The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine Blu-ray Review
Not quite as sinful as its title would suggest.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, May 22, 2013
What a title, right? Unfortunately, The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine
doesn't quite live up to its kinky promise. Yes, there are a few naughty
sisters—whose cloistered lives have led them to cravings for depravity—but all in all this is one of the tamer "nunsploitation" flicks of the 1970s, which
took the simmering sensuality of Powell & Pressburger's 1947 convent drama Black Narcissus
and brought it to a more-explicit boil, with
gratuitous nudity and bald-faced blasphemy galore. For those of non-Catholic backgrounds, this defrocked sub-genre may not have the same fetish-y
allure of the taboo, but everyone can understand the titillation of profaning the sacred and despoiling the supposedly pure. It's wrong
seamy. It's the stuff of catechism class daydreams. (Protestants have no direct equivalent, but imagine fantasizing about your Sunday School teacher.)
In the better examples of the genre, there's also usually an element of social criticism involved, by way of satirical jabs at the capital-C-Church and its
perceived tyrannies. It's no surprise, then, that the majority of these grindhouse movies were made in the Catholic strongholds of Italy, France, and
Spain, by progressive low-budget filmmakers outside the mainstream. The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine
is the work of Italian director and
screenwriter Sergio Grieco, who is perhaps best known—if he's known at all—for helming a series of cheapo James Bond parody movies. Here, he's
most clearly riffing on Ken Russell's controversial 1971 film The Devils
, which may not have sparked the whole nunsploitation genre, but
certainly fanned the flames.
In The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine
, Grieco injects the usual sisters-amok business with a star-crossed lovers tale, a la Romeo & Juliet
set in 16th century Spain. Our hero, Esteban (Paolo Malco)—with a goofy pageboy haircut—is introduced fleeing from soldiers of the Inquisition, having
been unjustly marked as a heretic and murderer, for reasons we'll eventually understand. After being shot in the shoulder, falling off his horse, and
engaging his pursuers in a clumsily choreographed sword fight, Esteban manages to escape through the woods and holes up in the St. Valentine
convent, where the handyman reluctantly takes him in and secrets him away in his quarters.
It's no coincidence that Esteban happened upon on the convent; his true love, Lucita (Jenni Tamburi), has been sent there by her parents as a way to
keep the two apart. They come from rival families, Montague and Capulet-style, and their love is as forbidden as the debauchery and cruelty that's
taking place inside St. Valentine's fortress-like walls. Lucita's roomate, Josefa (Bruna Beani), is an aggressive lesbian who strips naked and forcefully
goes down on her—then again, Lucita doesn't seem to do much to stop it—and the Abbess, Sister Incarnacion (Françoise Prévost), is a man-hungry
sadist who enjoys having her underlings whipped. Topless, of course.
Esteban intends to spring Lucita from her captivity, but the pesky issue of his bullet wound means he'll have to hide out in the convent until he heals,
an injured cock in the proverbial henhouse. Lucita helps keep him safe, but she soon has seemingly unrelated troubles of her own. When she finds
Josefa stabbed to death in a hallway during evening prayers, Lucita unwisely slips into her room and pretends to be asleep, leading the other sisters to
accuse her of the crime. She's sent before Father Onorio (Corrado Gaipa), a ruthless inquisitor who intends to extract a confession by hanging her
topless from her wrists, but we soon realize—and no surprise here—that Sister Incarnacion is actually behind the slaying, which was her answer to the
Sound of Music
-esque question, How do you solve a problem like Lucita?
The Abbess' motive? In her lustful fever, she wants the
strapping young Esteban for herself, to have and—more importantly—to hold.
The abbess gets her way and sleeps with him—he believes if he goes through with it, he'll have a better chance of saving his true love—but the tables
are turned when Esteban tells Father Onorio about the perversity going on behind the convent's closed doors. In the film's most memorable sequence,
Onorio barges into the Abbess' quarters, finds two nude nuns in her bed, and—pronouncing an unusually cruel judgement—orders all of the abbey's
windows and entryways cemented up, trapping the sisters inside to die of thirst and/or starvation. In their hysteria, many of them end up writhing
around naked on the floors and through the corridors, while others slap-fight to the death for a chance to lick at the trickle of rainwater running down
one of the walls. The scene is also responsible for what has to be one of the goofiest choking kills ever put to film, with Sister Incarnacion strangling a
subordinate who dies in about two seconds, keeling over backwards with her eyes open and tongue hanging out.
This stuff's great—the claustrophobia and the ridiculous deaths, the scrawled-in-cinder portrait of a hilariously well-endowed Satan on the wall, the
fact that only the young, pretty sisters ever shed their habits—but The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine
doesn't go far enough into camp territory
to establish itself as a bonafide cult classic. Part of the problem is that, between the fits of gratuitous nudity and devil worship, the movie also
endeavors to have a rather serious love story, with attempts at romance and suspense, ecclesiastical drama and a family feud. Consequently, it feels
stretched too thin and does none of these things particularly well. The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine
is for devoted nunsploitation fetishists only.