The Deuce Notebook: Sister Acts

A dark and deep dive into the secretive, sexual and seductive world of Nunsploitation.
The Deuce Film Series

Sister Maria, a.k.a. La Sexorcista (Satanico Pandemonium, 1975)


Welcome back to The Deuce Notebook—a collaboration between MUBI's Notebook and The Deuce Film Series, our monthly event at Nitehawk Williamsburg that excavates the facts and fantasies of cinema's most infamous block in the world: 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. For each screening, my co-hosts and I pick a title that we think embodies the era of 24-hour genre-hopping, and present the venue at which it premiered...

This month, we welcome one of our favorite Deuce-regulars, Screen Slate contributor Madelyn Sutton, who’s taken the helm and commandeered us down a merciless spiral of nunsploitation… Check out her piece below for your fill of nuns gone wild!

—The Deuce Jockeys

Vanessa Redgrave in Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971)

Naughty nuns: the appeal is obvious. Cloaked in the magnetic mystery of her thick twill tunic, the solid walls of the cloister, and the impenetrability of her spirituality, the nun is a walking embodiment of the original injunction against looking. This regulated interiority has made of the nun a potent figure of fantasy from the earliest days of organized Christianity, and on into the present day. What better medium could there be for plumbing her tantalizing depths than film—an all-seeing eye whose very nature is to reveal, and to capture in the visible world the signs of the ineffable?

The Song of Bernadette (1943) lead Jennifer Jones, a very thirsty nun

The family-friendly cinematic investigations of these dark and devoted corners finds its most wholesome expression in the reverence of Henry King’s The Song of Bernadette (1943) or the moral righteousness of Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music (1965), Haylee Mills’ innocent insouciance in The Trouble with Angels (1966), or even Whoopi Goldberg’s pop-music posturing in the 1992 summer blockbuster Sister Act. But the underside of the veil has produced a plethora of dirty books and lascivious pictures as well—after all, the more unspoilt the bride of Christ, the greater the temptation to explore her uncharted territories, a sort of violent male manifest destiny capable of the most deliciously sinful proportions. (It’s worth noting that a little ditty called The Nun’s Story is thought to be the first stag film with a cum shot; efforts to find much information about this particular film are complicated by another with the same title, released in the same decade, starring none other than the incorruptible Audrey Hepburn.) On the silver screen, this trend found particular popularity in the 1970s and 1980s in the rich and raunchy sub genre known most euphoniously as nunsploitation. 

The origin of the subgenre is generally mapped to the success of Ken Russell’s 1971 still-censored masterpiece, The Devils. Though Eriprando Visconti’s The Nun of Monza—based on the true story of Sister Virginia Maria, who bore two children fathered by a local aristocrat in the 17th century—premiered in 1969, for one example, The Devils’ much-publicized “X” rating and high-art bonafides (the cast, a best director win at the Venice Film Festival, the Aldous Huxley source material, et cetera), as well as its box office success (grossing nearly $11 million worldwide) most effectively ignited the exploitation flame. 

In line both narratively and tonally with the 1952 Huxley book The Devils of Loudon: A True Story of Demonic Possession, Russells’ film follows the perils of pride and popularity for the handsome priest Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed), whose career overlapped with the growing threat of Protestantism to the Catholic church’s political dominance in 17th century-France. A well-known seducer of various important men's daughters, Grandier was the unwitting object of the local Abbess’ obsessive affections; suffering from severe scoliosis and an even more severe horniness, Sister Joan of the Angels (Vanessa Redgrave) conspires with the convent’s confessor and her ever-thirsty sisters to prove that Grandier consorted with the devil and bewitched the innocent nuns. In a bid for control of Loudon and at the behest of the Cardinal and the King, Grandier’s inquisitors eventually find him guilty and sentence him to burn at the stake—but not before the sadistic exorcist Father Pierre Barre comes to town, applying rituals, relics, and enemas with abandon, unleashing in the process a frenzied performance of erotically-tinged possession from the cloistered collective.

The power of cock compelled them (The Devils)

“There are performing nude Lesbians, spikes driven through tongues, castrations, closeup of a man burning to death, flagellations with spiked chains, vomiting and other unspeakable acts too ghastly to look at, much less write about,” wrote Rex Reed in the New York Daily News, August 10, 1971; it took him over three weeks from the film’s premiere at The Fine Arts cinema to muster the fortitude to describe The Devils’ many delights. After moving to the Little Carnegie theater on October 1, this “freak show in an insane asylum that looks like the inside of the Holland Tunnel” opened wide, including at the 42nd Street Apollo, exposing its deliciously controversial goods to the Deuce’s international and arthouse-hungry denizens.

