Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Suor Omicidi (1978)

... aka: Killer Nun, The

Directed by:
Giulio Berruti

"This film is based on actual events that took place in a Central European country not many years ago." Mmm hmm.

Safe to say that middle-aged Swedish sex siren Anita Ekberg was a long way from frolicking in the fountain in Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA when she accepted the lead role as Sister Gertrude in this sleazy little number. Gertrude is one of the most screwed up nuns you're likely to run across in one of these things, and I actually had to start making a list of her numerous maladies (imagined and otherwise) while this played out as not to forget any of them! For starters, she has post operative stress after having a brain tumor removed. Though all the follow-ups tests show she's been cured, she insists to everyone she still has cancer. In addition, she suffers from crippling headaches, nervous-anxiety, blackouts, hallucinations and blurred vision. She wants to commit herself, but both her doctor boss (Massimo Serato), who thinks all of her problems are psychosomatic, and her Mother Superior (Alida Valli), who says its a nun's duty to suffer, deny her the treatment she so desperately wants. Gertrude also has a morphine addiction, was possibly sexually molested as a child (granted she's the veiled nun confessing such in the opening sequence) and, if all that's not already enough, she's struggling with her faith.

Unlike many other 'nunsploitation' films, this isn't set in a shadowy, secluded convent in the 16th or 17th Century, it's set in current times and most takes place in the sterile, brightly lit psychiatric hospital when Gertrude works. Her duties include assisting the doctor, organizing activities for the patients and reading grim bible passages during mealtime. She seems to have a lot of pull there, though, and even gets her boss fired and replaced at one point. During a psychotic episode, Gertrude takes an elderly patients dentures, throws them on the floor and stomps them into pieces, causing the old lady to have a fatal heart attack. Because she's denied drugs where she works, Gertrude steals the dead woman's ring, changes out of her habit into some sexy clothes and hits the streets. She goes to a bar, smokes, drinks and picks up a guy, whom she has sex with in an abandoned building. After pawning the ring and stocking up on her drug of choice, Gertrude returns to the hospital where, soon after, someone begins murdering the patients.

While having a drug-fueled freak-out session, Gertrude has visions of her gory brain surgery and molests a nude dead man on the slab while one guy is beat over the head with a lamp and tossed over a balcony. A wheelchair-bound old man is killed by having cotton stuffed into his mouth after having sex with another patient and a crippled guy (Lou Castel) who doesn't hide the fact he think Gertrude is the killer has his crutches taken away and is kicked to death. During the nastiest murder, an old woman is gagged has pins slowly driven into her face and eyeballs, is sliced up with a scalpel and then is hung upside down in a clothes shoot. Each death coincides with ones of Gertrude's blackouts, where she vaguely remembers witnessing the killings... but doesn't really remember doing the killings. It isn't until a half dozen victims have been claimed that they finally decide to cart poor Gertrude off elsewhere for treatment.

Amazingly enough, and despite being put in numerous sexual situations, Ekberg manages to get through the entire film with her clothes on. The same cannot be said for Italian Playboy subject Paola Morra as Sister Mathieu, a young, voluptuous lesbian nun who is in love with Gertrude and does whatever it takes to cover for her "sister." When Gertrude starts to lose it, she seems to take sadistic pleasure in tormenting poor Sister Mathieu; laughing at her "floppy tits" and making her model stockings in the nude in front of her. A confused-looking Joe Dallesandro shows up about an hour into the film as a replacement doctor who sparks the young nun's interest, but is otherwise given nothing of interest to do.

If you choose to take any of this seriously, it suffers from bad performances and lousy writing (especially the amount of "cheats" on display before the very lame surprise ending is revealed). However, accepted as the trash it undoubtedly is, it's somewhat enjoyable. There's enough violence, nudity and sleaze to get you through it, and a few sequences (particularly the first murder) are edited and scored fairly well, thought he film isn't nearly as stylish as other Italian horrors from the time.

Director Berruti had co-written the vampire political parable THEY'VE CHANGED FACES (1971) and served as assistant director and editor on the fumetti (adult comic) adaptation KISS ME, KILL ME (1973) starring Carroll Baker.


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