Let Us Pray: A Box of Nunsploitation
By: Robert Winter on January 8, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Redemption (UK). All Region, PAL. Justine - 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). Sacred Flesh - 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine - 2.40:1 (Non-anamorphic). English 2.0 (Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine - Italian 2.0, English subtitles). 255 minutes
The Movie
Directors: Nigel Wingrove, Chris Bogerm, Sergio Grieco
Starring: Sally Tremaine, Moyna Cope, Simon Hill, Koo Stark, Martin Potter, Lydia Lisle, Françoise Prévost, Jenny Tamburi
Writers: Nigel Wingrove, Ian Cullen, Sergio Grieco
Blood, sweat and tits fill the screen in this triple dose of cloistered blasphemy. If images of lusty, decadent nuns ripping off their habits to indulge in some mild acts of S&M, masturbation, breast fondling and tongue-on-tongue titillation fires up your loins, then sit back and expect to be occasionally aroused by the three unwholesome tales contained in this Redemption box set.

Sacred Flesh - When the nuns at the medieval Convent of the Sacred Heart are concerned their Mother Superior may be possessed by demons, they call on the Abbot to investigate. What follows is a scintilla of sparkling, red-lipsticked nuns with panoramic cleavages dropping their habits to be whipped, licked and fondled into submission in between copious amounts of dialogue attempting to rationalise their behaviour.

Beautifully photographed with a colour palette reminiscent of the finest Peter Greenaway arthouse drama, Sacred Flesh has a gorgeous look and feel, but a plot as thin as a panty liner. Kudos to director Nigel Wingrove for attempting to explore the sharp edge of sexual denial that underpins the narratives of nunsploitation films by adding a moral layer to the sleaze. However, liberal philosophising on the nature of repression and desire is not what an audience for this type of film really want. Yet, Wingrove was no fool - by exploring sexual and religious theory around scenes of slutty nuns mounting crucifixes, he was able to satisfy the British Board of Film Classification, which passed this film uncut, but refused to grant a certificate to Visions of Ecstasy, his lurid earlier effort.

The Marquis De Sade's Justine - When two young female orphan sisters Justine (Koo Stark) and Juliette are evicted from a convent school, they end up in a London whorehouse. While Juliette discovers the power of her sexuality, Justine is just too pure to engage in this immoral lifestyle and struggles with her identity.

Koo Stark, who is more famous for her romp with Prince Andrew than her acting abilities, captures superbly the innocence of her character. It's a shame her career was relegated to bit parts in TV shows like The Two Ronnies, Red Dwarf and as Miss Scarlett in the celebrity series of Cluedo in 1990.

More engaging than the other two films in this set, Marquis De Sade's Justine plays out like a less pompous Ken Russell period piece than a sleazy nun flick. It's well-acted, dialogue reasonably intelligent, beautifully shot and the sex scenes more realistic. However, it just doesn't reach that level of vileness and depravity that would have given De Sade a hard on.

Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine - Oh dear…a nunsploitation Romeo and Juliet. When a young man, Esteban, is accused of murder and heresy he flees the Inquisition and finds sanctuary near the convent of Saint Valentine, where his girlfriend, Lucita, lives. As the plot unfolds a jealous lesbian nun, Josefa, tries to seduce Lucita, but she spurns the lascivious nun's advances. Later Josefa is found dead and Lucita is blamed and is primed for interrogation by the Inquisition. It then becomes a race against time for Esteban to rescue his beloved before she is tortured to death.

Call me shallow, but I was looking forward to watching this film more so than the other two because of the title alone. Although it held my attention all the way through, I was expecting more busty nuns indulging in sex acts that would stretch censorship boundaries. This lack of depravity could have been forgiven if the two central characters were less wooden and the script more dramatic. Regardless, it did have enough euro-trash, story-book charm to hold my interest until the bitter end.
Sacred Flesh is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. There's only some mild grain during darker scenes and intermittent edge-enhancement, but generally the transfer is sharp and colours are vibrant.

The Marquis De Sade's Justine is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The print is plagued by distracting dirt, scratches and speckling and colours appear rather flat and washed-out in many scenes. Shadow detail is quite poor with the black-habited nuns 'disappearing' against dark backgrounds. The transfer clears up after around 20-minutes with colours more vibrant and detail sharper.

Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is NOT 16x9 enhanced. It took me a while for my brain to adjust to the thin strip of film squashed into the middle of my plasma. Apart from the opening scenes, the print is reasonably clear, but it does have its moments of grain, softness and contrast fluctuation throughout the film.
Sacred Flesh contains a serviceable 2.0 stereo mix. Dialogue is easily understood and the dramatic score during the sexual indulgences is loud and unnervingly clear.

The Marquis De Sade's Justine has a rather hollow and tinny sounding 2.0 mix. The use of well-known classical pieces sets up a sense of time and place but they often don't suit the grammar of particular scenes.

The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine contains a bearable Italian 2.0 mono mix. Voices sound hissy, but the sexy score is pleasant and engaging.

The English subtitles sit comfortably under the bottom frame of the film and are presented as easily read white text on a black background.
Extra Features
Sacred Flesh - A collection of behind-the-scenes, publicity and storyboard stills, plus a teaser and theatrical trailer. The box lists an audio commentary by director Nigel Wingrove, but this has not been included.

The Marquis De Sade's Justine - A stills gallery, Redemption trailers and artwork.

Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine - Stills gallery, video art, director filmography and theatrical trailer. There is also a music video White Slave by a band called Triple Silence. Leather fetishists may get slightly aroused by the half-naked goth-bimbettes pouting and biting each other on the neck, but the track sounds like it should be a Turkish entry into the Eurovision Song Contest.
The Verdict
These three films represent solemn, confrontational views of how institutionalised life within a convent can be at odds with real-world demands and expectations. Although, celibacy, sexual oppression, denial and loss of faith are common themes, without strong central characters to structure these concepts around (see Killer Nun, Flavia the Heretic and Ken Russell's The Devils, for example), they exist as tasty morsels of soft porn for nun fetishists.
Movie Score
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