The nun’s inherent potential for exploitation, as hinted above, and the financial incentive and blasphemous possibilities suggested by The Devils’ notoriety, provide the general backdrop for the proliferation of nunsploitation films. What also ties many of the nunsploitation titles together is the platform such stories represent for political statements (or the posture thereof), generally regarding the hypocrisy of the church or, as with the earlier and very similar “women in prison” subgenre, institutional corruption, the abuse of bio-power, and sexual repression; to the erotic and sado-masochistic possibilities presented by caged birds, tales of twisted sisters add a far more constrictive uniform and the constantly caressed Christ on the cross. Russell set a potent example for this “hidden” interest in seductively speaking truth to power; at the center of both his and Huxley’s interpretation is the tragedy of the free-spirited, undeniably charismatic Urbain Grandier’s destruction at the hands of the Church hierarchy for the purpose of political expediency and increased geographical control. 

But lest we do her any injustice, it should be recalled that the nuns of Loudun’s blasphemous behavior first transpired through the sympathetic magic conjured by one hunchbacked Prioress’ unrequited desires. Disappointed by her favored lover’s utter lack of interest (as Huxley notes with characteristic shade, Grandier barely knew Sister Joan existed), the Mother Superior seeks—and, to some degree, achieves—her revenge through the conjuring of diabolical spirits and the display of just the sort of intimate, ecstatic visions as those described by St. Teresa of Ávila, Carmelite nun, Catholic reformer, and example par excellence of the erotic power of women's extreme religiosity. Her story, one man’s artistic exploitation of it, and the revolutionary potential that seeps around the edges is the model for the forthcoming exploration of what the feminine audience might reclaim from a most-misogynist film genre, created to dampen men’s palms in the dingy corners of the grindhouse.

The Devils

“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold... He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails... The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”  

So reads St. Teresa of Avila’s mid-16th-century description of her ecstatic encounter with a seraph, one of the foundational experiences in her mystical development from fairly anonymous sinner to adored saint. The narration of such singular experiences of transcendence serve throughout Catholic history as one of the few modes by which a nun might establish her interiority as part of the exterior world. By expanding the boundaries of her existence—beyond the stratified layers of wool of her habit, the stone walls of the convent, the barriers of her mortal flesh—St. Teresa insists upon her own multi-dimensionality and, in effect, resists the Church’s imposition of objectification.

Portrait of St. Teresa, Patron Saint of headache sufferers and lacemakers (literally), with her object

Such expressions of independent transcendence represented a significant threat to the religious orthodoxy of the day. First, any such mystical vision endowed upon a lowly transgressor circumvented the established hierarchy of the Church—the very source of a whole slew of boring, often shockingly greedy and evil men's power and on which the persistence of heterodoxy and its many landholdings relied. And second, that women in particular were defined as the weaker of the sexes by that same orthodoxy, more prone to suggestion and diabolical obsession, and therefore completely unworthy of such direct communication. That God, the biggest boy, should privately converse with, let’s face it, a spinster, and directly, and in a fashion intoxicating to herself, her sisters, and the surrounding populace—!

The public’s fascination with tales of mystical visions and supernatural visitations lay as much in their controversial nature as in the aspirational models and inspirational teachings they offered. Was the source heavenly or demonic, and could a nun be trusted to judge the difference? A certain humility in the face of this otherworldly intervention was required of the rapturous—no mere nun could insist upon her own knowledge or ability to recognize the transcendent. Parishioners’ unending fascination with these tales, rife with the potent push and pull of the taboo, was generally reigned in by sanctioned interpreters. St. Teresa, for example, was canonized just forty years after her death, thereby corralling the spicy power of her frankly horny interventions. 

But the puerile power of her visions persists: a mere century or so after St. Teresa’s first assignations with her supernatural bridegroom, the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini revivified the mystery with his portrayal of the penetrating instance above in a commissioned work for the Cornaro Chapel in Rome. Simply representing the ecstasy described would likely titillate, to be sure, but his creative interventions make clear his vaguely heretical intent. Milky white marble cascades in labial folds beyond the perimeter of the shrine, her spread legs draped loosely over the side of the cloud supporting her swooning form; her veil, disheveled; her neck arched, head back; her lips parted, two fingers pressed suggestively together; and her feet—mon dieu!—revealed and bare.

Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1647–1652), just a lovely church decoration

Here enacted is the truly taboo nature of the nun revealed: from a rebellious enunciation of transcendent ecstasy, to a man creating a dirty picture of it, and the spark of feminine power that remains. All of which is outlined to insist that simply because a male artist and probable foot-fetishist may, with his X-rated interpretation, seemingly re-encase a woman both in her terrestrial body and the holy walls of her wimple; but in manifesting the erotic potential of her unruly utterance, perhaps the artwork re-instantiates the revolutionary power of her disobedient act. In the selection of nunsploitation films that follow, nuns lust, fuck, and kill, committing sins of self-expression that while certainly intended to please men, resist the confines of their cloistered existence—in the convent, and on the silver screen.

The 1970s saw legendary Japanese production company Nikkatsu struggling to compete with television; in an effort to provide what home entertainment couldn’t, they initiated the softcore "Roman Porno" line, and with it a truly unique approach to the nunsploitation film. That Japan’s earliest major film studio should have taken up the soiled veil is somewhat notable; Catholics were a historically persecuted minority in Japan, and the battles of good vs. evil, chastity vs. temptation, heaven-sent vs. hell-borne that inflame the cultural commentary of European, Mexican, and other nunsploitation titles would presumably carry less of a potent punch in the country’s more secular 1970s context. But the political potential of the subgenre may have been the source of its appeal; according to Jasper Sharp, in his extensively illustrated Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, “Arguably, what Roman Porno brought to Japanese cinema was the somewhat progressive portrayal of strong female characters, powerful sexual beings in their own right and not just one-dimensional ciphers used to express anti-authoritarian sentiments or to vent one’s spleen against society.” The alignment with the missionary pattern set by The Devils is apparent.

Nikkatsu film logo, circa 1970

Japan’s incursion into the nunsploitation genre found its first and best-known expression in 1974’s School of the Holy Beast. Directed by Norifumi Suzuki for Toei’s pinku line, it preceded many of the European nunsploitation titles and incorporated a number of stylistic touches borrowed from the then-young but already influential oeuvre of Dario Argento (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Gray Velvet, to name two; its closest aesthetic cousin Suspira premiered three years later). Though its pleasures are many, the Nikkatsu films that followed, beginning with their titles—Catholic Nun Lucia: Disgraced (1978), Catholic Nun: Wet Rope Confession (1979), Aching within Black Robes (1980), Catholic Nun Rope Hell (1984), and the film explored further here, Masaru Konuma’s Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession (1976)—are in some ways stranger and, in their particularly thread-bare and convoluted plot devices and story structures, equally delightful. 

Starring Runa Takamura, member of the J-pop band Golden Half (seen performing in the nightclub in Yasuharu Hasebe’s Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter) until its disbanding in 1974, Cloistered Nun was the first of two Roman Porno films featuring the erstwhile pop singer to premiere within three months, the second similarly titled Runa’s Confession: The Men Who Flocked Around Me. The film opens with Runa being accosted in the bell tower by a priest, who pays no mind to her otherwise-inviolable habit nor the incessant bell-ringing that persist throughout the opening credits. We learn through erotic flashbacks that Runa absconded to the convent after discovering her boyfriend, Keigo, and sister, Mayumi, in bed together; while there, she is assaulted in various pastoral settings by the aforementioned priest—scenes witnessed by Runa’s fellow nun/lover, Yuki, who uses these violent encounters and various alter accoutrement for foreplay. Runa has returned home to offer Keigo and Mayumi a real estate deal in which Runa and the priest will act as go-betweens for the urban couple and the Church. Incidentally, to raise money for the purchase, Mayumi wields her calligraphy brush and ink to make pussy prints to con various adoring men around town, a scheme that will eventually result in an extended gang bang on a Tokyo Drifter-reminiscent television soundstage.

Runa Takamura in Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession (1976), wimpled

Between the symbol-heavy, carefully-filmed sex scenes, in which, for example, the flames of a fireplace tastefully withhold the revelation of penetration or a train is seen entering a station (really!) in the window behind a couple fucking on a pool table, the potential for political commentary playfully pokes its head. The Church’s blind-eye to its priest’s dastardly doings and involvement in shady real estate schemes, and the corrupting influence of sex and greed on Runa’s sister and brother-in-law, face righteous revenge from Runa, who’s manipulated and seduced the perpetrator-victims into providing her with the financial means to escape with her lesbian lover to Australia—all with wimple and veil willfully intact. Runa finally leaves her holy vestments behind as she boards the ship bearing her away to sexual freedom; the final image is her smiling face pressed against the window as she’s taken from behind by a random man she and Yuki met portside, and a celebratory plume of cum-like waves fills the screen.

