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October 24th, 2007

DVD REVIEW: EDITOR’S PICK

by John Coakley

KILLER NUN 3 Stars
Italian, 1978
Directed by: Giulo Berruti
Starring: Anita Ekberg, Joe Dallesandro, Lou Castle and Alida Valli
NR, 1978, running time: 87 mins.
Blue Underground

Anita Ekberg Stays Clothed, But Rent This Anyway.

Contrary to popular belief, exploitation films are not thusly named because they exploit women–though one could argue that they often do. No, exploitation films are usually low-budget, often underground projects that exploit key elements to make them stand out from the mainstream crowd. A self-descriptive, self-promoting title always helps, especially if the film itself turns out to be a waste of time. We’ve all been suckered in by amazing titles like House by the Cemetery only to find that not a whole lot happens in that cemetery, and what does happen inspires more boredom than fear.

So I was skeptical when I put Killer Nun in my DVD player. Yes, it’s a 70’s Italian horror film featuring murderous, lesbian nuns. And yes, it had been banned in Britain; but really, what hasn’t been banned in Britain? That is still no guarantee of a good time. Fortunately, Killer Nun featured Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita) and Joe Dallesandro (Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein) so I decided that it couldn’t be all bad.

And it wasn’t. This isn’t Citizen Kane, but it is classier than one might expect. The murders are scary but not unduly gruesome. Even the obligatory needle-in-the-eye scene (Yes, obligatory. Eye gouging is to 70’s Italian horror what beheading is to 80’s American slasher films. Don’t ask me why.) was filmed with a certain restraint. And no, you don’t get to see Ms. Ekberg naked, perv, but the requisite naked nun scenes are titillating enough. Most impressively, the acting is decent and the plot makes sense. This may sound like faint praise, but believe me, a film about a nun killing mental patients could have fallen off of the narrative tracks in so many ways.

But Killer Nun turned out to be the little thriller that could. That is thanks largely to Giulo Berruti, who handled the twists and turns of his directorial debut with a sure hand. Credit is also due to Blue Underground, the company responsible for releasing this and so many other worthy cult films that would otherwise slip through the cracks. With mainstream cinema—and especially mainstream horror—getting more formulaic and safe each year, it’s good to know that adventurous work from the past still has a shot at being seen.

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