Allegedly based on real events in a Belgian nursing home, Killer Nun was part of the thriving nunsploitation scene of the seventies – a scene that exemplifies there isn’t a single profession that men won’t try to sex up in some way. ‘They want to lock themselves away for their entire lives and swear off us all together? Gagging for it.’
Years after being responsible for one of the most iconic minor public order offences in cinema history when she turded around in a fountain in La Dolce Vita, bona fide legend and Fellini regular Anita Ekberg pitches up here as the titular NILF with a dark secret.
We open with a faceless nun ranting at length in confession about a man what done her wrong. She won’t forgive him and, pre-dating rad fem Twitter nauses by thirty-odd years, she declares that she wants to ‘kill all men.’ Todd Unctious just rolls his eyes, looks at his watch and sighs ‘I knock off at five, couldn’t you just Storify this instead?’
Ekberg plays Sister Gertrude – the head nurse in a psychiatric hospital. Since having surgery to remove a brain tumour she’s been subject to violent moodswings, memory lapses, and a crippling morphine habit. I said HABIT. She insists that she’s still ill but the doctors think it’s psychosomatic as they’ve looked at the X-rays and they’re nun the wiser. She even volunteers to have herself put in solitary confinement but that lousy Mother Superior is just so superior and she’s having none of it.
Gradually her behaviour becomes more malevolent, subjecting her patients to punishing physical workouts, reading interminably long bible passages and, most maniacally of all, sending them to bed without their bowl of oxtail. ‘No soup for you!’ Her bedside manner really needs some work and before long things degenerate to the point where she’s smashing up patient’s dentures and pulling out IV lines. And people think the NHS has problems.
Soon patients start dropping dead and the finger of suspicion points firmly at old crazy eyes over there – when it comes to accusations like this, irrational behaviour, drug addiction, blackouts and sinister theremin music kicking in every time you pick up a scalpel are a total PR disaster. Her only ally is her roommate Sister Mathieu – she just happens to be in love with Sister Gertrude and she’s so busy trying to provide alibis for her that she regularly forgets to put any clothes on. Sister Morphine is fine with this because not only has she developed a raging drug problem, her psychosis is playing havoc with her libido too.
Sensing the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone she steals a deceased patient’s jewellery and goes on a short city break to pawn it for drug money, see the sights, and a lot more besides. She parks herself in a wine bar and shamelessly racially profiles the clientele (‘no, too Latin for my tastes’) before settling on her potential conquest, hitching up her skirt, and taking him back to her Travel Tavern where he does her right there in the corridor. Of the hotel. Ave Maria.
Back at the convent and some tedious HR chicanery leads to her chief accuser getting his P45. But despite – or maybe because of – Sister Mathieu’s best efforts the stench of suspicion won’t wash off. See the bodies are still piling up – one guy is bludgeoned to death with a candlestick for getting on the murderer’s wick, whilst a disabled man is suffocated for the abhorrent crime of having an active sex life. If Gert is the culprit then add ableist to her sundry list of character flaws along with racist and mentalist.
Matters only get worse when a new meddling doctor enters the fray (amongst other things) before they reluctantly get the police involved because ‘the Catholic church doesn’t want a scandal – we need to keep this out of the press.’ It’s a strategy that’s worked just fine over the years, and none more so than here when they finally catch the culprit. Or do they.
As with many films on the banned list the reasons for Killer Nun’s inclusion are completely baffling. Contrary to the way its been marketed, it has much more in common with the giallo genre of Italian thrillers than more generic slasher pics or the work of exploitation kings like Jess Franco. Most of the violence and gore is implied and the sexual content is pretty mild (I tried not to sound too disappointed as I typed that.) The blasphemous content is the only thing likely to leave audiences incensed and clutching their rosary beads.
Overall it’s an unholy bore despite a more starry cast than most video nasties – along with Ekberg there’s Warhol regular Joe Dallesandro and Suspiria and The Third Man star Alida Valli. Ekberg in particular does her best to sell the material, but as a horror film it completely fails, as a psychological chiller it’s only partially effective, and as a tale of sexy sexy nuns having a sexy sexy time it’s nowhere near as much fun as it should be. I’m usually a sucker for anything with portentous organ music and lazy religious imagery, but while the production design and cinematography may be fairly stylish and bold, they don’t make up for the leaden pace and obvious plotting.
This was director Giulio Berruti’s second and last film, and compared to some of the stellar output from his countrymen during this era, it’s no great loss that his film career was given the last rites. Neither compellingly good nor amusingly bad, I don’t recommend you pull up a pew and watch.
This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.