Bite Size: Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century (1977)

The media and publicity blitz that surrounded the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake of King Kong made it an easy target, for savvy exploitationeers. Filmmakers all over the world rushed out a whole flotilla of rip offs, retreads and revisions, not wanting to miss the potential box office returns of a classic monster/creature feature revival.

Despite a pile of litigation, injunctions and various legal wrangling, several of the bargain bin versions even managed managed to beat Kong to the box office. South Korea’s A*P*E* arrived in the fall of 1976 and international embarrassment Queen Kong managed to squeak out a limited release with just two weeks to spare in December of that same year. Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century was somewhat late to the party, the Italian and Canadian co-production arriving almost a full year post King Kong‘s release.

Wealthy industrialist Morgan Honeycutt (Edoardo Faieta) drops into a remote mountain range, with the specific goal of convincing his estranged childhood friend Professor Henry Wasserman (John Stacy) to join him on what he calls a “humane” expedition. A massive creature has been found frozen, the giant block of ice floating off the coast of Newfoundland. Honeycutt is rather unconcerned that Wasserman’s expertise is in paleontology, which specifically excludes the study humanoids, like that annoying guy in the office who keeps asking the IT networking crew to fix the copier.

Upon arrival in Canada, Wasserman is joined by Honeycutt’s orphaned grandchildren and their pet dog (amusingly given a full on screen credit as Indio the American Collie). Young Herbie (Jim Sullivan) is the one who discovered the titular Yeti, voiceless since his parent’s “plane accident”. Older sister Jane (Antonella Interlenghi, City Of The Living Dead) is very protective of him in his interactions with Honeycutt’s various lackeys, headed up by square jawed sourpuss Cliff (Tony Kendall).

Of course, Honeycutt was openly dishonest regarding his humanitarian goals, and when the Professor manages to revive the ancient creature via a barrage of flamethrowers and junk science, his real end goal comes to light. Honeycutt wants to display the creature all over the world, a living mascot for his various business ventures. Obligatorily, Yeti takes a discomforting shine to pretty young Jane, but is rather volatile in his behavior to every other human on the planet. Defying logic and reason, the choice is made to airlift the yeti into civilization, in a contraption that looks suspiciously like a Wonkavator. Of course, this film being a blatant piece of copyright infringement cinema, we all know how this decision will turn out.

Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century has all of the corner cutting delights a fan of lowbrow celluloid could ask for. The Canadian and Italian footage is blended indifferently, characters driving across international borders in impossible ways. The dub track is tilt of center, with every character having a “choose your own adventure” moment with the correct pronunciation of the word yeti. Despite everything associated with him being clearly labeled with the initials H.H., Mr. Honeycutt has been inexplicably christened Morgan.

The creature itself is (quite literally) just as shaggy. Actor Mimmo Crao looks less like a yeti and more like an extremely hirsute Barry Gibb in his frequent extreme close ups. Regardless of his location or mood, the greenscreen work has the yeti’s hair blowing in the wind like a photo session at Glamour Shots. The model work and rear projection work don’t ever really align at the same scale, causing the yeti to change comparative size pretty much every time he appears. Sometimes, he’s roughly the height of a tall tree. At other moments, he’s massive enough to climb down a building, his toes alone big enough to strangle a man to death.

Plenty of low budget monster movies are chock full of lack of resources laughs, including quite a few of the entries that were aping (all puns intended) this particular formula. What pushes Yeti ahead of the mildly amusing pack and into some truly delightful trash territory is tension. The film can never quite decide if it wants to play at being suitable for general audiences, or embrace its roots as a piece of exploitation schlock.

Cliff is ostensibly a protector for the children, yet stops Jane in the middle of Yeti’s rampage to express his concern “about us”. Considering he’s well into middle age and Jane is a teenager, even the film’s own characters find themselves questioning his motives when he finally makes his heel turn in the third act.

The intra-species love angle in these movies is always vaguely disquieting. Yeti starts out in goofy but relatively chaste territory, with the pair bonding over food. In the spirit of “waste not, want not” Yeti even thoughtfully uses the skeleton to comb her hair. Where things get truly weird is that during one of their long walks through the forest, Jane accidentally brushes the creature’s nipple, and the latex appliance visibly stiffens, an utterly gleeful expression on Yeti’s face. The subtext has always been awkward, but an explicit roadmap to Yeti fetishes seems like the sort of hyperspecific niche sleaze that belongs in an entirely different sort of film.

