeball's Martine Brochard as the craziest of the holy sisters. Double crosses, triple crosses, and plot twists ensue as Carmela ultimately has a very permanent impact on everyone involved.
A real feast for the eyes, this may be the most beautifully mounted of all nunsploitation films with a classy, colorful look that rivals any Italian art film of the '70s. It also doesn't hurt that the cast gives it their all, with Giorgi and Spaak getting the juiciest material here by far. This has also been one of the easier films of its type to see going back to its 1975 U.S. release from Cinemation, with Redemption issuing it on VHS in the U.K. and NoShame putting out an American DVD in 2006 (from a PAL master running two minutes short in the process). Extras on that disc were the Italian and English trailers plus "Sex Behind the Veil" (20m39s) with Orsini and Giorgi chatting about the making of the film.
The Severin Blu-ray, featuring a 2K scan from the original negative, looks really lustrous and makes for a satisfying viewing experience all around. Given that this is also the most professionally mounted production of the batch, that shouldn't be too surprising. Both the English and Italian tracks are included (DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono) with optional English subtitles; overall the English one wins out since that's the language most of the principals are speaking, even if some of them were looped after the fact. The extras begin with "Down the Well" (11m16s) in which Brochard remembers the importance of 1973 in her life and career, her earlier role in The Nun and the Devil, the challenging nature of her final scene, and the main reason she took the role. Then it's Giorgi's turn in "A Nun's Story" (23m28s), offering a fascinating account of how she made a pivotal life choice that turned her to acting, what drew her to the role in this film, the acting tips she learned on the fly making this film, the traits she shares in common with her character, and a very funny story about her big love scene with Falsi. Finally in "Within a Cloister" (16m1s), camera operator Daniele Nannuzzi shares his memories of shooting the more memorable scenes including a quasi-crucifixion, his pleasant surprise with Giorgi's performance and the joys of lighting her, his experience working for his father Armando Nannuzzi as director of photography, and his thoughts on his "genre" director.
Virtually unseen outside Europe during its initial release during the brief frenzy of nunsploitation films pouring out of Italy, Joe D'Amato's strange and sleazy Images in a Convent (Immagini di un convento) earned its cult reputation entirely through the bootleg video circuit in the 1980s. Even though viewers usually had to contend with Italian dialogue and no subtitles, the mixture of evil satyr statues, forced hardcore nun sex, and rampant flesh caught the attention of viewers hungry for something a little different. Though more restrained than D'Amato's contemporary tropical XXX films of the period, this outing delivers enough illicit thrills to entice anyone with a taste for naughty sisters of the cloth. The plot, basically a rehash of the Mexican delight Satanico Pandemonium, is fairly typical for the period, with young novice Isabella (Salon Kitty's Senatore) arriving at a secluded convent and discovering that all of the sisters harbor secret lusts for the flesh, regardless of gender. Isabella turns out to be hardly innocent herself, particularly in a plot turn worthy of The Beguiled when the sisters take in a wounded lieutenant (Arquilla) who could be an emissary of Satan. Eventually a priest (spaghetti western vet O'Brien) is brought in to cleanse the convent of sin, but along the way the film makes several detours for sequences of holy sisters pleasuring themselves, being attacked by horny highwaymen, and engaging in orgies within their cloistered walls. And believe it or not, this is (very) loosely adapted from Denis Diderot's novel La religieuse, which was also the basis for Jacques Rivette's arthouse classic The Nun and later the source for another D'Amato nunsploitation film, Convent of Sinners.
Still displaying traces of the visual gifts he brought to his fine work as a cinematographer in the early 1970s, D'Amato doesn't skimp on the skin but also delivers enough poetic moments to elevate the film a bit above the norm. The presence of a sinister ornamental statue tormenting the Mother Superior lends a haunting pagan atmosphere reminiscent of the classic Night Gallery druid episode, while Nico Fidenco's eerie and sometimes hauntingly beautiful score lends class to some of the more lyrical non-verbal passages. All of the actresses delve into their roles with gusto, shedding their habits when necessary and displaying figures refreshingly free from overzealous plastic surgery. All in all, it's a worth nunsploitation entry and, thanks to the aforementioned brief bits of semi-hardcore activity, one to pull out for those who think they've seen it all.
Clocking in at 93m47s, Media Blasters' 2005 DVD did a somewhat passable job at the time of coping with the demands of D'Amato's soft-focus lensing, though contrary to the packaging promising a 16x9 transfer, it's flat 1.85:1 and, in order to activate the English subtitles, has to be watched windowboxed on widescreen televisions. Unfortunately it's taken from a PAL master without time correction and is also missing an entire sequence involving one of the sisters and that statue, so the running time comes up quite short. Apart from the main feature, the first disc includes the usual round of Media Blasters' "Exploitation Digital" trailers (Porno Holocaust, Yellow Emanuelle, and two SS films), while the real meat lies on the second disc. A familiar staple from X-Rated Kult Video's European D'Amato releases, the "Joe D'Amato: Totally Uncut!" Italian documentary pops up here with very welcome English subtitles. Circulated in a variety of versions depending on the video label, this edition running 65m9s covers D'Amato's sex film career from artsy softcore to late-career shot-on-video hardcore. D'Amato cheerfully discusses his work, while ample clips demonstrate his proficiency with cinematic smut in all its permutations. On top of that you get a gallery of sexy shots of Images' two female leads, and best of all, a lengthy reel of D'Amato trailers (mostly horror-related) including all of Media Blasters' releases (ranging from the early Beyond the Darkness and Anthropophagus to later horrors like Killing Birds) and some surprising odd-man-out titles like Death Smiles on a Murderer (presumably culled from the Dutch DVD), Caligula: The Untold Story, and Orgasmo Nero.
