Color, 2016, 73m.
Directed by Peter Romero Lambert
Starring Heather Marie Vernon, Louis Perkichoff, Nati Amos, Simone Rawski, Theresa Roberts, Julie Fabulous, Happy Dave, Julia Zinn
Massacre Video (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Equal parts exploitation sleaze and dreamy art film, Nurse Jill draws inspiration from a number of '60s and '70s titles ranging from those grungy quickie British sexploitation horror films that filled out double bills to the works of Doris Wishman, yet it manages to emerge with a distinct, fascinating voice and style all its own. On the surface it appears to be a story about a woman losing her marbles while a sex maniac's on the loose, but it's clear by the halfway part that this one has something quite different in mind with at least three different narrative strands winding around each other with enough shock value and sexual perversity to keep things interesting.
Abandoned by her husband Frank and officially divorced, Jill (performance artist Vernon) tries to get her life together by going back to her family and seeing a doctor who notes she's going through periods of disorientation and upping her meds to keep her stable. She also strikes up a rapport with another woman on the subway after explaining, "I've sworn off men for a while." One night while waiting for the train she sees a creepy man in an oversized rubber mask staring at her, but that's just the start of a bizarre string of events after she accidentally stabs a stranger in the eye when she thinks an intruder is in her apartment. Then we veer to the story of a bandaged, disfigured attack victim (Amos) also named Jill who was found with a body in her car and is taken care of by a depraved lowlife "family" headed by Happy Dave and Julie Fabulous, complete with a couple of pervert sons and an even worse grandpa. All of it ties in to a sexual predator (Perkichoff) on the loose with a disturbing story of his own.
This very low-budget ($3,000!) 16mm production took six years on and off to reach completion, ultimately shot without sound and using silent movie-style intertitles to convey to minimal dialogue. Apparently efforts were made to ADR voices at one point, but the decision to go silent instead with a strong soundtrack of retro library music gives the film a palpable energy right off the bat. The use of real Chicago settings (with exteriors and train scenes done without permits) also adds a great deal of texture to the film that sets it apart from the usual New York, London, and Los Angeles vistas in the golden age films that inspired it, and the cast is very clearly game to do just about anything the script throws at them. Vernon, Amos, and Louis Perkichoff (who doesn't get a lot of screen time until late in the film) get the heaviest lifting to do, but considering there were no bona fide professional thespians involved, it's pretty astonishing what they managed to pull off. It's certainly unlike any other film from 2016, to say the least, and as far as throwbacks to classic roughies and vintage horror films go, it's much more accomplished and coherent than most.
Massacre Video brings Nurse Jill to limited edition Blu-ray (no DVD) with a strong edition packed with extras that provide some greatly appreciated background about how this dizzying experience all came together. The 16mm footage has been color timed to look fairly dark and atmospheric compared to what were clearly bright, vivid shooting conditions on the set, and the presentation accurately reflects that with some occasional flecks and specks giving it that extra filmic flavor. One sequence fairly early on had to be pulled from a backup DVD and tweaked to sort of match the rest of the film after the original elements went missing, so you'll notice a bit of a quality shift for about five minutes or so. The LPCM English 2.0 track does a fine job with the great soundtrack. Director Peter Romero Lambert and cinematographer/producer Joe Rubin (of Vinegar Syndrome) appear for a terrific audio commentary that answers virtually any question you could have and chatting as they chat about the influence of Taxi Driver and Straw Dogs, the consequences of partying hard the night before a shoot, the video store Odd Obsession that connected most of the non-actor casting choices, the rewrites necessitated when Vernon wasn't available to finish the film, and plenty more. The 19-minute "Knife in the Eye" goes behind the scenes with Vernon in her performance art gear appearing in wraparounds for a variety of behind-the-scenes segments (including a lot more male skin if the main feature didn't provide enough), a deleted 2-minute "magic lemonade" scene that goes into simulated water sports territory, the original trailer, a 6-minute still gallery, and bonus trailers for Six Pack That Bitch and the upcoming sequel, Jill 2: Hollywood Blue, which looks absolutely wild.