Slightly overlong and definitely under budgeted, Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century‘s identity crisis still makes for the stuff of B movie bliss. Add it to the list of easy exploitation crowd pleasers. The movie runs on a familiar format that has its pleasures for those already inclined to the psychotronic, and enough mainstream leanings to make a nice introduction to B cinema for viewers not already inclined toward the temple of trash.

Who doesn’t love a cynical capitalist cash in with a goofy attempt at an anticapitalist message? If Honeycutt hadn’t been quite so hell bent at turning an ancient creature into a cuddly corporate mascot, none of this would have happened. If that seems a bit too serious a read on such a silly film, consider it a tale of Toronto, the bond between a boy and his dog, and the joys of nipple tweaking. Either way, it’s still pretty fun.

Bite Size: Madness (1980)

Fernando Di Leo was one of the masters of poliziotteschi, deftly weaving complex plots and copious violence with a cynical eye toward the political corruption and contempt toward the working class that existed in 1970s Italy. A deeper dive into his filmography also reveals a uniquely dark take toward the socioeconomic divides lying beneath a newly permissive and libertine eroticism, most notably in 1978’s brutally bleak To Be Twenty.

Madness (original Italian title: Vacanze per un massacro) incorporates elements of both of these styles, taking Di Leo’s penchant for sex and violence into a tightly confined setting. Gio Brezzi (Warhol superstar Joe D’allesandro) escapes from prison, quickly dispatching a local farmer with his own pitchfork to steal a getaway car. He heads to a rural vacation house where he had stashed a previous heist of 300 million lira.

The house has been purchased by a well to do couple from the capital, Sergio (Gianni Macchia) and Lilliana (Patrizia Behn). The pair dash Gio’s hopes of a quick score when they arrive unexpectedly for a weekend in the country, Lilliana’s comely younger sister Paola (Lorraine De Selle, Cannibal Ferox, Women’s Prison Massacre) in tow. When Sergio heads off on a hunting trip, and Lilliana heads into town, Gio seizes the moment. He knocks Paola unconscious while sunbathing, and breaks in to recover the stolen loot.

Madness was written by Mario Gariazzo, who was also originally slated to direct. Only after schedule conflicts was Fernando Di Leo brought on for a script polish and a stint in the director’s chair. The film feels much more true to Gariazzo’s style than Di Leo’s, a chamber drama that makes some halfhearted attempts at hard-boiled, but never really commits to rising tension. Instead, the film is full of the sexually charged, strangely familiar plot meandering that characterized The Eerie Midnight Horror Show. It’s a full 20 minutes before Gio even gains entry to the house, most of that spent in a voyeuristic interlude that reveals Paola and Sergio’s torrid affair, and serves the larger point of displaying plenty of Lorraine De Selle’s naked body.

Despite the title, there isn’t really much mania and mayhem, just growled threats and a heaping helping of humiliating sleaze, a lot of which is mean spirited trope for Italian cinema of the period. This unfortunately includes a sexual assault that culminates in Paola praising rapist Gio on his sexual prowess. Not much improves when Liliana and Sergio return, as they are quickly subdued without too much of a fight, and are summarily tasked with taking a pickaxe to the mantel under Gio’s watchful eye. When their status as laborers is found lacking, Gio idly humiliates Lilliana by forcing her to watch Paola and Sergio have sex.

This wouldn’t be terribly original fare even in the hands of David Hess, whom was the go to guy for this sort of sadistic heavy post Last House On The Left. Joe D’allesandro is woefully miscast, his physical mannerisms not aligned with the snarl of the actor dubbing his voice, and his diminutive stature working against him in the more violent, physical scenes. His strongest cards were the pretty boy hustler and the cooly indifferent street punk, not the brute force rage of a sociopathic bruiser.

Given Sergio is characterized as a self serving coward from the first frame, and Lilliana isn’t given much to do aside from be dutifully wounded by betrayal, the character of Gio should be the film’s center of gravity. Instead, that task falls to Paola, who quickly turns out to be the most cunning of them all when she realizes there’s an enormous amount of money at stake. Sex, scheming and solicitous duplicity are all fair game.

