Bad Habits (2009)
By: Mr Intolerance on October 19, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Poster Art
Director: Dominic Deacon
Starring: Sandra Casa, London Gabrielle, Mat Wearing, Hayden Evans, Pete Paltos
Screnplay: Dominic Deacon
Country: Australia
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Nunsploitation is not a genre you see too much of these days, so, it was with great interest that I opened my latest bunch of review discs to see what Australian writer/director Dominic Deacon could do with such a genre; one that went almost directly into obscurity, and more to the point, one that seemed so very European in nature – although I'm guessing that that would have something to do with the more liberal censorship laws, and attitudes towards sex and violence, on the Continent, than in most other places. Let's face it – if you were going to see a movie about naughty nuns, imagine the look on the face of the ticket-taker, you'd be being judged as a dirty old man right then and there. It's kind of the look I saw when fronting up to the cinema to catch the appalling Lesbian Vampire Killers. You could just sense the distaste...

But then you could also see this Bad Habits as a giallo film, and actually probably moreso than a nunsploitation, which becomes ever more peripheral a plot device as the film progresses. There are quite a few things that really point to Bad Habits as being a solid tribute to the Italian giallo films of the 70s – the sleazy tone established in the opening scene, the questionable mental and emotional state of the protagonist, her possibly mysterious past and definitely dubious present, the emphasis on the sleazy side of life, the cool soundtrack (don't go expecting Simonetti or Morricone, it's more up-to-date than that), the amateur sleuth trying to solve the crime, the almost ever-present J&B scotch, the countless red herrings, references to other gialli (the fact that one character seemed to have been named for giallo actress Edwige Fenech, for example) – y'know, the nunsploitation angle is almost a distraction. But at least, if that was what it was going to be marketed as, then the director has certainly broken the mold successfully. And if it's a giallo, which is where I'd quite firmly place it, then it's a damn fine one, and probably the first decent and original one I've seen in years.

Marie, our protagonist we get to see over the opening credits and in our initial scene isn't like most nuns you'd imagine. She's in a bar, smoking a cigarette, sculling wine, picking up a fella for fun and games, which start in the back of the cab on the way back to his place. She also appears to be a heroin addict, although she denies that claim. Great line:

Him: I though you were supposed to be married to God?

Her: We have an open relationship.

Not too sure which order she might be from – the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, perhaps? Regardless of all that, her manner is all wrong for a lady of the cloth: curt, dismissive, superior. Something seems most definitely amiss, and it's not just her co-curricular activities.

So anyway, after Marie fucks him, the fella is found after the good sister awakes, in the bath-tub, throat slit from ear-to-ear lying in a pool of blood. Someone enters the flat, obviously looking for something, and Marie hides in the bathroom armed with a bloodstained knife. The question is: who killed the fella? Did he kill himself? Did she kill him, having just taken a bunch of pills the fella claimed were "mild sedatives" before sleeping, something she hadn't been able to do for 3 days? Regardless, she takes it on the lam, before being picked up by another nun, Sister Jamie (who may very well be Marie's lesbian lover, or at least her wanna-be lesbian lover, and who seems completely un-fazed by the revelation that our girl's been out on the tiles) not too far from the scene of the crime. This all serves as some kinda prologue, as we then get the intertitle Part One: Lizard In A Woman's Skin (a title I'm sure is familiar to regular readers of these unhallowed pages – and the notion of this film branching into the giallo genre seems pretty likely given the sleazy vibe established from the git-go, and the mysterious death we've already witnessed – referencing Fulci's slasher snooze-fest of insanity and sexual weirdness seems an easy way into letting your audience know what to expect).

Marie goes to see Michael, her sleazy and suspect dealer – although you'd think a dirt-merchant like this wouldn't want to advertise his locale by having canoodling sailors dry-rooting in his doorway. He seems like an all round bad egg, and maybe he knows something about the previous night's doings. He also has some photos of our girl taken when she wasn't aware of it – no, not those kind of photos, just ones that indicate that Marie's been under surveillance, if not actively followed. She, on the other hand, goes back to the scene of the murder ostensibly to find her purse, but also finds that a video camera had been set up in the bedroom of the man's apartment. Also, to find the name "Marie" now scrawled in blood on the bathroom wall. She's disturbed when watching the film to find that quite possibly one of Michael's little sailor boys had been in the flat – although if this could indeed be called a giallo, there's a red herring we can almost immediately rule out as being too obvious and convenient. And indeed, Marie's actual status as a nun is seriously called into question – if it's real, then she's got some serious issues of faith, abstinence, chastity and the like to work through, but if it's a disguise, it's one of the poorest ones imaginable...

Marie is doing a bit of sleuthing, following around another one of Michael's sailor boy male prostitutes, although sleuthing while swlling scotch is not going to be terribly effective, especially not in terms of not being observed. So she takes gal-pal Jamie out for some out-of-habit (in more ways than one) dancing and general partying, and we get a scene while sleuthing which put me in mind of Ms .45, although I'm thinking that was maybe, or maybe not, coincidental (the grimy back alley setting of much of the film seems to point at an attempt to copy that film's squalid urban decay mirroring the decay of the values and attitudes of the people, good guys – such as they are – and bad guys alike) – you'll see what I mean. And it's an "ouch!" moment following something that was just deeply wrong on a number of levels. I'll leave that surprise for y'all to enjoy.

