"Sister Gertrude, it is a nun's vocation to suffer."
After her recent brain surgery, Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg) has developed serious headaches, suffers from blackouts, and has become addicted to morphine. Her violent and cruel outbursts have made her hated among the patients and staff at the hospital where she works and only the fawning young nun, Sister Mathieu (Paola Morra) takes her side. So when patients start turning up dead, Sister Gertrude is a prime suspect – even though she has no memory of committing the crimes in her drug-fueled haze. Did she really kill her patients or is someone framing her?
Killer Nun is a giallo, but it crosses over with the short-lived genre known as "Nunsploitation," wherein nuns are depicted engaging in various shocking and unholy behaviors. Here, Sister Gertrude mainlines morphine, has sloppy hallway grownup time with a random man, bullies a woman into bed, and engages in Machiavellian politics to eliminate those she deems a threat. And she still manages to function as the Nurse Rached-like taskmaster of her hospital ward.
- Director Giulio Berruti cameos as a priest during the opening credits.
- The opening title card claims that the movie is based on a true story, which is sort of true. "Based extremely loosely" is more like it. The idea came from the case of a Belgian nun at a retirement home who killed her residents in order to steal their jewelry.
- Patient Peter (Lou Castel) spends his time drawing and is the source of the bad 1970's art.
- I actually prefer the alternate and far more witty English title, Deadly Habit.
- You may recognize Alida Valli, who plays Mother Superior, from Dario Argento's Susperia. Joe Dallesandro, who plays handsome Dr. Patrick Roland, was part of Andy Warhol's circle in the early 1970's and appeared in several of his films.
Sister Gertrude and Dr. Poirret (Massimo Serato) have what should be a very private conversation in the middle of the hall. They discuss the Sister's private medical history, addiction, and mental illness while surrounded by gawking nurses and patients.
During mealtime in the dining hall, Sister Gertrude reads to the patients about Catholic martyrs getting tortured in brutal and graphic ways. And then she wonders why no one is eating and why everyone hates her.
When an elderly patient dies of heart failure, her roommate has to spend the night in the room with the dead body. No one objects or even suggests other arrangements.
Two of the patients enjoy secret sexytimes in the rain. One of them is an old man who is confined to a wheelchair. The subsequent murder scene is rather well staged, though – we see it only in flashes of lightning.
Normally, a giallo movie ends with the arrest or death of the murderer but in Killer Nun, the murderer is revealed but gets to walk free.
At the convent, Sister Gertrude is kept in a prison-style cell with an iron door that locks from the outside and a tiny food-tray slot. Why would a convent have that? How frequently do they need to lock up killer nuns?
There's a lot of white in this movie. Uniforms, habits, dressing gowns, curtains, walls... everything is stark white. So when Sister Gertrude ditches her habit and takes the train to the city to score some morphine, it's a different world. After selling the ring she stole from a dead patient, she heads to the Rainbow Brite Lounge to get her swerve on.
Dig those tulip chairs and post-modern decor. Notice that Sister Gertrude ditches her pure white vestments for a low-cut black dress when she goes on her sin binge. That's some pretty heavy-handed symbolism right there.
Here's a closer look at Sister Gertrude. Apparently, her order is the Sisters of the Clumpy Mascara.
Mother Superior (Alida Valli) seems to have a keen interest in fashion. In this scene, she appears to be looking over fashion illustrations for forward-thinking new nurse's uniforms.
Oh... and remember the time Peter flashed his underwear while climbing up the cellar stairs?