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Nun but the depraved
A UK region 0 DVD review of SACRED FLESH by Gort
 

Nuns. Phwoar! Pretty hot, eh? All those women, living together, tortured by sexual inhibitions. And those habits! Phew, I'm getting all sweaty just thinking about them. File this particular sexual fantasy under kinky if you like, but it has its own film sub-genre, the Nunsploitation movie. Cult movie fans will know what I'm talking about. Others will probably think I made the word up, but get on the Net and check it out. It even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Nunsploitation films are set largely in convents and take place in what could loosely be described as olden times (a notable exception is Giulio Berruti's notorious 1978 Killer Nun). Most of the nuns appear to have joined the order by mistake and are now sexually frustrated to the point of madness. They usually relieve their tensions on each other or any passing priest, most of whom are up for it at the drop of a cassock. The more imaginative examples may have thinly disguised digs at the Catholic church, and almost all trade on the perverse appeal of what a largely male audience likes to imagine goes on behind convent walls. As a sub-genre it does count among its members at least one genuine classic (Ken Russell's 1971 The Devils), one banned video nasty (the aforementioned Killer Nun), and a tidy of collection of mediocre works whose primary purpose is to rip the clothes off their cast.

Sacred Flesh is without question a nunsploitation movie, but clearly also has aspirations to art. Not high art, but art nonetheless. The two, it has to be said, make peculiar bedfellows. If you're tuning in to watch pretty young nuns get their kit off and play with each other, then you'll probably be bemused by the sinister music that underscores the fondling and the strange montages and religious discussions that repeatedly interrupt it. If, however, you're looking for a serious discourse on sexual repression in the Catholic church that's spiced with a little sex, then the plot, the dialogue and some of the acting will probably make you weep.

There is a story, but it's largely irrelevant. At an unspecified convent, the nuns suspect that their Mother Superior is possessed by devils. We know this because they ask questions of each other like "Is she really possessed by devils, Reverend Mother?" A minute later the Reverend Mother is writing a letter to the local Abbot, which she begins with the words, "I fear our dear and respected Mother Superior, Sister Elizabeth, has been possessed." Most of the exposition is delivered like this. The letter does not please the Abbot, who I found myself referring to as Father Bloke. That's because he sounds less like a pious holy man than a builder who's been handed his lines two minutes before the cameras rolled. He sets off for the convent with his assistant Richard in tow, a randy young sod whose accent places him somewhere between Cornwall and Norfolk. When they arrive, Richard nips off with some girl who hangs around and does jobs for the sisters, while Father Bloke goes for a long walk with the Reverend Mother to discuss sex and the church.

Up in a tower located somewhere in the convent, meanwhile, Sister Elizabeth is having troubling visions, which take the form of Mary Magdalene (a rather enjoyable turn from a sneering Kristina Bill), a handful of demonic handmaidens – one of whom I started to think of as Sister Skeleton – and some computer animated backdrops. It's here, after the longest monologue you'll probably ever hear in such a film, that we get down to business. The mischievous Mary proceeds to torment Sister Elizabeth by reminding her her of the terrible confessions she's been hearing from the nuns. The first one involves masturbation, the second lesbianism and some mutual whipping, and the third a two-on-one from a couple of scenery-chewing priests. Oh, the horror.

This particular convent's dress code appears to insist on bright red lipstick and suggestive eye make-up, while they no doubt keep a stock of extra-large robes to cover those oversized breasts. Not that the sisters stay clothed for too long. Yes, it's that sort of film. It's ruder than the average Hollywood flick, but in the days of hardcore internet porn and a specialist site for every fetish, this is hardly taboo-busting stuff. And that's despite the presence of performers whose CVs include the likes of Majella's Lesbian Fantasies, Spanking the Teacher, Pussy on Pussy and that old favourite, Amanda's Anal Adventures. Mind you, I'm sure there are a few out there who would pay good money to be whipped by the likes of Sisters Mary and Helena. Now where did I put my credit card?

It all looks quite nice, or as nice as high-band video can look when trying to be film, and I rather liked the sinister groans of the distinctly non-porno score by Steve Pitts and The Band of Pain. There are also hints that the film is trying to engage in a debate on religion and sexual freedom, but here it tickles rather than bites. This really is one for the nunsploitation and oddball cinema fans only, although the image of a half-naked crucified female Christ snogging one of the sisters provides a last act moment of daring that should keep the Mel Gibson crowd firmly at bay.

sound and vision

Say what you like about the film but hats off to the transfer. The contrast levels and colour are bang on, the detail is crisp and the colours in stylised opening credits in particular are particularly vivid. The odd area of single colour (a blue sky in one early shot, for example) displays compression blocking, but it's rare. Framing is 1.78:1 and the picture is enhanced for widescreen TVs.

The Dolby stereo soundtrack does particularly well on the Band of Pain music, and the stereo separation is sometimes very distinct.

extra features

There are 13 (spooky, huh?) small stills from the film and 23 from behind the scenes, 5 reproductions of publicity artwork and 8 pages of storyboards, which I quite liked. Also included are two trailers, the teaser trailer (0:35), which is not too bad, and the theatrical trailer (2:03), which is an extended and more risque version of the teaser. Both are anamorphic widescreen.

summary

Nunsploitation fans should find plenty to interest them here, but Sacred Flesh is unlikely to find an appreciative audience of any size outside of cult circles. The transfer is fine, but it might have been nice to hear the commentary track by director Nigel Wingrove that adorns the US release.

Sacred Flesh

UK 2000
72 mins
director
Nigel Wingrove
starring
Sally Tremaine
Moyna Cope
Simon Hill
Kristina Bill
Rachel Taggart

DVD details
region 0
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
languages
English
subtitles .
none
extras
Stills
Artwork
Storyboards
Trailers
distributor
Redemption
release date
26 March 2007
review posted
30 March 2007

See all of Gort's reviews