Nunsploitation finally hits Blu-ray with an HD remaster of one of the earliest titles to hit American shores from Redemption Films back in the early days of DVD (and the dying days of laserdisc).
In order to prevent the marriage of young nobleman Esteban Albornos (Paolo Malco, WATCH ME WHEN I KILL) to Lucita Fuentes (Jenny Tamburi, SMILE BEFORE DEATH) due to a long-standing feud between the two families, Lucita’s father Don Alonso (Franco Ressel, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) has his daughter packed off to the convent of St. Valentine to take the vows. Upon hearing that Esteban plans to run off with Lucita, her father anonymously accuses the younger man of being a heretic and of the murder of Bishop Doloso. A wounded Esteban escapes the inquisition and is taken in and sheltered by the convent’s verger Joaquin (Gino Rocchetti) who conceals him in a secret chamber so he can heal and then flee with Lucita. Lucita’s clandestine meetings with Esteban are discovered by her lesbian roommate Josefa (Bruna Beani, THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW), and Lucita submits to her advances to keep her silent. When Josefa is stabbed to death, Lucita is accused of the crime since she was not present at services and cannot divulge Esteban’s presence in the convent. The inquisitor Father Onorio (Corrado Gaipa, CRAZY DESIRES OF A MURDERER) is certain that Lucita is guilty and only pressing her on a motive, which is unfortunately provided by her father who tries to blame her behavior on Esteban’s influence which adds on the charge of heresy. Her father convinces Lucita to confess and plans to use his influence to free her (and then have her confined to a cloistered convent). Lucita thinks that this will buy her and Esteban some time, but Father Onorio is determined to make an example out of Lucita and has her moved to the prison in Seville where he plans to burn her at the stake in the town square (“The flames of the stake will revive the flames of our faith!”). The abbess Doña Incarnacion (Francoise Provost, SPIRITS OF THE DEAD) believes in Lucita’s innocence and vows to help her and Esteban; but Joaquin is understandably suspicious of her motives when the abbess has Esteban believing that Lucita is still in the convent.
The opening credits cite the film as being "inspired by" LE SCOMUNICATE DI SAN VALENTINO, a play by Victor Hugo, but Redemption’s cover art suggests that the more obvious inspiration was Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS; but Sergio Grieco’s (BEAST WITH A GUN) film never approaches the level of delirium that film achieved and almost literally only has its plotting going for it. An entire first act’s worth of setup is swept aside quickly in expository dialogue between Esteban and Lucita (with him reciting information that it seems like she would have to have known) before briefly detouring into giallo territory with a mysterious figure in a habit lurking the corridors (elements of the film might have made a better thriller that anticipated THE NAME OF THE ROSE). There’s the usual jabs at hypocrites who use religion to hide their own perversity: a nun (Aldina Martano, CONVENT OF SINNERS) is whipped and branded as a diabolical temptress by the sisters who molested her and labeled as being full of pride for addressing the lord when she begs for mercy (similarly, a novice who also pleads for mercy for the accused is slapped and silenced), and the inquisitor’s limp might be symbolic of impotence; however, the film does try to balance it out with a recognition of the damage wrought by fanaticism, and some characters’ attempts at seeking redemption. After so much of the film spent in claustrophobic convent interiors that do seem inspired by Derek Jarman’s designs for the Russell film (albeit on the cheap), the exteriors and location scenes of the last act are a welcome relief; but it’s all rather perfunctorily directed until the convent finale which is suspenseful but never harrowing (there is a nice twist at the end with the identity of the new abbess).
Tamburi performs with the most conviction and comes across as quite sympathetic; however, Malco – better in more ambiguous roles as seen in NEW YORK RIPPER – is heroic but a bit hard to take seriously with his pageboy haircut. Artfilm veteran Provost at first blends into the background, but emerges at the halfway point and impresses playing an abbess who is not a repressed lesbian but quite manhungry (she bites) and power-mad; and the perverse Beani is much more lively than out heroine for the short time that she is onscreen. Gaipa’s inquisitor proves more righteous than perverted (compared to the abbess), concerned more with scandal and the illusion of earthly justice than that of the divine; but saves his histrionics for one final fanatic rant. Teresa Rossi Passante – who briefly appears as Lucita’s mother – would reunite with Malco in Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY as the matronly Mary Freudstein. The film was one of only three shot by Emore Galeassi, the other two being Sergio Garrone’s back-to-back Klaus Kinski duo THE HAND THAT FEEDS THE DEAD and LOVES OF A MONSTER, and it is frankly easy to see why; Galeassi has an eye for composition, but his work here could only be described as “painterly” in the static sense. The lovely yet anachronistic score of Lallo Gori (WEREWOLF WOMAN) takes things almost into BLACK EMANUELLE territory at times while at other times recalling Marcello Giombini’s CASIO-keyboardesque noodlings (and his use of Spanish guitars sounds more like a spaghetti western).
THE SINFUL NUNS OF ST. VALENTINE was one of the earliest titles released as part of Redemption Films’ distribution agreement with Image Entertainment, arriving on letterboxed tape, laserdisc and non-anamorphic widescreen DVD in 1998 (with the onscreen subtitled translation of “The Excommunicates of San Valentino”). Although an anamorphic transfer appeared overseas from Scandinavian company Another World Entertainment, the film was not upgraded in the UK or stateside when Redemption partnered with Ryko. Image’s transfer featured its opening credits at 2.30:1 but the feature at 2.20:1; however, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything missing from the sides of the frame compared to the Redemption’s 2.35:1- framed 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer. The film source appears to be the same, but blacks are more stable throughout (the shadows were sometimes lighter than the letterbox mattes on the Image DVD). The film was never dubbed into English, but the disc’s Italian-language LPCM 2.0 mono track and optional English subtitles give the film more of a polish than an English dub job might have. The track is cleaner than the one on the older disc, but there are parts that even newer digital noise reduction software could not totally fix without introducing artifacts (the music underscoring the sex scene sounds a little warbly, as does a patch of hiss during a silence interlude during that scene). There is no trailer for the film (although one did appear on Image release), but the disc does include trailers for VIRGIN WITCH, BLACK MAGIC RITES, HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE (aka CRUEL PASSION), and KILLER'S MOON. (Eric Cotenas)
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