Thursday, December 16, 2010
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: The Killer Nun
Meet Sister Geraldine (Anita Ekberg). She’s the assistant to patriarchal Dr Poirret (Massimo Serato) at a convent hospital. Poirret has recently removed a benign tumour from Sister Geraldine’s brain, but she is still experiencing symptoms that Poirret is convinced are psychosomatic.
Sister Geraldine has a morphine habit, a guilt complex and the temptation of sharing a room with the nubile Sister Mathilde (Paola Morra); both of them sleep naked in decidedly un-nun-like fashion and Sister Mathilde is sending some fairly heavy Sapphic vibes in Sister Geraldine’s direction.
Sister Geraldine begs Dr Poirret to put her back under observation, but he refuses. She petitions her stony-visaged Mother Superior (Alida Valli) for help, but is curtly told that “a nun’s vocation is to suffer”. Her neuroses spill out into her dealings with the patients. She becomes increasingly domineering in the way she treats them, and hesitates during crucial medical procedures with Poirret, putting lives at risk. Poirret’s frustrations with her behaviour become antagonistic and she responds by scuppering his future at the hospital by blackmailing the Clinical Director (Daniele Dublino) into misrepresenting Poirret before the board.
His replacement, the younger and immediately popular Dr Roland (Joe Dallesandro), begins to have doubts as to the veracity of Poirret’s dismissal. In the meantime, a series of mysterious deaths occur and Sister Geraldine’s behaviour suggests that her mental health is fragmenting.
For all that its title and a couple of almost lesbian scenes between Sister Geraldine and Sister Mathilde (there’s nudity but no sex) scream nunsploitation, Guilio Berruti’s controversy magnet is a giallo from start to finish. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly inventive one and the killer’s identity is so easily guessable the denouement is an insult.
On the plus side, Ekberg goes at the role full-throttle, and often gives a real sense of someone torn between spiritual piety and the yearning for sexual fulfilment. The whole thing is shot decently enough and the murder scenes are varied, some delivered swiftly for maximum shock value, and one gruesomely protracted. An oblique flashback linking into the killer’s motivation is effectively incorporated into an elliptically edited sequence during one of Sister Geraldine’s morphine fixes, perspective and reality fragmenting as Geraldine’s mind loops the loop.
There’s another great moment where the patients, suspecting that Sister Geraldine has killed at least one of their number, turn a prayer session into an act of rebellion that turns Geraldine into a screaming wreck. The scene is effected as the camera floats slowly back along a corridor (I was reminded of Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’) and a chorus of disembodied voices grow louder and louder on the soundtrack.
‘The Killer Nun’ doesn’t work very well as a mystery, and – despite all the boxes it seems to tick based on a cursory synopsis – it’s fairly tame as an example of nunsploitation. It does have enough good moments, however, to make it worthwhile and Ekberg is highly memorable, whether bullying the patients, jacking up (insert ‘Sweet Sister Morphine’ gag) or getting her civvies on and cruising bars for some NSA fun. ‘Inn of the Sixth Happiness’ it most certainly isn’t.