Wits and seduction are Runa’s tools for a revenge most sensual against the various heterosexual, heretical parties that have wronged her, but her romance with another nun gives another trope of the nunsploitation and women-in-prison subgenres a revolutionary kick—a trope with potent historical precedent in the context of the nun’s rebellious act of self-expression and self-determination. 

Runa and Yuki, a couple of (lesbian) nuns on the run

In her pioneering 1985 collection of first-person testimony, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, Rosemary Keefe Curb writes, “Both nuns and Lesbians are emotionally inaccessible to male coercion…. A male-defined culture which moralizes about 'sins of the flesh' and the pollution and evil of women's carnal desires sees both nuns and Lesbians as 'unnatural' but at opposite poles on a scale of female virtue.” The ambivalence inherent in the religious taboo finds one of its most piquant expressions in the rampant lesbianism within the convent’s thus-tainted walls, attested to by the frequent presence of said activity in nunsploitation films. Recreated for men’s titillation, the combination of the double-denial of the untouchable nun and the unreachable lesbian, with the voyeuristic revelations of the hidden contours and fondlings of these sex-addled sisters, gave any number of nunsploitation titles their potent and lasting popularity.

If the revelation of mystical visions and interactions with supernatural beings allowed St. Teresa the means of overcoming the social strictures of her time through personal expression and the transcendence of the various physical boundaries imposed by God and man, the further desecration of fleshly barriers represented by the sexual encounter between two women heightens the revolutionary impact and amplifies the offending nun’s rebellious utterance. Though impregnated nuns and other instances of heterosexual mingling between the laity and the veil are actually quite common in the historical record, Judith C. Brown’s Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, published in 1986, tracks the author’s discovery of a singular report of same-sex coupling in a 16th-century Italian convent: that of Sister Benedetta Carlini and Bartolomea, whose story is the inspiration for Paul Verhoeven’s upcoming release, Benedetta.

A portrait of Bartolomea and Benedetta, the latter in the guise of handsome young lover (and potential demon?) Splenditello

Scholars have posited that referring to Benedetta and Bartolomea as lesbians is to anachronistically apply a contemporary designation to what was, in the 1500s, perhaps something less tied to a fixed identity or sexual preference, but rather another instantiation of the Abbess’ unbounded religiosity—another performance of her mystical transcendence of the dictates of her environment. For the two young women at the center of Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda, love is part and parcel to the supernatural which, through the film itself, becomes its own gory reality.

A popular radio and television show producer and host in 1960s Mexico, López Moctezuma first broke into filmmaking via his friendship with Alejandro Jodorowsky; the two met amidst Mexico’s avant-garde theater scene, and López Moctezuma would serve as co-producer on two of Jodorowsky’s early films—Fando y Lis and El Topo—before parlaying this respected connection into a filmmaking career of his own. Alucarda, la hija de las tinieblas (“The Daughter of Darkness”) premiered in France in 1977 as part of the Paris Festival of Fantastic Films, and like López Moctezuma’s other works, combines an art cinema sensibility with gothic themes for an approach to horror intended to stand apart from the Mexican genre films that most recently preceded it, and reflective of the cultural shifts taking place in Mexico at the time. 

Alucarda, Justine, and friend

The film’s cold open introduces us to a constructed world of only vaguely-referential symbols and a pervading sense of the ominous: an unknown woman gives birth in a cobweb-covered crypt; presumably after a number of years, the voluminously coiffed Justine arrives at a convent whose denizens are dressed in strange, mummy wrap-like habits, and meets fellow orphan Alucarda when the funereal girl emerges from the shadows of their new cell. Left by the nuns to their own devices, the two young lovers escape into the woods, where they meet a hunchbacked purveyor of magical talismans and the haunted, desiccated corpse of none other than Lucy Westenra, the first English victim of Dracula (read: the title, backwards). Before long, they are exchanging oaths before Satan, screaming and writhing in hysteric fits, and subjected to the violence of a blood-soaked exorcism—and the equally ineffective ministrations of modern medicine.