This was clearly a low budget production, and one has to wonder if some of the more idiosyncratic visual choices were Di Leo trying to break the monotony of a lack of action scenes, and a single sparse set. Gio escapes from jail via climbing a single strand of rope, like Rapunzel letting down her hair. When the trio enters the house, Paola is lugging a case of J+B, a very familiar sight for fans of giallo. A huge poster of a smiling John Travolta hangs in the living room, often sitting in the dead center of frame even during the film’s nastier scenes. Sure, any of these choices could be merely a matter of budgetary necessity, but it also feels like a bored hired gun messing with his audience.

Hamstrung by cheap production values, highly inconsistent characterization and a final 15 minutes that seemed forced into the service of a visually interesting final frame than any actual concerns of the plot, Madness lacks the clarity of purpose to live up the the intensity that either of its titles promise. Die hard completionists for any of the personnel involved may find something of slight interest here, as will those with a crush on Ms. De Selle, given she spends the bulk of the film in various stages of undress.

Viewers looking for a home invasion thriller that lives up to its cruelly sleazy premise would be better served by Ruggero Deodato’s House On The Edge Of The Park, which premiered in Italy eight months later than Madness, in November of 1980. Both movies share undercurrents of sexual menace, socioeconomic status fueled rage, and an oversexed Lorraine De Selle in a bitchily conniving role. However, Deodato’s movie is built on a much stronger script and more carefully curated casting choices, which help give it the visceral, vicious punch that Madness never manages to attain.

Bite Size: Women’s Prison Massacre (1983)

1982’s Violence In A Women’s Prison and 1983’s Women’s Prison Massacre were shot back to back, recycling the same locations and cast of actors. Both feature Laura Gemser as a character named Emanuelle, but neither is an official sequel to the “Black Emmanuelle” series she famously starred in. Those films were themselves loose riffs on 1974’s Emmanuelle (starring Sylvia Kristel), but a cogent analysis of all of the sequels, knock offs, and imitators of that particular piece of seminal softcore would require a separate post and a flowchart.

Where there’s suspect use of intellectual property Bruno Mattei is never far behind. Both Violence In A Women’s Prison and Women’s Prison Massacre are clear attempts to cash in on his leading lady’s most notable role. Despite the title, Violence In A Women’s Prison has a lot more sexploitation elements mixed in, and Women’s Prison Massacre favors the more violent side of Eurosleaze.

Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) has been unjustly imprisoned for drug smuggling, after her work as a journalist nearly exposed some important government officials involvement in the illicit substances trade. Now she’s at the mercy of a wicked warden (Lorraine De Selle, Cannibal Ferox) and her equally sadistic guards. Emanuelle’s calm defiance of her circumstances also causes conflict with top dog inmate, Albina (Ursula Flores), who makes it very clear she wants Emmanuelle dead.

Four max security male inmates are transferred to the previously all female facility. The muderers’ row includes Blade (Pierangelo Pozzato), a proudly Aryan serial rapist and thrill killer “Crazy Boy” Henderson (Gemser’s real life husband, Gabriele Tinti). The men quickly take over the prison in a hostage situation, and subject both inmates and guards to a whole new level of brutality.

For the first half hour, Women’s Prison Massacre ably hits all of the basic bases of a women in prison flick, with enough off the wall touches to keep a familiar formula interesting. The film opens with a gel filtered piece of performance art put on by the inmates, the pretensions of which kick off the conflict between Emmanuelle and Albina. It’s a grudge match for the ages, which apparently can only be solved by an intense bout of arm wrestling. Meanwhile, there’s some softcore sex in the showers, and a really intense relationship between one of the locked up ladies and her blow up doll. I’m not sure either of the female guards have their names spoken aloud (despite spending quite a few minutes onscreen), but the movie makes a point to tell us the blow up doll’s preferred form of address is Bobby.

The arrival of the men opens up a world of bad taste possibilities, but the film doesn’t particularly bother with any of them. Aside from each member being named like an off brand G.I. Joe, none of the male inmates are all that menacing or interesting. Rather than the trashy delights of warden sanctioned knife fights and guards nearly drowning Emanuelle in the guise of cleanliness, there’s a ton of toothy mugging and Gabriele Tinti yelling demands into a radio. It slows the pace of the film down considerably, and no one has even chosen to watch a women in prison picture for the self interested machinations of a bunch of dudes. Doubly so for a film starring as gorgeous of an actress as Laura Gemser.

