KILLER NUN (1978) – The Dungeon Review!

Like Flavia The Heretic I reviewed a couple weeks back Killer Nun is an exploitation flick that’s not all that exploitative. This was a bit disappointing considering Killer Nun’s title evokes such delightfully sacrilegious and violent possibilities! After watching the commentary on the DVD however I learned director Giulio Berruti had no intention of making a Nunsploitation flick. Loosely based on a true story, Killer Nun takes place modern day in a hospital for the infirmed and the elderly. It tells the story of a morphine-addicted, horny, middle-aged nun prone to blackouts and serious mood swings. For a film with this premise, it is surprisingly restrained. Berruti adds several Giallo ingredients to the recipe and scores 50’s/60’s sex symbol Anita Ekberg for the lead. Despite some issues and its exploitative shortcomings, Berruti manages to create something strangely mesmerizing.

Sister Gertrude has recently returned to work after undergoing surgery to have a brain tumor removed. She is experiencing terrible headaches, blackouts and mood swings that are effecting her work. Sister Gertrude has also become addicted to the morphine she received after her surgery. She begs the doctor to admit her but he only suggests she needs more time to re-adapt. When she appeals to the Mother Superior, she is told that it is a nun’s vocation to suffer. Sister Gertrude has no choice than to continue on with her work caring for the patients. Disconcerting incidents involving the sister begin escalating and they cut off her morphine supply. Desperately addicted, she gussies herself up and goes into the city to have a cognac, get laid and pawn her mother’s ring to pay for her drugs. Sister Gertrude attempts to function at the hospital continually pumped full of morphine but the blackouts become more regular and are soon accompanied by a body count.

Anita Ekberg is absolutely delightful as Sister Gertrude. She spends the film tripping out, flipping out and stressing out and has a commanding presence that screams authority. Her angst-filled performance is very entertaining. Age has caught up with the former Miss Sweden and star of La Dolce Vita but she stills brings some sexiness to the role. I found it quite amusing that she accidently asks the waiter in a lounge for a man instead of a cognac. She does indeed get her cognac and her man! Naughty Sister Gertrude ends up having sex with a stranger in the stairwell of some random building. Apparently there was a meaty scene of one of Sister Gertrude’s drug trips that was removed by the censors never to be recovered. What a shame that is! The director seemed pretty pissed in general about the treatment his film received. The film got banned in Italy due to its claims that is was “from the secret files of the Vatican”. Despite the director’s intentions, Killer Nun is marketed like a nunsploitation flick, and frankly, even with the Giallo elements added, it still qualifies.

Killer Nun’s biggest sin is that it drags in sections and the slow pace combined with its lack of punch isn’t going to win it fans. In typical Giallo fashion, the murders are seen through the eyes of the killer. The problem is I wasn’t aware there was a mystery to be solved until the film was almost over. The narrative is pretty straightforward and you don’t really question Sister Gertrude’s state of mind so the mystery element was lacking. And the most awkward part is even though I wasn’t aware there was a mystery it was still not the least bit surprising at all who the culprit was. As a straight up Giallo Killer Nun was just not effective. Killer Nun does have issues and wasn’t nearly as exploitative as I was expecting but regardless of this I still found it fairly entertaining. It has some fun and trashy moments and a few unintentional laughs that won it bonus points. Anita Ekberg is the star of the show, but it is former Italian playmate of the month Paola Morra who plays Sister Mathieu that reveals her ample breasts and her big old 70’s bush throughout the film. While there is some nudity, its one and only sex scene is a fully clothed affair. The only other sex scene is nothing more than a teaser of lesbian love between Sister Mathieu and Sister Gertrude. I had a bizarre dream years ago about Joe Dallesandro that has stayed with me to this day. Dallesandro was my dentist and instead of a dentist chair he had an obstetric bed (you know the kind with stirrups). In any case, it was additionally amusing to see the hot but utterly vacant Dallesandro here playing a doctor. Also making an appearance is the great Alida Valli who has a minor role as the candy consuming Mother Superior. The violence is also pretty spare but there are a couple particularly notable deaths. The best scene by far is the old man in the wheel chair having sex in the rain. His death is notable and may be the first time I’ve witnessed death by cotton wool. Another beautiful scene is the reenactment of a passage from the bible that Sister Gertrude reads to the patients during dinner that involves needles in the face. A particularly cruel way to kill a helpless old lady!

Killer Nun is almost clinical and takes a documentary style approach to observing its characters. There is not a lot of panache here but there are some very fun and occasionally amusing details. Sister Gertrude smashes one of the patients dentures, a scene that manages to be tragic and hilarious at the same time. She also nearly kills a patient by unhooking their IV. Patients begin to fear Sister Gertrude and at one point they protest and refuse to eat their meals to which she responds by sending them to their rooms hungry. Sister Gertrude’s trip scenes are one of the highlights of the film and perfectly convey her drug-riddled, angst-ridden state of mind. I felt a bit sorry for Sister Gertrude. She really seemed unable to control her behavior and her pleas for help went ignored. If only they had taken poor Sister Gertrude seriously! The soundtrack is a bit random at times but is occasionally frantic, strange and original. I particularly loved the musical accompaniment for Sister Gertrude’s “trips”.