From the sisters’ bizarre habits, to the playful paganism of the girls’ secret games, to the Victorian-era evil they encounter, the film presents a world shaped by the hormonally heightened inner workings of its horny heroines, whose intimacy separates them from the convent’s Catholicism and makes of their dreams a shared, sinister reality. Capable of inspiring a Devils-reminiscent level of pandemonium in the convent, Justine and Alucarda’s relationship serves to overturn the hierarchy of reality and fantasy, modernity and medieval superstition, life and death; as the devil himself (in the form of his misshapen emissary) tells them, “You shall blend into each other,” anointing their sexual encounter with a mystical power capable of literally bringing down the convent’s walls. Though the moral quality of their visions is never in question (there is, after all, a giant goat here), the division between what is “real” amongst the film’s mise en scène and what is the product of the collision of the girls’ flights of sinful fancy with the potent credulity of the good Christians around them is hazy at best; in the tantalizing tradition of the religious taboo, the lines separating attraction and repulsion are made liminal.

Justine, biter of nuns

The film’s confirmation of its plucky protagonists’ supernatural encounters—through the visible presence of a levitating nun, a fire-lit orgy in the woods, or Justine’s vengeful return from the dead—makes their romantic renunciation of Catholic rules revolutionary. The same claim can be made for a West German-Swiss co-production premiering in the same year: Jesús Franco’s Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977). With a script by producer Erwin Dietrich and a more substantial budget than many of Franco’s works, Love Letters sits prettily amidst a string of women in prison films in the prolific filmmaker’s output as a spirited condemnation of the Catholic church that only Franco could make. 

Love Letters follows the trajectory of the standard nunsploitation film as established by the subgenre’s literary foundations and, in its less erotic elements, historic precedent. A beautiful God-fearing girl is caught necking with her fiancé in the woods and sent, unwillingly, to a convent, for spiritual correction and indefinite imprisonment. There she encounters sadistic persecution and hypocrisy without limits, and despite pleas to various parties in often-unsent letters, she is unable to escape the bounds of the cruel Mother Superior’s control. Love Letters is full of the Franco flourishes fans lust for, from a priest masturbating in the confessional, to close-ups on paintings of saints cavorting with the devil, to a whole lotta bush and bright-red blood—but there are other treats to delight even those less partial to the master’s work. 

A Mother Superior’s work is never done

In said confession, the ill-fated Christian femme innocente Maria regales the panting priest with memories of blow-jobs and dirty dreams; after being caught sensually sharing an apple with two of her kinky sisters, Maria is forced to don a girdle of thorns and in the resulting feverish state, imaginatively reenacts many of the previously described recollections. These sensual encounters blend into scenes of the evil Abbess attempting to give birth to Satan’s son, suggesting that the lines of reality and sex-tinged nightmare are blurred. Lest Maria’s sanctity come into doubt, the film quickly establishes that yes, actually, the priest and sisters are Satan worshippers; yes, they are attempting to make Maria the mother of the antichrist; and yes, the devil wears a red onesie, goatee, and cute little horns. And to round out this delightful portrait of Catholicism gone thoroughly awry, Maria is handed over to the Holy Inquisition, swiftly found guilty of frolicking with the fiend, and sentenced to burn at the stake. 

A conglomeration of Diderot’s La religieuse (source material for Jacques Rivette’s 1966 film, for one), Rosemary’s Baby, and, among others, The Devils (the latter most prominently during Maria’s rape by the devil, as the watching nuns writhe and lick crucifixes in thin-eyebrowed, bare-breasted homage), there is actually little of the eponymous text to be found in the film. Published anonymously in 1669, Letters of a Portuguese Nun was a literary sensation. A collection of five romantic missives from a love-struck nun to the unnamed French soldier who’d abandoned her following a short affair, the book was believed by its initial fans to be the work of the real-life Sister Mariana Alcoforado. Eventually the “novel” was ascribed to minor diplomat Gabriel de Guilleragues, though their authorship remains an item of heated debate—despite, it is worth noting, these rather conclusive words from none other than Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Women know neither how to describe nor experience love itself… I would bet everything I have that the Portuguese Letters were written by a man.” (Interestingly, one of the writers to weigh in on the controversy was actress Myriam Cyr, who is best known for her turn as Claire Clairmont in Ken Russell’s Gothic.) 

It’s cute that you think that, Rousseau

Ironically, Sister Maria effectively saves her own life by writing a letter to God on the eve of her execution—perfect eye makeup intact—and dropping it from the window, where it is discovered by the Prince of Portugal, a critic of the Church who delightedly intercedes on her behalf. Should the Inquisition appear charitably able to truly rethink its error, they immediately change course and chase down the priest and Mother Superior on only the Prince’s hearsay-so. All those in charge are ready and willing to dispatch enemies imagined or “real,” and the one God-fearing nun and vaguely repentant sinner comes out, in the end, on top.