Women’s Prison Massacre manages to right itself in the final few minutes with some decently satisfying splatter and the sort of overly elaborate death scenes familiar to fans of Italian exploitation efforts. It’s still far from the actual massacre the title promises, and where many of Mattei’s directorial efforts take delirious pleasure in excesses of questionable decisions, Women’s Prison Massacre never quite goes far enough to make it much past the middle of the locked up ladies cinematic pack.

Bite Size: Cry Of A Prostitute (1974)

The original title of this film, Quelli che contano, roughly translates to “Those That Matter”. While certainly a more thematically accurate title to notable scuzzmeister Andrea Bianchi’s (What The Peeper Saw, Strip Nude For Your Killer) only foray into poliziotteschi, it was far too subtle for the US distributor. When Joseph Brenner released the film stateside, it became the easier to sell Cry Of A Prostitute, with a lurid roughie style ad campaign focused on the battered and bloody visage of supporting player Barbara Bouchet.

The main plot actually concerns Tony Aniante (euro crime titan Henry Silva), a Sicilian born, American raised mobster. The head of one of the Mafia families has been transporting heroin in the bodies of dead children. All signs point to Don Ricuzzo Cantimo (Fausto Tozzi), another American expat known for some distasteful business practices. He’s been in an ever escalating turf dispute with Don Turi Scannapieco (Mario Landi). Aniante is dispatched back to his homeland of rural Sicily to root out the source of the ugly problem.

Of course, Tony Aniante has motivations of his own, and is soon playing both factions against each other. Tony stays for a few days at the home of Don Cantimo and his American trophy wife, Margie. Tony and Margie begin a perverse, ill advised affair which sends all of Tony’s careful planning tumbling down into the chaos of an all out gang war.

Cry Of A Prostitute is primarily a spaghetti western wearing the wrong hat, and at least it has the good sense to steal from some of the subgenre’s greats. The base plot structure is lifted wholesale from 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars, and Tony’s habit of eerily whistling before he kills definitely seems like a callback to Charles Bronson’s Harmonica in 1968’s Once Upon A Time In The West. Add in a dash of The Godfather’s throughline about the cyclical nature of power, and you’ve got a rather familiar cinematic cocktail.

Andrea Bianchi seems to realize he’s working from a bit too familiar of a playbook, and tosses in as much sensationalist shock as possible to attempt to liven up the otherwise pedestrian proceedings. The film opens with a car crash decapitation and a graphic (if not particularly well done, effects wise) autopsy. In Tony’s various machinations there are plenty of bloody deaths, most notably via a rather conveniently located steamroller. When all of that fails to do the job, Bianchi hits what is probably the most misogynistic piece of plotting in a career chock full of them…..the toxic relationship between Tony and Margie.

Margie is a scheming alcoholic ex prostitute, cuckolding her eager husband with tales of her former profession and her various extramarital affairs. Tony’s arrival is a welcome dose of fresh meat, and she is cartoonishly suggestive, lovingly soaping her bare thighs in plain view or sucking the color off of a banana at the dinner table. Tony initially resists her come ons. However, when they both find themselves in the kitchen late at night, she basically blackmails him into having sex with her. This escalates into a brutal rape, her face buried in the carcass of a freshly butchered pig. In case that wasn’t repugnant enough, remember that this is the erstwhile hero of the film. There’s also a sleazy implication that she secretly likes it, as the affair continues. Later, a major plot point is revealed only to conclude in Tony brutally beating and assaulting Margie again.

Henry Silva had cornered the market on these sorts of hypermasculine avengers of eternal whoopass, but this is stunningly amoral even by the standards of other Euro crime films. The material as written makes him basically robotic, yelling a signature motherfucker at the appropriate times and punching through several beatdowns by numbers in a way that falls flat, and makes the sexual assault scenes even more out of place. Tony lacks the capacity to feel, period. The sudden burst of sexual rage makes no sense.

