Exploitation film has always been a trend driven beast, with bizarre boomlets for damn near every common noun you can append -sploitation to.
Nunsploitation shared its 60s and 70s heyday with the women in prison films. Both niches were basically playing the same game, but with different variants of black and white uniforms. Fallen convent angels in habits or proud prison sinners in stripes, both subgenres were chock full of sadistic authority figures, women in isolation, and kinky (often lesbian) sex.
The subject of nuns also added the delightful bonus of jabbing a stick straight into the eye of the church, and a controversy was always good for a few extra asses in the seats. Not surprisingly, many genre standouts were produced by filmmakers in the Catholic strongholds of Spain and Italy.
Today’s film is one of the last gasps of the fading clergy craze, and is unusual for both being set in the (then) present day, and for having made the UK’s infamous “Video Nasties” list. It’s also the only nunsploitation flick starring former mainstream sex goddess Anita Ekberg (though it certainly isn’t the only Hail Mary in her late career filmography).
Originally titled “Suor Omicidi” and also released under the amazing, much snappier alternate title of “Bad Habits” let’s see just how far Ms. Ekberg has fallen from the Trevi Fountain:
Nothing much happens in the credit sequence. Communion wafers are eaten, nuns line up in elaborate configurations, incense and chants are had. An unseen Sister is in confession trying to be absolved of her need for revenge on all men, and up pops the title card. Enter Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg), clapping her hands, chastising two of her male patients for making dirty jokes, and being a absolute ray of sunshine that no rational human being would want to to deal with first thing in the morning.
By comparison to the dour nuns in the opener, Sister Gertrude is absolutely the Mother Superior of the Order of the #305 False Eyelash, making her hospital rounds in full eye make up. Sadly, it isn’t all smiles and frosted eyeshadow.
Sister Gertrude has just recovered from surgery to remove a brain tumor, and she hasn’t been quite herself since. While she used to be the resident doctor’s first choice of assistant, she has been neglecting her duties of late, endangering patients and having wacky music cue filled panic attacks at the sight of blood. A younger nun named Sister Mathieu picks up the slack for Sister Gertrude’s various fuck ups.
Every doctor that has examined her has declared Sister Gertrude healthy. She insists that all of the tests are wrong, and that she would be her usual self again if she could only get some more morphine. Because those cold sweats and fainting spells couldn’t possibly be drug withdrawal rather than an invisible phantom tumor. Nope. No way.
In a landmark case of “that escalated quickly”, Sister Gertrude is reading bloody hagiography of tortured saints to the patients at breakfast, then curbstomps patient Josephine’s dentures to dust for taking them out at the table. Sister Gertrude has gone from Pollyanna levels of sunny to shrieking “DISGUSTING! DISGUSTING! DISGUSTING!” like Joan Crawford when she just saw some wire hangers.
Sister Gertrude’s no good, very bad day just keeps on rolling.
Sister Mathieu insists on a nude fireside chat in their shared bedroom, confessing to both her forbidden love, and destroying Gertrude’s medical records. Without tangible proof, no one can deny Gertrude is sick…..which even the brain tumor survivor realizes is an utterly stupid plan.
Then that damned Josephine has to go and have a heart attack and die from the shock of the false teeth frenzy.
Then the doctor cuts off Gertrude’s supply of morphine. Cold turkey.
There’s nothing to do but sneak off into the city and pawn a dead woman’s stolen ring for drug money. As one does.
Over alternating dreamy Roman cha cha music and kicky disco kerfluffle, Gertrude does her various dirty deeds and stops into a cafe for a drink, a smoke, and a man. In hilarious voiceover, she growls about liking beards, and disliking a man she deems “too Latin looking”, whatever the fuck that means in terms of a generic looking white guy. Settling on a chain smoking clams adjuster, she practically purrs and pants her way through this breathy and bizarre line reading:
Sister Gertrude (voiceover): Come on……look this way. Sister Gertrude is just DYYYYYIIING to make love to you.
While Anita Ekberg declined to appear nude, they do have weird half clothed simulated sex in a random apartment building hallway. How his gross open mouthed goldfish style make out technique would be a turn on remains a mystery. On the other hand Ms. Ekberg’s Sister Gertrude is still a stone cold fox.
Back at the charity hospital, Sister Gertrude sets a two prong plan in motion. First, get the doctor who dared deny her fired. Second, celebrate by deciding to shoot up over it. It’s a special occasion, after all. Thrashing about on the carpet, we get a surreal little hallucination sequence of sliced brains and the tentative fondling of the deceased. All set to this delightful piece of music in search of a Nancy Sinatra song to belong to.
It’s about here that the movie takes an abrupt leap towards giallo territory, and mostly lands with a thud. A patient tries to help Sister Gertrude through her overdose. No good deed goes unpunished, and he is bludgeoned to death with a lamp, then tossed out of the window to make it look like a suicide.
The ever helpful Sister Mathieu burns a bloody veil of Gertrude’s she finds in the laundry, not that it helps anyone believe the suicide story. By the following afternoon, the remaining patients point blank call Gertrude a killer during the world’s grimmest game of truth or dare.
A patient and a local girl have some noisy sex outside in the pouring rain, and while their choice of venue is questionable, being choked to death with cotton gauze seems excessive.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Factory fleshpot Joe D’Allesandro shows up as the new head doctor at the hospital. He keeps his shirt on and his wonderful, working class New York City accent is dubbed out. That tidily eliminates any conceivable purpose of his being in this film.
In a clear concession to the current non starter status of the plot, Sister Gertrude savagely humiliates a nude Sister Mathieu. Sudden dominatrix mode engaged, Gertrude threatens to beat Mathieu if she does not immediately put on silk stockings, and make good on her previous sexual invitations.
Due to an excess of jumping jacks, the patients have a soup bowl clanking rebellion(none of that is a typo), and are sent to bed early. After leading evening prayers, Sister Gertrude is attacked by a mystery assailant, and the one patient who may know who did it is keeping silent. Not that it matters, as the potential snitch is acupunctured to death the following day, and hung up to bleed out in a laundry chute. Bonus points for easy clean up.
Sister Gertrude flies into hysterics at the sight of another body, and when Dr. Rough Trade gives her a sedative, her drug addiction is obvious. She has more than enough tracks to make a greatest hits album. Sister Mathieu tearfully admits covering for Gertrude’s addiction and the theft of hospital morphine.
Desperate to know what is real and what is her own hallucination, Gertrude drugs and kidnaps a handicapped patient named Peter. Dumping him at the bottom of the boiler room steps, she demands to know who is the source of the rumors blaming her for the murders. When he refuses to tell, Gertrude takes his crutches, trapping him there. She has other business to attend to……..
Which gives Peter plenty of time to drag himself up the stairs inch by inch….
Only to be kicked right back down them again by an unseen nun. Yet another killing gets Sister Gertrude sent away to the Brides Of Christ version of Bellevue……
To give us appropriate time to rush through a sloppy ending that primarily exists in service of getting this highly misleading image onto some video boxcovers.