A preproduction copy of this product was provided by Arrow Video for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own.
Inspired by the works of Marquis de Sade and Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, the origins of the nunsploitation genre can be traced back to the early days of cinema, but the standard tropes didn’t begin to take shape until the early ’70s with the release of Ken Russell’s The Devils, though this title was a far cry from what the genre would become as it began more closely resembling women in prison and nazisploitation films that were also big at the time. While most of these movies carried a similar theme and tone, Giulio Berruti’s Killer Nun from 1979 set itself apart from the rest of the crop, despite its name, by presenting a compelling thriller that blended nunsploitation with the popular giallo craze.
Set in modern-day Italy, Anita Ekberg stars as Sister Gertrude, a nun working in a hospital who begins having homicidal thoughts after having brain surgery to remove a tumor. Despite her frequent pleading with her superiors about her deteriorating mental health, her concerns fall upon deaf ears and eventually a series of murders begins around the hospital.
As Gertrude struggles to keep her sanity (“hysterical” women being a common theme for the time), she develops an addiction to morphine and begins leaving the hospital grounds at night to engage in sexual escapades with random men. But as the body count rises, questions begin to form as to who the real predator is.
Part giallo, part psychological thriller and part nunsploitation flick, Killer Nun may carry an on-the-nose title, but there’s far more going on here than your standard exploitation fare. Gertrude’s slow descent into madness is fascinating and brought wonderfully to the screen by Ekberg, who carefully presents both a fragile woman struggling with her growing inner demons and a domineering, abusive caretaker who forces her ederly patients to do grueling calisthenics, who smashes dentures and who steals crutches.
Arrow Video has released a new 2K restoration of the film from the original 35mm negative on Blu-ray, and although I haven’t seen any previous versions, this new restoration looks great. Both the Italian and U.S. versions are included on the disc, but I watched the Italian version for this review; the only difference between the two is, apparently, the soundtrack, titles and credits.
Bonus content includes new interviews with director Berruti, editor Mario Giacco and actress Ileana Fraia, who played Florence in the film. There’s a new video essay on the film in relation to the nunsploitation genre by Kat Ellinger, an audio commentary track from Adrian J. Smith and David Flint, trailers, and an image gallery.
All in all, this is another solid release from Arrow for a unique nunsploitation/giallo hybrid that may not be a highlight of either genre but is an entertaining watch nonetheless.