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By Stina Chyn | August 23, 2006

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Director: Giulio Berruti

Writers: Giulio Berruti & Alberto Tarallo

Producer: Enzo Gallo

Starring: Anita Ekberg, Joe Dallesandro, Alida Valli, Paola Morra, Massimo Serato, and Lou Castel et al.


For I Have Sinned: Killer Nun

The theme of Film Phonics Week 20 was occupations. “Wife,” “doctor,” “coach,” and “runner,” were unable to beat “killer.” Since I was in the mood for some nunsploitation (Italian exploitation genre dealing with nuns-gone-unholy), I chose to watch Giulio Berruti’s contribution “Killer Nun” (1978) released on DVD by Blue Underground. Dubbed in English with clumsy lip-syncing, the film opens with white text on a black screen: This film is based on actual events that took place in a Central European country not many years ago. Yeah, right.

These allegedly true events concern Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg), a nun who works in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. She suffers from some form of anxiety that alarms her enough to ask Dr. Poirret (Massimo Serato) to prescribe her some morphine. He does not oblige. For no apparent reason other than this anxiety, Sister Gertrude begins to experience hallucinations and daydreams of lust for violence and murder. Nobody will help her—not even the Mother Superior (Alida Valli), who coldly reminds her that “it is a nun’s vocation to suffer.”

Because Sister Gertrude cannot get any love or sympathy from anyone, aside from a Sister Mathieu (Paola Morra), she sheds her convent clothes, slips into civilian attire, and ventures into town, scoring morphine and a man. Upon returning to the hospital, the death count escalates, un-Christian behavior intensifies, and Sister Gertrude fears she is losing her mind. Her morphine trips are worthy of a few words. These drug-induced-homicide sequences are supposed to provide some kind of visual interiority on Sister Gertrude’s part, but there’s no connecting between character and audience. Her first killing doesn’t occur until approximately the thirty minute mark, and not all of her homicidal rampages are induced by morphine.

Daniel Dellamorte and Tobias Petterson mention in their book Violent Italy: Incredible Exploitation Cinema that Berruti’s film rubs shoulders “with the field of giallo” as it is “mainly a thriller set in an asylum run by a group of nuns;” and “apart from some graphic murders ‘Killer Nun’ also contains a fair share of sleaze, with some pretty dirty sex scenes” (105). What makes nunsploitation such a treat are the kinds of behaviors that transgress the rules of being a nun. For instance, since when do nuns sleep naked? Speaking of nude bodies, Anita Ekberg may have portrayed the sexy Sylvia in “La Dolce Vita” and garnered an ocean of fans, but in “Killer Nun,” she is far from sexy. And, it is difficult to determine if this lack of appeal is deliberate or if it’s a casualty of age and poorly scripted lines.

Another aspect of the film that irked me was the conflict. What is it exactly? Sister Gertrude can’t get any morphine from the doctor? She wishes people dead? She is mean to the patients yet knows better? Thinking about “Killer Nun” in a more favorable light, perhaps the narrative focuses more on creating excuses to turn a nun into a mentally unstable drug addict who is prone to morbid fantasies. More disappointing than unconventional conflict, though, is that forty minutes pass before Joe Dallesandro enters the narrative in the part of the new doctor. Noticeably older than when he was in Paul Morrissey cult films such as “Flesh” (1968) and “Blood for Dracula” (1974), Dallesandro keeps his clothing on even when infiltrating Sister Mathieu’s metaphorical temple.

The back of the DVD box notes that “Killer Nun” “was branded obscene around the world and banned outright in Britain.” Does the film live up to such a statement? I’d have to sample more nunsploitation before I can answer. I wasn’t offended—maybe I was expecting or hoping too much.

Stina Chyn puts her viewing habits in your hands. Readers vote on five random words posted at Back Talk. The winning word dictates what she will have to watch and review as that word must appear in the title of the movie. Choose wisely!

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