Hey – what the fuck?! Okay, a moment just happened where you now have to question either the character's sanity (a la the aforementioned A Lizard In A Woman's Skin – although without the trippy psychedelic effects) or possibly even the narrative flow of the story – some deaths and general weirdness have occurred and one of these events means I can't possibly be seeing what I'm seeing right now – if this wasn't such a bleak tale (with a few lighter moments thrown in to leaven it), I'd be wondering how much the director liked Dellamorte Dellamore, maybe filtered through Mulholland Drive. Yep, that giallo aspect to this film is definitely becoming stronger by the minute. And then another one of those moments occurs. The usual brain-ache I feel when watching gialli is starting to creep up on me... And just as the police enter the story, looking for a nun, or a woman who likes to dress as one...

Part Two: So Sweet...So Perverse

(Not too sure which film is being referenced by that intertitle, Tender and Perverse Emanuelle maybe? Or possibly sticking with Fulci and his Perversion Story?) So now the cops and the villains are after Marie; the cops believe she committed the murder in the opening scene, the villains, well, they believe she's to blame for something else. Neither party is happy with her evasions, to put it mildly. And then that idea that maybe not everything's alright upstairs with Marie gets stronger and stranger as the film progresses. But there's still enough reason for us to believe that people are seriously fucking with her mind (plus of course, there's the heroin to take into account) for us to see her sympathetically – believe me that's not always possible, given some of her actions.

And while I mentioned Dellamorte Dellamore before in an off-hand manner, I'm now mentioning it in a more serious fashion as a reference point, and giallo has risen to the fore if this film needs to be put into a pigeonhole – nunsploitation has definitely been put to one side as a novelty angle for the story (part of the "what the fuck" weirdness inherent to the genre which normally has the audience shocked out of their willing suspension of disbelief) – this works in the film's favour though, because Deacon has made that rarest of beasts, the taut, never-outstays-its-welcome giallo where everything is essential to the plot and the red herrings actually add to the mystery of the story and don't insult the intelligence of the audience. My hat's off in that regard, as more established directors have tried to do this and failed dismally.

Part Three: Crazy Hot

Badness has led to even greater badness, and you can sense that the end is nigh, in one sense or another. The cops don't seem to pose all that much of a threat (of course that could be one of those red herrings I was mentioning earlier), but we haven't fully sussed out the criminals, and there's always the chance of the that things could fall apart for our two nuns from the inside – Marie doesn't seem to be the most stable of folks after all, and little Jamie's innocence is melting away like snow on a griddle. But then as years of giallo watching have no doubt left you to know, there is always the introduction of something or someone at the last minute that can turn the whole situation on its head.

It's a relatively confusing final act, but then, like I said before, if you're used to gialli, you wouldn't expect things to come neatly wrapped up in a bow at the end, and I guess that you'd feel a bit cheated if they did. There are some definite moments of weirdness to go before the end, let me tell you, and while for those of you who like a more structured or mimetic storyline, disappointment may occur, I really do think that for the fan of Italian crime flicks of the 70s, you'll find this quite a rich and rewarding film. It's certainly well-made, intelligently plotted and scripted, sleazily violent and exploitative enough for you giallo-hounds, and moreso, I think you'll enjoy seeing all the nods to the films that went before it – but, what's better is that despite the fact that it is in tribute to all those films, it retains enough of a sense of its own identity to pull it out of the level of fan-boi homage, and stands quite firmly on its own two feet. Here was me expecting saucy nuns and a bit of lesbian action and maybe some softcore S&M, but damned if I didn't get a whole lot more instead, and I'm quite happy that that's the case.

I love a low budget flick, and I really like an indie flick, and this is definitely one of the more well made ones I've seen in recent years – it's a confident, strong entry into a realm that is more often than not at least a little tentative, even if only in parts. There was very little to nay-say here, and what there was of it was easy to put down as being endemic to the world of low budget film making. Some exterior shots, especially at night, or in the rain, showed the limitations of low budget lighting, there were one or two moments where continuity dipped – walking through one room Marie was wearing her wimple, entering the next scene she wasn't, but re-entering the previous scene she was wearing it again – ditto at another point with skirt-length and stockings. Maybe something was lost in pick-up shots? The only real gripe I had, and this is pretty minor, I guess, was the sheer number of different accents, many of which seemed put on; we seemed to move through Australian, English, American, Italian and then our protagonist's indiscriminate European one, which seemed by turns southern and eastern European. Mind you, given the amount of crazy dubbing in Italian gialli's English language releases and dubs, maybe this was part of a deliberate homage – who can say? I can kind of see why it was there, but it was a trifle annoying, nevertheless.

The score is worthy of note – with gialli, the non-diegetic soundtrack is almost a character in and of itself – can you imagine Deep Red without that score? Neither can I. While the score here may not be quite so iconic, it thankfully doesn't try to emulate Goblin's idiosyncratic prog-rock sound, and tries on a whole different electronic vibe, which is perfectly suited to the action it underpins, whether ambient atmospheric or something with a bit more punch – it's quite well done indeed.

Watch it as soon as you can. I might champion Australian films when I review them, but I'm not blind to what's good or bad – I call it the way I see it. Bad Habits is a strong film. While, as I said, it does make some references to other films, this isn't like Scream or some other such post-modern aren't-I-so-clever toss. Bad Habits plays itself dead straight, with only the odd choice of bunged-on fake accents making it seem like maybe a fan-boi homage or some product of the cultural cringe Australians are wittingly or unwittingly prone to. I've seen a bunch of giallo flicks, and generally I'm not a fan, and the same could be said for nunsploitation, too – so imagine my surprise when I thoroughly enjoyed this blood-splattered diamond in the rough. Clever, gruesome, grotesque and all wrapped up in a gloriously slimy coat of sleaze, Bad Habits shows that its writer/director Dominic Deacon, and his crew who acquit themselves admirably, is a name to look out for. Next film please folks! I'm curious to see what you can do next – you've set the bar pretty high for yourselves right here.
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