Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Directed by Giulio Berruti, not a name that has particularly left its mark on the horror genre, this psychological thriller rests curiously, not quite uncomfortably, between the Italian giallo tradition and the influx of Catholicism that ran rampant through the genre in the wake of THE EXORCIST in late 1973.

In a story that claims to have been taken "from the Secret Files of the Vatican," Anita Ekberg -- dubbed in the English version by Carolynn de Fonseca -- plays Sister Gertrude, a nun on staff in a psychiatric hospital run by the respected Dr. Poirret (a superbly tanned and silvered Massimo Serato). Prone to headaches, blackouts and violent rages (she stomps one elderly woman's dentures to a pulp when she removes them to eat), all of which she curbs with morphine, as well as occasional excursions into city anonymity where she drinks, dresses provocatively, and invites random sexual encounters, Sister Gertrude is the most seemly suspect when some of the patients at her hospital are murdered. It certainly can't be Dr. Poirret, because Massimo Serato disappears from the film so fast it's like the check for his first week didn't clear, but he is soon replaced by Dr. Patrick Roland (Joe Dallesandro, decidedly cast against type, and dubbed by Ted Rusoff); there is also a seemingly bed-ridden, bon-bon-munching Mother Superior (Alida Valli, in all but one scene literally phoning in her performance) and Sister Gertrude's roommate Sister Mathieu (Paola Morra), who parades around fully nude and makes lesbian passes at her after hours. It's not a particularly hard puzzle to piece together, but there are enough points of passing interest to ensure one's modest entertainment. For example, the patients on parade are an interesting bunch, a combustive core sampling of society that includes Lou Castel as a crippled Marxist rabble-rouser (he gets a nice scene where he must shimmy up a staircase for help) and Laura Nucci as a deluded elderly woman who imagines herself to be rich ("Don't stand on ceremony, just address me as Baroness!"). The director himself briefly appears as a priest giving communion.

Ekberg, having passed here from Amazonian to overripeness, is covered throughout, forcing Berruti's camera to focus on her triangular face and large, limpid, Egyptian-looking eyes. (She's so well covered, in fact, that she gets away with mocking her roommate's big breasts!) She's very nearly the film's only point of focus, because she's the only actor present who doesn't seem to be guesting in the picture; to her credit, she takes a rather disreputable opportunity and gives it her all. However, it's hard to create horrific or thrilling atmosphere in a predominantly white-washed environment, where the staff are wearing white, and saddled with a mostly inappropriately jangly Alessandro Alessandroni score, the film fails to match the operatic heights of her bravado.

According to Jim Kunz, who worked on the film's restoration: "There was extensive damage [to the source materials] and warping in the outdoor picnic scene. Previous versions had removed the damaged areas and edited the scene down to cut cleanly, so this [Blue Underground DVD and Blu-ray] is actually the first time the movie has been presented on disc in a completely unedited state."

Viewed via Blue Underground Blu-ray disc  

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