The Severin Blu-ray is a major improvement in every way, presenting the film in a new 2K scan from the original negative and finally running uncut (nearly ten minutes longer than the DVD). It's also far more detailed and brighter compared to the Media Blasters disc, which was drenched in noise reduction by comparison to tame what is a naturally grainy film. The LPCM Italian 2.0 mono audio sounds immaculate and features optional yellow English subtitles. Also included is a new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger who enthuses about her love for D'Amato while covering the intersection of nunsploitation and pornography, the state of Italian cinema around the turn of the decade, the film's domestic reception, and the conventions of the subgenre being used and manipulated here. You also get a fascinating 25m21s reel of deleted scenes, featuring quite a few bits of character extensions and, most notably, a great climactic bit involving the statue that goes into pure fantastique territory and would've been a great addition to the feature itself. This footage doesn't have any existing audio so Ellinger provides commentary here as well, positing what's likely going on and how it would've impacted the storyline.
Finally we reach The True Story of the Nun of Monza, one of two wicked nun movies made in 1980 (along with The Other Hell) by the prolific, aesthetically-challenged cult favorite Bruno Mattei (hiding out here under the name "Stefan Oblowsky") and frequent collaborator/screenwriter Claudio Fragasso. This one's actually a bit more reputable than you might expect given the director; sure, there's plenty of nudity, lesbian groping, and an orgy featuring a guy in a shiny red devil outfit, but the 17th-century period settings are better handled than usual and it all looks a bit classier than the usual soft-focus fodder.
Zora Kerova, best known for her hook routine in Cannibal Ferox, headlines as a town official's young daughter, Virginia, cloistered away to purge her of impure thoughts and influences. Not such a hot idea, as it turns out, since she still spends all day indulging in religious-themed sexual fantasies (one cribbed shamelessly from The Devils) and attracting the interest of the other nuns, who spend their evenings groping each other under the covers. Then the local priest (Hell of the Living Dead's Garofalo) takes an interest as well and tries to jump her in the confessional booth, followed by a weird twist of fate that puts her in charge as the new Mother Superior, with plenty of blackmail, covert visits from Virginia's nobleman boytoy (played by Day of Violence's Cutini), a secret pregnancy, rape, murder, and an impromptu inquisition all soon to come. Plus you get a fantastic score by Gianni Marchetti (where's that soundtrack?) and some horse-breeding stock footage pilfered from Walerian Borowczyk's The Beast cut into Virginia's initiation ceremony, and you're all set.
This one was essentially out of reach altogether for English-speaking viewers until the 2006 DVD from Media Blasters under its Exploitation Digital banner. Apparently an English dub was never created, so you get the Italian-language version with subtitles and a reasonably decent but digitally scrubbed transfer that was watchable enough when it came out. Extras include a theatrical trailer and a pointless fake still gallery, plus other trailers from the Exploitation Digital line. The Severin Blu-ray is fascinating as it finally removes all that smudging, restoring the inherent grainy, rough texture of the film with a lot of detail that was absent before. More crucially, it reveals that large portions of that earlier transfer were drastically zoomed in, often blocking out as much as a third of the image in many scenes. Again this one is MPEG-2 encoded (which has long been out of practice by pretty much every label out there except, uh, VCI), so why it was employed here for such a grain-heavy film that could use all the compression TLC it can get is a mystery. The DTS-HD MA Italian 2.0 mono track sounds great and features optional yellow English subtitles. In "The Cross and the Sin" (26m32s), Fragasso provides another hugely entertaining interview about his work with Mattei (with this being their first venture together), the real origin of the story (and its erroneous writing credit for its producer), the vacant convent that was used as a location for this and The Other Hell, his memories of the actors (like the "mellow" Kerova," "nutter" Garofalo, and "neurotic" Franca Stoppi), the intention to cast Marc Porel instead of Cutini, and the demand for "racy nun movies" at the time. Then in "Sister Zora" (28m37s), Kerova recalls her time on the film including her positive rapport with both Mattei and Fragasso, her tendency to go for roles that are "a little masochistic," her philosophy on doing nude scenes, her lack of a Christian upbringing in the Czech Republic and conversion to Catholicism, and her pride in what she accomplished in Italy.
IMAGES IN A CONVENT (Severin Blu-ray)
IMAGES IN A CONVENT (Media Blasters DVD)
THE TRUE STORY OF THE NUN OF MONZA (Severin Blu-ray)
THE TRUE STORY OF THE NUN OF MONZA (Media Blasters DVD)
Reviewed on December 11, 2021.