Killer Nun has more than a few issues working against it. Chances are fans of giallo or exploitation will be pretty disappointed in this film. Killer Nun is the car accident I couldn’t prevent myself from looking at. I was downright bored and annoyed one minute, laughing in the next and then occasionally mesmerized. I felt as erratic and unstable as Sister Gertrude herself watching the film! That said, I liked Killer Nun. It is a little oddity with plenty of issues but it absolutely has its moments of glory. Recommended with warning.

Dungeon Rating: 3/5

Directed By: Giulio Berruti

Starring: Anita Ekberg, Paola Morra, Alida Valli, Massimo Serato, Daniele Dublino, Lou Castel, Joe Dallesandro, Laura Nucci, Alice Gherardi, Sofia Lusy, Nerina Montagnani

12 Responses to “KILLER NUN (1978) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. I love the general conceit of this – the idea of taking sex and violence into the world of peaceful, celibate nuns but I’m getting the feeling the film could have taken its great set-up a little further. That said, I think thee’s entertainment to be had here and I’ll be checking it out!

    • Hi Dan, This is definitely a recommend with warning. Sometimes I enjoy a quirky film that isn’t neccessarily good. The film suffers from weird pacing and is downright slow at times, but it did have some great moments. Just be warned, it is an oddity.

  2. Well, that’s somewhat disappointing. “Killer Nun” is one of the final frontiers of the nunsploitation genre that I had yet to tackle. And to be completely honest, there aren’t really any good films in the genre. They’re fun and all that, and off-beat, and wacky… but not anywhere near “good”.

    • I’ve seen a number of Nunsploitation flicks myself and they rarely fullfill their sacreligious promises to my liking. I’m big on off-beat and wacky though so they do appeal to me on that level. I wouldn’t say there aren’t any good films in the genre though. I loved Alucarda. But I’d have to agree, overall, this sub-genre is disappointing.

  3. Have you ever tried “Runa’s Confession”? It’s my favorite from the genre.

  4. Just wanted to come over and publicly thank you for the donation you sent my way! 🙂 That was a very nice surprise. It bumped up the bonus points over 100 again too, so now there’s three bonus updates in the cue. lol Since I won’t have time until after Christmas for writing any bonus material, I’ve posted a collection of horror-related smileys instead. Hope you enjoy them. 😉

    As for nunsploitation films, it has always surprised me that there are/were not more of them considering the way nuns have been treated throughout history, abused by their families, their own Church, and of course, invaders of other faiths. I’ve always wanted to see a nun go Rambo (or Bodicca) on the Church in some movie. Considering the Church’s less than stellar past conduct, it’s ripe for xploitation films which have nothing to do with the paranormal. Maybe we’ll see more of these now that the Church’s popularity is on the outs.

    I’d have to say my favorite nunsploitation film (if it even qualifies as one) was the story of the nun who had a crush on a priest and decided he was afflicting her with this carnal desire and that she was possessed. Then all her sisters decided they were also possessed. I think it ended with him being burned at the stake. Wish I could remember the name (I am so bad with names); I’d recommend it to you. I think it was based on a true story and set in France…

    • Candace-The world of horror needs more women, particularly talented ones like yourself. I wish I could have given more.

      I read this great non-fiction book about the 14th century a few years back which I believe was written by a woman. I think it was called Distant Mirror?! It was not a good time to be a woman, or anyone for that matter, well, except perhaps a Lord or Nobleman. The church was an easy way to get rid of a female in the house that was less than agreeable. It was a great read as I recall. It would definitely be more fulfilling if the nuns in these films exacted their revenge on the church itself instead of her fellow sisters and random strangers.

      The plot seems vaguely familiar, I’ll have to think on it and see if I can come up with the title.

  5. I think you may be right on the title, or close enough. 😉 There are so many great non-fiction books on the Middle Ages. My history book collection rivals my fiction collection for space on my shelves.

    Well, you know if there’s a lack of Bodicca-esque nuns who take matters into their own hands… we’ll just have to write the story ourselves, right? We could single-handedly (Dual-handedly?) resurrect a genre of movies and take the Church’s mind off of the plague of child abuse scandals hovering over their heads. Or substitute an angry mother for the angry nun. She can break into the Vatican and gun down as many clergy as she can with her handy Boom-stick, culminating in a hostage standoff with the police trying to talk her out of killing the Pope. And just after she declares something like “if god wants this SOB alive, he can stop me himself,” and aims the gun at his head, the screen goes black without revealing if she was out of bullets or not! hehe (I am so wicked. It’s a good thing I’m not Christian, so I don’t have to worry about going to Hell.)

  6. The Film Reel Says:

    All this nun talk reminds me that I need to watch Nude Nuns With Big Guns. It sounds like it may run in the nunsploitation field a little more than this one did.

    • Nude Nuns With Big Guns!? I thought to myself, how could I not have heard of this film? I had to look it up damn you. This is a brand-spanking new nun flick. How fun! Now I must add this to the list.

  7. Nope, this is a shit film. It’s mildly amusing watching Ekberg thrash around and play lesbian and whatnot, but it’s mostly tiresome.

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