Back in March 2012, I began a series of blog posts entitled Nostaglic for Sleaze, in which I pondered over the sexualized violence present in certain subgenres of exploitation cinema. These posts made reference to three specific films — Images in a Convent (1979), Women in Cages (1971), and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974) — each an example of the exploitation subgenre nunsploitation, WIP (Women in Prison) films, and naziploitation, respectively. I will now offer, for your reading pleasure, my review of each of these films in descending order from “most enjoyable/least offensive” to “least enjoyable/completely offensive.” SPOILER ALERT: while these films are over 30 years old, I’m willing to bet that many of you haven’t seen any or all of these films. Be warned that, in order to adequately discuss them, I have to reveal plot, etc. — insomuch as there is plot in these films.
1. Nunsploitation developed and thrived in countries such as Spain and Italy where deeply-entrenched Catholicism presided over strict moral codes that controlled sexual behaviour. The revolutionary spirit of the 1960’s lingered in the cinema of the decade that followed, and Spanish and Italian filmmakers of the 1970’s collectively thumbed their nose at the repressive regime of the Catholic Church. While Jess (Jesus) Franco is perhaps the best known filmmaker working within this subgenre, my favourite amongst the nunsploitation catalog is Joe D’Amato’s Images in a Convent (1979). D’Amato’s late entry into the “naughty nun” pantheon has all the requisite elements of the subgenre — nudity, heterosexual couplings, lesbianism, and floggings — all propelled forward by the presence of a demonic being that forces the Sisters to contravene their vows of chastity. A mysterious, wounded man discovered on the convent grounds is brought inside for medical treatment, and then the sexy hijinks ensue. It’s all good, naughty, and surprisingly hardcore fun for the time period — and then, BAM! — out of nowhere comes a brutal and completely offensive rape scene that kills the naughty-fun buzz. Many fans of this film have advised skipping over this scene in subsequent viewings, and I would recommend the same. While certainly not the most horrific rape scene I’ve ever viewed in a film (though they all are, really), it simply doesn’t belong in this otherwise sexy-campy-romp film. The film concludes with an all-out, no-holds, pulling-out-all-the-stops climactic frenzy (pun intended), in which a convent of writhing nuns mount a formidable resistance against a priest performing an exorcism in an effort to banish the evil, carnal forces.
Production: One of the advantages that European exploitation filmmakers possessed over their North American compatriots was access to beautiful historic locations. This film appears to have been shot within an actual convent, though the precise location in Italy is not given (though the Cardinal who visits at the beginning of the film reveals that he’s journeying to Milan, so one assumes that the convent is located not too far from there). The images are all soft-focus, and the camera work reasonably accomplished for a B-movie.
Sin factor: Let’s not be coy here. This is, for all intents and purposes, a pornographic film with costumes and production value. Unlike other ‘sexploitation’ films of the era, Images in a Convent includes both female and male frontal nudity — the latter particularly uncommon — and explicit sex, including penetration. That being said, the graphic sexuality is much tamer than material you’d see in contemporary pornography. There are two notably violent scenes: the repellent rape scene, and a flogging scene. Other films of this ilk, however, such as the Japanese School of the Holy Beast, are considerably more violent.
Recommended, with slight reservation. Rated UR/NC-17. Incidentally, I’ve discovered a link to the entire film here — NSFW, obviously.
Next review, Women in Cages (1971).