Lucita has been locked away in a convent by her family in order to keep her away from her lover, Esteban. The pair make plans to elope, but Esteban is accused of heresy before Lucita can escape. Hiding in the convent, Esteban discovers the horrifying depravity of the covent's abbess, Sister Incarnation. Can Esteban rescue his love from this madhouse before the inquisitor discovers what is going on and has everyone executed?
The one thing that has always stuck out in the back of my mind when watching or discussing the "nunsploitation" subgenre of exploitation films - an umbrella term for various low-quality B-movies featuring nuns involved in some very naughty behavior, is where do the filmmakers of such sleazy stories come up with this stuff? The only nuns I've ever encountered in my entire life are the scary kind — crabby, old ladies that snap at you for yawning while reading, accuse little boys of being sexual perverts for saying "Hi" to a girl in class and seem to always hide a yard stick in the sleeve of their creepy habits. The last thing I would ever imagine is whether that mean, surly witch wears any underwear, does the carpet match the drapes, and does she ever get freaky with her sisters?
What is it about seeing beautiful, voluptuous women in religious outfits more commonly associated with painfully traumatic childhood memories? Once they remove their garments and the tone of the scene suddenly changes, making you kick the kids out of the room in a hurry (then again, why are the kids there in the first place?), it's a conversation of an entirely different nature. That part is universally understood. But what's the connection between the clothes and the sudden risqué behavior? That's the question underlining the reasons behind these movies and their short-lived popularity during the 1970s. We imagine, whether consciously or unconsciously, something repressive about the vows to celibacy, a complete denial of our most basic instinct. In the guise of eroticism, there's a subtle commentary writhing within many of these films to this self-prescribed form of oppression.
From Italian filmmaker Sergio Grieco, better known as the writer of the original 'The Inglorious Bastards' and for his low-budget James Bond knock-offs, 'The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine' ('Le scomunicate di San Valentino') fits neatly in that category of adult movies that craftily looks at religion with a critical eye and sees celibacy as unnatural as well as psychologically damaging. From a script Grieco co-wrote with Max Vitali and Luigi Mordini (and possibly inspired by Ken Russell's 'The Devils'), the story follows the Romeo & Juliet-like romance of Esteban (Paolo Malco) and Lucita (Jenny Tamburi), the latter of which is forced by her father to a nunnery for loving the wrong man. Adding more insult to injury, Esteban is falsely accused of heresy and of killing a priest. The only place he thinks to hide at is in the same convent as Lucita, thanks to the help of the groundskeeper (Gino Rocchetti).
Already, we see in this simple story of two people clearly in love an insinuation of dogmatic practices used for petty, unscrupulous purposes which ruin innocent lives. But as armed soldiers search for the accused heretic and surround the convent, something more sinister walks the stone hallways of this consecrated building, an evil presence brought to light with the brutal murder of Sister Josefa (Bruna Beani). Typical of many exploitation films, it's not until we are about halfway into the movie that we finally learn the actual plot. While the sadist Father Onorio (Corrado Gaipa) investigates the murder using his vicious tactics of torture, the Abbess (Françoise Prévost), we slowly discover, is hiding some rather monstrous secrets. The mother superior even helps in sheltering Esteban from authorities, though not without some spicy action on the side as recompense for her Christian charity.
This opens doors for Grieco from which to express his subtly disparaging view while still preserving his film under the cloak of being a mystery thriller — and a rather entertaining one at that! With Father Onorio and the Abbess serving as exemplars, the result of years-long sexual repression is mentally unhealthy and dysfunctional, leading to disturbing acts of violence and a break from reality. Essentially, this is where the bizarre and pretty extreme entombment finale comes in, and really, it's the best explanation for why everyone loses their minds in a matter of a couple days. Then, Grieco finishes his racy little tale with the most blatant piece of criticism when another priest sums up the plot: "Fanaticism is often nothing more than the other face of madness."
Of course, this being a low-budget piece of raunchy Euro-sleaze, picking up on this understated commentary is not requisite for the film's enjoyment. 'The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine' lives up to its title as the ideal model of the "nunsploitation" subgenre and is, on its own, an amusing picture of naughty nuns partaking in some very sinful behavior.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Redemption" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase, the Region Free, BD25 disc goes straight to a static menu with music.
The 'Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine' bare it all on Blu-ray, but not without some serious reservations and certain objections worth considering, starting with the condition of the source. From the usual sprinkling of white specks, dirt and scratches, the print used for this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode appears to be in a terrible state of repair. Granted, the look gives the movie a quaint vintage appeal with a visibly thick grain structure, particularly those scenes of poor resolution and some mild discoloration, but the 2.35:1 image is also not very pleasing to the eye. Definition and clarity are a hit and miss, with a couple decent moments of strong detailing here and there. Contrast is pretty drab and plain while blacks look dreary and lean towards a dark gray tone with little delineation. Colors benefit slightly, particularly the reds and greens, yet they never really standout, making this a mediocre high-def presentation.
The audio for this cult exploitation classic is a bit stronger, but not by much. The uncompressed PCM soundtrack preserves the original mono design, which is greatly appreciated, and comes with a few good traits worth enjoying. To start, imaging is surprisingly warm and wide with a great sense of presence in the center. Much of this is thanks to the musical score generating a nice, broad soundstage while delivering excellent, well-prioritized dialogue, in spite of the obvious ADR work. However, the mid-range suffers a tad, sounding mostly flat and listless even though it maintains good clarity for much of the runtime. Bass is pretty much nonexistent as well. The issues noted are more than likely related to the original recording and possibly the source, but for what it's worth, the lossless mix gets the job done with some positives.
Under the guise of horror eroticism, Italian filmmaker Sergio Grieco expresses some disparaging views on self-prescribed sexual repression in 'The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine,' a tale that borders between tantalizing and serious commentary. As part of the larger umbrella of Exploitation cinema, the low-budget picture is an entertaining and satisfying entry. The Blu-ray arrives with a less than satisfying video presentation and average lossless audio. No supplements related to this production are offered in this release, making the overall package rather disappointing, but cult enthusiasts are sure to add this "nunsploitation" classic to their collection.