In fact most of the performances here are rather drained, and as atrociously as she is written, Barbara Bouchet’s oversexed poisoned hothouse flower is a welcome dose of distinctive personality, with a perpetual scheme up her lavishly feathered sleeve. Unfortunately, Bouchet’s Margie has far too few scenes were she swans about with sex on her mind and fabulous saloon madam loungewear on her back. She’s used, abused and promptly removed from the film via suicide so the men can get back to their dirty work.

Cry Of A Prostitute is a tedious watch for the same reason so many mondo films are joyless slogs. There’s a certain fundamental intellectual dishonesty in couching a geek show as a boldly unfiltered view of humanity’s rotten core. Minus the exploitative elements, this particular plate of crime film seasoned spaghetti is decidedly pre chewed.

Bite Size: Lola Colt (1967)

Multi-hypenate Lola Falana worked her way up from small club engagements and chorus lines with the sort of dogged determination one would expect from a woman headstrong enough to drop out of high school and move to New York on the slim chance of an entertainment career. A chance Atlantic City meeting with Sammy Davis Jr. led to a long term personal and professional relationship, a featured role in 1964 Broadway hit Golden Boy and a 1965 record deal over at Mercury Records.

The single was only a modest success, but her popularity in the London production of Golden Boy, her European gigs as a nightclub performer and some well received appearances on Italian television helped cement her rising star status overseas. Though 1967’s Lola Colt was only Falana’s third film role (after supporting parts in Sammy Davis Jr. vehicle A Man Called Adam and the somewhat slight Italian musical Quando dico che ti amo), she was given top billing on the movie.

The plot of the film is the sort of cookie cutter oater pumped out by Poverty Row studios throughout the 30s and 40s. Lola Gate (Lola Falana) and her troupe of traveling showgirls are forced to stop in the tiny border town of Santa Ana when one of the performers falls ill. The ladies make a residency as the entertainment at the local saloon while their friend recovers. In between performances, Lola finds herself caught up in both a budding romance with med student Rod (Peter Martell), and the townspeople’s battle with a robber baron nicknamed “El Diablo” (Germán Cobos).

At first retrospective glance, a western with a side of musical numbers seems an odd choice of star vehicle for a Black American singer/dancer/actress. However, the spaghetti western trend was at its peak in 1967, and Lola Falana’s song and dance tours were a proven hit in Italy. It isn’t inconceivable that the producers thought they had a “two great tastes that taste great together” potential success on their hands.

It’s also a stark contrast to many of the other roles in Lola’s later feature film work (which speaks to the limitations of the scope of parts offered to Black actresses, particularly during this era) in that the plot doesn’t hinge on her race. When she’s greeted with a sneering “We don’t like your kind here” upon exiting her stage coach at the beginning of the film, the comment is in reference to the supposed loose morals of showfolk rather than the color of her skin. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this film progressive (a flashback to Lola’s childhood and the loss of her family is inexplicably cast with white actors, which is both incredibly lazy and incredibly telling), but it is a notable departure from the dominant modes of the period.

In any case, Lola Falana’s charisma sparkles in Lola Colt, making it readily apparent why she later became a much larger star. The character of Lola Gate brightens up the rather humdrum proceedings whenever she appears. She looks impossibly lovely throughout, be it in her Barbarella at Ye Old Tyme Saloon stage gear or well fringed Western kitsch and a snow white cowgirl hat. The musical numbers, while blithely anachronistic and a bit bare bones in term of production value, are a high energy showcase for her considerable talent as both a dancer and a singer. Her acting doesn’t look goofy even in the face of a truly execrable English dub. There’s a capable, cheerful athleticism to her single action oriented scene.

Unfortunately, despite her billing, Lola Falana isn’t on screen all that much. The bulk of the 79 minute runtime is spent with the residents of Santa Ana, a pile of uninteresting stock types. It is Peter Martell’s square jawed cardboard cut out turn as Rod that gets the hero build up and music cues. This is made even more ridiculous by the fact that the bulk of his role in the film comprises of idle bickering in a procession of near identical drawing rooms. It’s Lola who formulates the perfectly workable plan of attack against “El Diablo”, and reveals that the mysterious hostage holding raider is less of a devil than he is a greedy schmuck named Larry. Despite singing, dancing and hatching the plan for the town’s liberation, Lola only gets to pick up a gun in the final 20 minutes of the flick. The firepower dispatches exactly one bad guy and a particularly pesky lock.

