Blu-ray Release: November 8, 2022
Audio: English and Italian LPCM 2.0 mono
Run Time: 103:36
Director: Domenico Paolella
When the Mother Superior falls ill, controversy erupts within a 16th Century Neapolitan nunnery known as St. Archangel. Senior sister, Julia (Anne Heywood), schemes to take the mantle of Superior for herself, using her sisters’ lustful struggles and her church’s corruption to her advantage.
Perverse, possessed, and/or evil nun stories have existed as long as Catholic women have donned the habit and pledged themselves to God. In the film world, naughty nuns date back to the silent era, when Benjamin Christensen’s occult pseudo-documentary Häxan (1922) portrayed a series of sinful sister activities, but it wasn’t until Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971, based on Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun [non-fiction, 1952] and John Whiting’s stage play The Devils [premiere: 1961]) shocked censors and titillated international audiences that the concept of nunsploitation took off. Given its subject matter, one might assume that nunsploitation would be the most salacious of the exploitation subgenres, aside from the ever-grotesque Nazisploitation, but, on average, there might actually be more artistically laudable entries than gutter trash quickies. This is most likely because the genre has its basis in two genuinely great and celebrated motion pictures – Ken Russell’s aforementioned The Devils and, less obviously, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947, based on Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel).
Italian nunsploitation inspiration actually predates The Devils, going back a couple of years prior with Eriprando Visconti’s biographical melodrama, The Lady of Monza (Italian: La monaca di Monza, 1969). Once the floodgates were opened, no one, not even a fully financed Jess Franco, could match the sheer collected output of the Italians. And, for a time, Italian nunsploitation carried a sheen of respectability. Sure, these were bawdy movies made to feed the grindhouse beast, but, perhaps due to most of them being period pieces, a lot of the mid-’70s sex-and-violence-in-a-convent movies looked great and featured surprisingly strong performances from an international crop of thespians. Domenico Paolella’s The Nun and the Devil (Italian: Le Monache di Sant'Arcangelo; aka: Sisters of Satan and The Nuns of Saint Archangel, 1973) is a perfect example of the kind of stark beauty and brooding costume drama that Italian nunsploitation had to offer, at least before the ‘80s rolled around and shlok-shovelers like Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso, and Joe D’Amato got their hands on the material.
Like many nunsploitation films, especially following The Devils, The Nun and the Devil professes to be based on a true story, in this case “authentic 16th Century records and a story by (Le Rouge et le Noir author) Stendhal.” Most critics seem to agree that, if there was a literary inspiration, it was Stendhal’s L'Abbesse de Castro (pub: 1832), but it’s more likely that story was simply conjured by Paolella and co-writer Tonino Cervi for the sake of soap operatics, titillation, and shock value, because it certainly sticks to the nunsploitation formula. Its earliest acts press the conspiracy behind the choice of a new mother superior, gleefully reveling in the hypocritical conniving, backstabbing, and smuttiness of it all. A tragic, doe-eyed romance is eventually introduced, but, soon enough, machinations give way to more harrowing scenes of cruelty, abuse, and eventually torture. The third act isn’t the level of bloodfest that would be seen during the ‘80s nunsploitation craze, but it’s plenty bleak and gruesome, nonetheless.
The top notch cast is led by Oscar-nominated English actress (for Mark Rydell’s The Fox, 1967) and one-time Miss Great Britain Anne Heywood, who was brought onboard specifically because she was the star of The Lady of Monza, where she appeared alongside another Nun and the Devil lead, Pier Paolo Capponi. Her foil is French actor Luc Merenda, who appears as a brooding babyface in a number of Italian-made Eurospy movies, spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi,, and gialli, including Duccio Tessari’s Puzzle (Italian: L’uomo senza memoria, 1974) and Sergio Martino’s Torso (Italian: I Corpi Pesentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, 1973). They’re joined by international sex symbols Ornella Muti and Claudia Gravy, and industry veterans Claudio Gora and Maria Cumani Quasimodo. The Nun and the Devil was a big enough hit that Paolella quickly produced a second nunsploitation movie, Story of a Cloistered Nun (Italian: Storia di una monaca di clausura), later the same year, giving him a good excuse to reuse actress Martine Brochard as well.
I don’t believe that The Nun and the Devil was ever officially released on US VHS, though a lot of Redemption’s UK tapes found their way onto semi-official NTSC tape, so it might have ended up in some mom & pop rental stores. There definitely wasn’t an authorized DVD stateside and UK company 88 Films released the first Blu-ray edition in August of 2021. Assuming I’m correct, this Twilight Time Blu-ray is essentially the film’s US debut, outside of its original theatrical run. I do not have the 88 Films disc on hand for a comparison, nor does this box art specify the source of the HD transfer, but, based on how close the releases are and the fact that Twilight Time is recycling 88 Films’ extras (see below), I think it’s safe to assume that both used the same 2K master from the original 35mm camera negative. This is a really nice and filmic restoration, beginning with gritty and natural grain levels. Details are tight and elements are neatly separated without oversharpening, and only a touch of bleed in the most intense reds. The subtle textures and colors are clean and beautifully supported by rich shadows and strong, deep blacks with the exception of the darkest night sequences, where blacks appear pooly and noisy. Highlights are delicate without blooming and there aren’t many obvious compression or source material issues, aside from some fuzziness/grain overlap (I believe the term is ‘grain wrapping’?) throughout wider angle shots.
The Nun and the Devil is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono. As per usual, Italian-made movies from this era were largely shot without on-set sound and multilingual casts. All language versions are dubbed and the choice between languages is usually one of taste. The Italian track has slightly better dynamic range and volume levels, but weaker performances from the English speaking cast, some of whom appear to be dubbing their own performances, including Anne Heywood (Luc Merenda, on the other hand, is acting in English, but clearly did not dub himself). Piero Piccioni’s dramatically melancholy score sets the tone beautifully, but is underutilized. It’s additionally muffled on the English track whenever its used as underscore and pops better on the Italian dub.
Commentary by critics Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw – Newman, the author of Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s (Bloomsbury Publishing, 1989), and Forshaw, the author of Italian Cinema: Arthouse to Exploitation (Kamera, 2017), are in typical form for this well-researched and charming commentary track. They discuss the nunsploitation genre on the whole, the roots and context of the genre, Italian exploitation cycles, the reality of Catholic rituals, the careers of the cast & crew, seeing exploitation films in the era before home video, and film censorship over the decades.This is the first of many extras produced by 88 Films for their UK release of the film.
Judging Luc (23:31, HD) – Actor Luc Merenda recalls his TV and film career during the ‘70s, working with the cast & crew, and describes his experiences on set and location making The Nun and the Devil, injecting some of his own personal philosophical beliefs in regards to the church’s crimes.
The Devil and Martine (16:36, HD) – Actress Martine Brochard talks about auditioning, the collaborative on-set atmosphere, her various castmates, the state of homophobia in the ‘70s, and her short time on Story of a Cloistered Nun.
Paolella Connection (34:39, HD) – Eugenio Errolani, who is also responsible for the interviews on this disc, has accumulated separate interviews with actresses Brochard and Eleonora Giorgi, and camera operator Roberto Girometti in order to give us a better idea of writer/director Domenico Paolella’s work, personality, and filmmaking style.
Horny Devils: Nunsploitation Explained (7:10, HD) – Marcus Stiglegger, critic and author of Sadiconazista - Sexuality and Fascism in Film from the Seventies to the Present (St. Augustin, 1999), among others, gives a brief history of the genre.
English language trailer
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.