This week at Grindhouse Sunday, we will delve into the “giallo” genre. Giallo films are just like the usual, run of the mill exploitation films, except that they’re from Italy and, as a result, are a bit more stylish and glossy. In short, they are just as fun, nasty, and addictive as their American counterparts.
Today, we will explore the 1974 nunsploitation film, The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine, directed by Sergio Grieco. First of all, you know that this film is going to be amazing just from the title alone. And trust me, it does not disappoint. The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine are some of the naughtiest nuns that I have ever encountered in the cinema. Killer lesbian nuns, to be exact.
The story was inspired by a drama from Victor Hugo, but may have been influenced by other works. If you took Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Ken Russell’s The Devils, added a dash of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”, and threw them all in a blender, you would get something like The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine.
The film concerns two star-crossed young lovers, Esteban and Lucita. Esteban is on the run from church soldiers as a result of being falsely accused of heresy and murder. Lucita lives in a convent with the aforementioned Sinful Nuns of the title, as her father, Alonzo, hates Esteban’s family, and prefers to keep the two love birds separated.
After Esteban is wounded in a sword fight, he flees to the convent for shelter, where the friendly verger, Joaquin, manages to hide him in a cell. The angelic Lucita brings him medicine and leftover scraps from the dinner table and plans to run away with him after his wound heals, even though she is supposed to give her vows in a few days. Lucita’s sneaky lesbian roommate, Josepha, claims that she knows that Lucita is secretly hiding Esteban. She vows to remain silent, but only if Lucita gives in to her strong sexual advances. Reluctantly, Lucita gives Josepha permission to rub up against and fondle her body until her lust is satisfied. It’s an unorthodox relationship, to say the least, but Lucita is willing to subject herself to any form of degradation, as long as it will aid her in her quest to escape with her beloved Esteban.
Meanwhile, we will meet the abbess – or Sister Incarnacion, as she likes to be called. This sister is a sadist who has a thing for whips, and she may also be a lesbian. Come to think of it, most of these nuns reveal their lesbian tendencies under pressure, as you will see during the remainder of the film, especially in the third act. When things get too crazy, the habits come off. These women become wild. Breasts are groped – violently. I’ve never seen such frenzied breast groping in a film before. Claws and teeth are bared. It’s an odd mixture of eroticism, cat-fighting, and all-out bitch slapping. There is at least one individual in this film who gets bitch slapped to death. I’m almost positive that I witnessed a flock of crazy nuns crowd around a topless woman and slap her until she died. Mind you, this was during a pretty hectic scene, so I could be wrong.
After the lascivious Josepha is stabbed in the face and neck several times by a nun whose face we do not see, Lucita is accused of the murder. She is taken to the Inquisition and sentenced to death. She is subjected to various forms of torture, but refuses to confess to the crime. The inquisitor is Father Onorio, a rotund religious fanatic who is in dire need of several root canals and a lifetime supply of Crest White Strips. He is incredibly pious and believes that he is a holy vessel who speaks for God. He makes things very difficult for Lucita and is quite disgusting. You can almost smell him through the television screen.
It is up to Esteban to find and rescue his darling Lucita from the insane inquisitor, to clear his name of the accusations of heresy and murder, and to seek revenge on the evil nuns of the abbey. He may even have to seduce Sister Incarnacion at some point. And he does. And it’s one of the most awkward sex scenes ever filmed.
The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine is a blast. I’m not going to lie. From the groovy score by Coriolano Gori, to the devil may care filmmaking techniques, to the outrageous story, plot twists, disturbing imagery and unapologetic nastiness, this film is a solid TEN.
Kino-Lorber has released The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine on Blu-ray as part of their Redemption Series, and it has been mastered from the original 35mm print. It looks and sounds great, with the natural film grain intact, as well as a little dirt, to give it that nostalgic grindhouse feel. It is in Italian with English subtitles, and special features are limited to several trailers for other Redemption features. This one is worth owning. Buy it right now.