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KILLER NUN (1978) – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, Italy, movies with tags , , , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by goregirl

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