Killer Nun Review

The Film

I have to admit that nuns make me uneasy. The other day I bumped into a nun and I became like a bunny in the headlights whilst I was in her presence. Every possibly blasphemous or unkind thing I had said during that day ran through my head and I am sure that my eyes read like guilt incarnate as I attempted small talk with the good sister. Of course I realised I was being a doofus but only after she'd left the room when I started to think that it's just a woman in a uniform rather than anything more awesome or awful. It made me more comfortable to find something weird or pathetic about her vocation, something that made her obvious display of faith a little less intimidating to me.

The Killer Nun is a film which gives you plenty to remind you that handmaidens of the lord are in fact as human, and in this case venal, as the rest of us. Anita Ekberg, yep the statuesque one from La Dolce Vita, is Sister Gertrude, a nursing nun recovering from brain surgery and suffering incredible headaches that she can't get taken seriously. As the matron figure of her Catholic nursing home, her bad temper and outbursts have become unavoidably obvious, and after one rant at a frail OAP she reduces the woman to cardiac arrest. She realises that she needs more morphine to control the pain and soon a libidinous trip to the city is planned. Once in civvies, she is smoking, drinking and picking up men in bars for a quickie. On her return, more patients start to die and the only one who seems to care is her besotted colleague, Sister Mathur. Soon the patients believe that Gertrude is polishing them off like so many jelly babies and her blackouts get worse as her morphine addiction increases.

Supposedly based on a true story from Belgium, there is very little in Killer Nun that should be taken as gospel or morality tale. This is particularly obvious in the dialogue - whether it is the English dub that gives the film lines like “Come on Bishop, it's time to get up”, “Ride it like a jockey” and best of all “Flaunting your big floppy breasts at me”, the impact on the viewer can only be to see it all as a bit tongue in cheek. Some of Sister Gertrude's outbursts are also unintentionally funny as when she takes umbrage at an OAP's false teeth being left on the dinner table and extracts said teeth only to stamp on them. It is not surprising that after a few similar tantrums and a number of dead bodies, her patients are soon on hunger strike.

Like a lot of seventies Italian exploitation, part of the guilty pleasure for the genre fan is seeing how far the iconic have fallen. Lou Castel, a man who once inspired the likes of Visconti, Chabrol, Fassbinder, early Wim Wenders and Marco Bellochio, cameos as the only patient south of fifty. Similarly, Alida Valli of The Third Man, Pasolini and Hitchcock provides another of her austere matronly stereotypes to go with her role in the previous year's Suspiria. But the real testament to cinema's fickle ways is Ekberg, who once embodied all the virtues of womanhood in Fellini's masterpiece and here has fallen into an older seedy voluptuousness of girl on girl action and heroin addiction. To compound the indignity, her voice has even been dubbed out of the film.