The legendary Anita Ekberg is Sister Gertrude in the infamous nunsploitation shocker Killer Nun (1979). Director Giulio Berruti litters the Hitchcockian labyrinth of a narrative with scenes of sensationalist violence to create one of the most lurid of nunsploitation pictures to ever come out of Italy. Inspired by the real-life case of Sister Cecile Bombeek, Killer Nun was controversial enough to be banned in Britain and heavily censored for years.
Yet, despite the reputation of Killer Nun, the film is a pretty standard exploitation picture for that time. The gratuitous nudity and brightly colored artificial blood are dated and give Killer Nun a veneer of plasticity. Even the last minute plot twist when it is revealed that Ekberg isn’t the murderer feels lazily tacked on as if to add some complexity to an otherwise entirely mediocre affair. Ironically, the moment of this final revelation is also the most stylistically audacious moment in the film that, cinematographically speaking, transcends all that has preceded it.
Beyond the potential pleasures of gore, sex, and sadistic workouts Killer Nun‘s real strength is in its all-star cast of cult movie stars. Every cinephile knows Anita Ekberg of course, but Killer Nun also features such luminaries as Joe Dallesandro (as Dr. Roland), Paola Morra (as Sister Mathieu), Alida Valli (as Mother Superior) and Lou Castel (as Peter). Each of these iconic players brings their campy best to Killer Nun so that, even at its most predictable, it never ceases to be enjoyable.
Perhaps if the violence and sex were less sensationalized Killer Nun could take on the depth and meaning of a nunsploitation film like Behind Convent Walls (1978). As it is, Killer Nun can only be recommended to fans of this peculiar sub-genre or to those who belong to one of the cult fanbases around one or more of the film’s stars. I think everyone would agree that Anita Ekberg deserved better.