Unfortunately, such a position is rarely afforded the naughty nun, whose persecutors tend to prefer missionary or doggy-style, and often cleanse their sinful souls by torturing her and, eventually, removing her from this earthly coil. Such is the case with director Gilberto Martínez Solares, whose 1975 Mexican nunsploitation classic Satanico Pandemonium: La Sexorcista concludes with a funeral for poor Sister Maria (another one)—but not before she wrecks a shocking amount of havoc on the convent, its helpless neighbors, and the very sanctity of the sisterhood.

An extraordinarily prolific filmmaker throughout Mexican cinema’s Golden Age, Martínez Solares had directed nearly 100 films before Satanico Pandemonium came into his hands, and would go on to direct another 30 before his death. Best known for comedies, a selection of Santo films, and a number of vehicles for comedian Germán Valdés (aka “Tin Tan”), he came to direct Satanico after his son Adolfo Martínez Solares was approached by producer Jorge Barragán, who’d secured funding but wasn’t able to complete a script; Martínez Solares, Jr., a filmmaker in his own right, agreed to handle the screenplay, as long as his father could direct. The resulting film is hardly the tentative or faint-hearted effort of an old-school laugh-hound; for one, per the son’s recollections, Satanico’s cast includes a number of “high-class” sex workers, and the rather downbeat ending was added in order to appease Mexican censors, who would only allow the preceding blasphemy if it were thoroughly disavowed. 

We meet Sister Maria—picture of perfection, adored by the pious and the peasantry alike—collecting wildflowers in a sun-filled glen, until she’s rudely interrupted by a naked, beastly man who pursues her with the symbol of symbols: a shiny red apple. Maria refuses, and attempts to ward off his temptations with fervent prayer and a hot bit of bare-chested self-flagellation. By nightfall, however, she’s succumbing to a fellow nun’s aggressive sexual advances—and so her degradation begins, and advances with a by turns glee-filled and guilt-ridden abandon befitting the intensity of her previous holiness. Her sexual appetites encompass her fellow novitiates and young Marcello, a peasant boy, whose refusal earns him and his grandmother a blood-soaked, fiery death; and they’re not the only mortal victims of Maria’s passions—she assists another nun to commit suicide and even strangles the mother superior in a luxurious fit of rage. As her sins escalate and a revelation (and inquisition) draws near, the demon returns to give Maria a choice: a slow, torturous but surely rectifying death at the hands of the church, or the chance to replace the erstwhile abbess in a thoroughly debauched convent. Our ever-horny heroine elects the latter, and is rewarded with a delectable vision of nuns run absolutely wild. 

Sister Maria and friend

Cut to a decidedly more somber scene, as the nuns congregate outside Maria’s door; alas, she’s expired at the hands of the plague, and the preceding pandemonium was just a delirious dream, an illicit “Incident at Owl Creek Bridge”/Lost Highway-style fantasy of a fever-addled brain. But a fantasy it was, and censorship be damned—the world hidden beneath a supremely pious nun’s habit is revealed to be one of unparalleled sin. Huxley wrote of the Loudon sisters, “ in a seventeenth-century convent was merely a succession of boredoms and frustrations,” and thus a cage capable of inspiring the most bizarre behavior of its righteous denizens, should they be left to their own devious devices; in Satanico Pandemonium, the unbearability of a saintly death is both the excuse for and the tidy button-up of a very sexy and otherwise unruly tale.

To quote the prefatory remarks of Sister Benedetta’s inquisitors’ condemnatory report: “...all novelty is dangerous and all unusual events are suspect.” Such was the attitude of the establishment toward mystical visions and miraculous happenings as narrated by otherwise-silenced nuns; such is also a predictable response to the passions, predilections, and power revealed to underlie the “immodest acts” depicted in the films described above. What lies beneath the nun’s tantalizingly unyielding habit remains a fantasy, but one that is available for interpretation—in whatever way turns you on.

—Text by Madelyn Sutton

Convent of the Holy Cinema

The Deuce Film Series is a monthly, 35mm presentation created by "Joe Zieg" Berger and co-hosted with "Tour Guide Andy" McCarthy and 'Maestro Jeff’ Cashvan. Produced by Max Cavanaugh for Nitehawk Cinema Williamsburg, The Deuce was founded in November 2012.

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