UK horror fans may well be justified in feeling hard done by the BBFC’s overzealous scissors over the years. But the phenomenon of censorship is nothing new. While a contemporary filmmaker may well be frustrated at seeing his work snipped, it’s nothing compared to the creators of risqué art back in the 1800’s. For example, spare a thought for a certain French aristocrat, Marquis de Sade. His novel, "Justine", was deemed sordid enough for Napoleon Bonaparte to order the arrest of the decadent author, who was duly detained and imprisoned without trial. Ok, his plight wasn’t helped by the whole "Blasphemy" and Sodomy" thing but you get my point!

It is that infamous volume that forms the basis for a 1977 movie directed by Chris Boger. The tale of two sisters has now appeared uncut for the first time in the UK with a digital release from Nuclear Films.

The story starts with the burial of Justine (Koo Stark) and Juliette’s (Lydia Lisle) father. The two girls are training to be nuns and their loss is accentuated by his resting place being outside of consecrated grounds, beyond the churches perimeter. It transpires it wasn’t just his suicide that was judged as sinful. It was also his penchant for wanton sexual practises including sodomy.

While these acts are deemed deplorable in the official eyes of the church, the nunnery remains tumult of lust and depravity. Vestal masturbation and manipulation, bordering on rape, of the young girls is all part of the regime.

With their inheritance devoured by school fees and debts, Juliette believes she has no choice but to "embrace depravity". A cousin has convinced Juliette to join her at the high class brothel at which she is dubiously employed.

Justine, although stalwartly devout to her beliefs, reluctantly follows her sister down to London embarking on her strategy to market their virginity to the highest bidder! It is on this vintage road trip of sorts that the sisters encounter Lord Carlisle (Martin Potter). He is captivated by the girl’s charms and vows to be victorious when vying for Juliette’s innocence.

Their Madam can smell the money in the girls ‘cherries’, after their virginity is proved in a debasing examination. It is only now their instructions on ‘pleasure giving’ can commence.

Justine’s virtuousness causes her to flee working house, back to the nunnery to uptake the pastor on his offer to help her out. But the sexually frustrated man of the cloth is just another example that wholesomeness and morality tend to attract conflictingly depraved attention.

Will Justine’s unwavering faith seal her fate? Or will redemption be sought from an unlikely source?

I recently found myself riding a wave of self-flagellation and blasphemy when I revisited some vintage Nunsploitation, so was sardonically ‘in the zone’ when Cruel Passion landed on my doorstep!

I had a lot of fun with this salacious effort even if Justine’s character was inhumanly virtuous at times. It soon however became evident that this was an intended ploy in order to amplify the ideology of not being remunerated for a pious existence. Indeed Stark’s portrayal of the troubled Justine was at odds with the horny high jinks of the other characters that appeared deliberately exaggerated in order to rouse the narrative.

Contrary to some of the marketing of the movie back in the days when Prince Andrew was dipping his royal wick in the lead actress, it is not simply a soft porn vehicle. Yes there is nudity and sordid sequences peppered throughout the movie but this liberal use of sex essentially keeps in spirit with its author’s original piece.

There was also the clever use of dream sequences which allowed the movie a few surreal breaks from the actual story. Guilt induced apparitions of coffins burning to the damning cries of ‘HELLFIRE’ as the father is buried added an interesting facet to the movie. This nightmarish aesthetic is used more blatantly in another dream sequence at Justine’s crisis point. Demonic nuns melded with un-dead parents combined with the lithe body of Koo Stark stretched out over a burning crucifix made for a bizarrely memorable vista! ,

Now all this sounds like a lot of fun, and it is, but there was a rather worrying factor with the DVD itself that could well ruin the viewing experience for many. The picture was acceptable, and presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Some scenes did appear very dark, and the picture tended to toil when presenting shadowy sequences. But this was nothing compared to the sound.

The mono soundtrack was not only rather scratchy (forgivable in itself) but was also severely hampered by a little distortion with the speech. ‘SSS’’s in particular sounded over amplified resulting in an audible blur at certain points in the dialogue. It may seem a minor point, but it was a noticeable flaw to be aware of.

The extras were fairly minimal but hugely entertaining all the same. Some trailers of other features from Nucleus’s ‘Naughty’ label were a collection of vintage soft porn. They raised a chuckle or two, especial "Fantasm Comes Again!", in which the female narrator claims the movie is "Rated aaaaah...." Brilliant!

Crude 1980 VHS tape marketing was highlighted in the gallery segment. The 3 minute medley offered the perusal of stills from the movie mixed with various guises of the VHS covers. Some featuring Ms Stark’s delectable face but others were hilariously misleading to potential buyers by means of a pornographic actress on the cover who had nothing to do with the movie whatsoever!

All in all, Cruel Passion is an entertaining addition to any Nunsploitation aficionado’s collection. While it’s fabulous that this is an uncut print, concerns over the sound quality could potentially discourage me from laying down a few quid in the collection plate.

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by Nucleus
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review