Lola Colt was not a hit, and the film didn’t receive a US release until 1976, when Falana had reached a much greater level of success stateside. The newly christened Black Tigress was a direct attempt to cash in on both Falana’s appearance in 1975 Blaxploitation effort Lady Cocoa and her groundbreaking status as the spokesmodel for Faberge’s Tigress perfume.

Given that Lola Colt is a very minor effort even on the scale of its spaghetti western counterparts, American audiences were doubly disappointed when the the promotional push attempted to position the film as an action packed Blaxploitation epic. A second, even more ridiculous retitling as Bad And Black failed to improve matters. Lola Colt dropped from the bottom of a double bill, and rode off into the sunset of obscurity.

Bite Size: Rats: Night Of Terror (1984)

Bruno Mattei was the Xerox of exploitation cinema. Whatever style of movie was popular at the time, he could direct a facsimile faster, more cheaply, and usually in worse taste. Women in prison flicks, Nazisploitation, Nunsploitation, nothing was too sacred to shamelessly rip off in his nearly 40 year career. If it was making bank, he was making a copy as close as budget and copyright law allowed.

While the trailer above plays as if Rats: Night Of Terror is a tension fueled creature feature, the actual movie “borrows” more from Mad Max and Escape From New York than it does post atomic age giant animal romps like The Food Of The Gods.

As a cost effective text crawl tells us, 225 years post nuclear apocalypse, the affluent live in comfortable underground cities, and leave the fallout filled surface to ragtag groups of neo primitives. The protagonists roll up on their motorcycles, and all 11 of them appear to be dressed for a different movie.

The leader favors a kicky little red scarf, but anything goes, as the others are dressed in everything from camo to leather vests. Inexplicably, one of the women is apparently riding out the post apocalypse in a Frederick’s Of Hollywood teddy and a costume shop vampire cape.

We don’t learn most of their names until MUCH later in the film, but it sounds like they were all chosen in an odd game of “I, Spy”, with grown adults walking around calling each other things like Video, Chocolate, Lucifer, Deus, Lillith and……Myrna. Between the muddy audio, and the group’s tendency to squabble, the clothes are the easier method to tell everyone apart anyway.

Our gang of ragtag ramblers stumbles upon a building that has an incredibly well stocked bunker underneath it, with a hydroponic garden, plentiful food supplies and a water purifier. Unfortunately, it also contains some corpses so fresh they are still decomposing and an epic rat infestation.

Despite mounting evidence that something is very wrong, the gang is far too preoccupied doing things that are offensive, stupid, or so stupid that they become offensive. From getting stuck during sleeping bag sex and a host of highly questionable jokes to gleefully barricading themselves into a room without water, food or medical supplies, it’s a minor miracle this group managed to survive a street crossing. Never mind the apocalypse.

Literal buckets of rats are tossed on the actors from just outside of the frame, but this doesn’t ever translate to much suspense or gore. Even the rats spend the majority of their screen time indifferently scurrying off into a corner to attempt to clean their fur from whatever gunk production tossed on them for greasy effect. That said, being that we spend 90 minutes watching the humans cry, flail and fail spectacularly, it doesn’t seem that implausible that a bunch of bored mutant rats could successfully pick them off one by one.

By the time the film takes a turn for The Crazies, in a swirl of fumigator fog and ooky spooky organ music straight out a carnival dark ride, the characters (and most viewers) are at their wits’ end with a film that has clearly overstayed its grimy welcome. Hang in for the last 5 minutes, as the final twist is so gleefully nonsensical, it almost makes the hour and a half slog to get there worth it.

Killer Nun (1979)

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:

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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.

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Let that wimple enhance your dimples, Hail Mary Kay, full of grace

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.

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Hey hun! Wanna be a #bossbabe? I have a great new mascara you should try

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.

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Because this totally happens at slumber parties. The pillow fight was just offscreen.

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.

Trading one habit for another in style

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.

Took a Quaalude in Chelsea and ended up on a set in Rome. Weird.

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.

Asymmetry? Kinky, but I suppose I can oblige.

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.

I love it when a still expresses my feelings perfectly.

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.

Smoking cessation goes awry

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.

Again, I love it when a still does the talking for me. Roll end credits, which at this stage feel like a miracle.