Unapologetically exploitative and controversial, raping taboos of society with all the abandon of a horny Nun ripping away her gown, the Nunsploitation sub-genre focuses on the unrepentant exploitation of the imagery and mechanics organic to the Catholic Church. Exploring with a sadist's attention to suffering, and a pornographer's delight in exhibitionism, such hypocritical institutions of as Catholic monasteries and convents, these films depict tragically historic and sensitive issues of sin, redemption, and cultural abuse in terms both sensationalized and serious. Exploring the undeniably tragic internal conflicts of the devout struggling with their consciences and instinctive desires in aesthetic means both sobering and titillating, the tyranny of the Church as a political system of corruption, decadence, and excused torture is also touched upon in these filth-feasts.

Ranging from sensitive portraits of spiritual angst to crass exploitation, Nunsploitation is a bubbling mass of desire and dread, infamous for finding titillation in torment. Featuring the tragedies of innocent women (and men) who become fodder for the religious systems that externally condemn the very pleasures that they indulge in behind closed doors, these films expose the evils of political systems dedicated to self-perpetuating power and the destruction of the individual. A particularly troubling, brazen, and exploitative branch of genre filmmaking, this scintillating form sin-cinema operates on a contradictory basis, celebrating the very same abuses of sex, power, and religious authority that its themes denounce. Both loving and hating the intolerance that threw sexually adventurous girls to the mercy of fondling and abusive Nuns, and the fanaticism that made living hells out of Holy monasteries (supposed to be heavens for the innocent), this celluloid both fascinates and repels, frightens and amuses, arousing our sexual instincts at the very same time that they outrage our sensibilities.

Reaching its cinematic peak in the 1970's in Europe, this particularly erotic, joyfully blasphemous form of fetish may be traced back to the literary efforts of Aldous Huxley, whose novel The Devils Of Loudon was at least partially based on a historical travesty, namely a reported case of mass hysteria and so-called demonic possession occurring at a French Convent in the seventeenth century. While the first true Nunspolitation film, and certainly the finest variation of Huxley's novel, was filmed by the enigmatic Ken Russell (The Devils), cinematic portraits of religious authorities falling victim to the pleasures of the flesh against which they so frenziedly warn others have been a specialist field of exploitation for some time. The former example aside, many of these movies are admittedly more concerned with surface perversion and superheated themes than with fact, resulting in a working formula that encourages the highest degree of sexual excess and violence possible (while striving to deliver half-felt condemnations of political and religious authority in subtext).

Often revolving around monasteries wherein Nuns residing in emotional isolation and physical deprivation find their 'marriage to Christ' less satisfying that a hard poke, the best of these movies focus not only on sexuality but, more importantly, on the corrupting influence of power and its subsequent dependence on exterior symbols. Centering around conflicts between sexual freedom, love, and/or the power of the individual versus the corruptive authority of the Church and family unit, these fetishistic films also delight in examining the deprivation of celibacy. These elements, mixed with a dash of the Inquisition, form the foundation for Nunsploitation. And perhaps no one embodied the sensationalized commendation of this specialized hybrid of genres more than sleaze extraordinaire Joe D' Amato.

Understanding perfectly well the friction of a form contrasting images/story lines of sexual excess, fetishism, and taboo with religious zealousness, abstinence, and political authority, D'Amato shocked and sermonized with equal fervor. Supposedly based on La Religeuse, a novel by Denis Diderot, Convent of Sinners focuses on Susanna (Eva Grimaldi) a young girl raped by her father before being sent to a convent for 'her' sins. This not-so-subtle example of the intolerance and horrible hypocrisy of early Christian society mingles forced eroticism with cruelty, mirroring in its surface imagery of familial sexual abuse, incest, and religious symbolism the more pertinent but subversive themes of political abuse, domestic crime, and the inherent organic corruption of organized religion which commits the very practices of sin and violence that it preaches against. When young, ignorant Susanna falls in love with a priest, she becomes little more than meat for the other nuns, already jealous and resentful of her. Of more interest for the seeker of perversity is the fact that these good sisters harbor less than clean desires for her (and each other). Accusing her of deviltry, looking anywhere but within for signs of corruption, the convent is soon gripping tools of torture instead of bibles, and caressing skin instead of their rosary beads!

In Convent of Sinners exploitation maverick D'Amato achieves both deliciously delirious eroticism (well, actually good old fashioned smut!) and fetishistic, lesbian-obsessed crass exploitation as well as a decidedly thoughtful, energetic, and culturally conscious condemnation of religious extremism. Including such tender, retrospective scenes as a Nun whipping herself while masturbating in front of the statue of a naked man and more woman-on-woman love than you can leer at, this rough and rowdy mix of mayhem and social critique is as thoughtful in its outrage of the treatment of its 'innocents' as it is delighted in their predicaments. D' Amato neither fully condones or condemns the perversities and outrages committed against innocent and guilty alike. Instead, he simply shows all there is to see, inviting (or daring?) us to form our own decisions on how we should view the on-screen debauchery. Making us enjoy the very sordidness that we would profess to detest in polite company, he makes us co-conspirators in torture and humiliation.

While a continual bombardment of sexual depravity (and a succession of scenes each trashier than the last) threatens to occasionally dilute our ability to experience either the disgust or suspense that movies of this ilk -- somewhere between art and trash -- thrive on, and the episodic scenes are a bit repetitive, D'Amato's obvious love of filth, oppressive atmosphere, and both the female skin and heart in jeopardy lend the film undeniable entertainment value. Not only directed but also photographed and edited by D'Amato, this is Nunsploitation at its unredeemable best! It is also an undeniably exciting entry in the filmmaker's cannon, with its excessive style, fetishistic imagery, and rough cynicism displaying a workmanlike entertainer having a grand time providing fans of trash plenty of torture, smut, and viciousness. If not his most intimate or challenging work, this is certainly one of his trashier -- a very fine thing in this day of a political correctness that denies sensation and gutlessness that refuses emotion.

This filth fiesta is presented by the fine folks at Exploitation Digital in luscious widescreen, capturing all the excess, feminine majesty, and religious symbolism in loving detail. While the picture quality isn't flawless, marred slightly by spotting and grain, this hard-to-find classic of a particularly perverse sub-genre is presented as good as we'll probably ever see it. The audio quality is fine, letting the various cries and moans filter through your living room clearly and crisply. While not brimming with extras, the supplemental material that Media Blasters unearthed is intriguing. Accompanying this lewd, lusty offering is "Sex, Death, and Video Tape," an innovative, nostalgic, surprisingly intimate look at Joe D'Amato behind the scenes of a movie shoot. Splicing live shoots from sex scenes, moments from the making of "The Monk," and interview material conducted by Malisa Mongo, this featurette offers an honest glimpse of D'Amato the man, honestly pornographer, and underground artist. This is complimented by a Joe D'Amato Trailer Reeel, unearthing some fine juicy gems for the exploitation fan, Lastly are other trailers for Exploitation Digital, including Lady Emmanuelle, SS Hell Camp, Porno Halocaust, and Images In A Convent.

Review by William P Simmons

Released by Exploitation Digital
Region 1 NTSC
Not Rated
Extras : see main review