Let's face it - a lot of nunsploitation movies are crap. Films filled with habit wearing lesbians don't very often take the high road in their criticism of Catholic culture and precious few entries in the genre stand out from the crowd. Sure, there are exceptions, like Alucrda and Flavia The Heretic, but most of them don't end up working as anything other than basic exploitation movies meant to shock and/or titillate (not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you). With that in mind, when Nigel Wingrove's Sacred Flesh showed up in the mail box, expectations were low but this proved the old adage about making assumptions to be true, as, surprise, it's a pretty cool movie that gets a whole lot more right than many of the sub-genre entries that came before it.
The movie takes place way back when in medieval times where, at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, we meet a Mother Superior named Sister Elizabeth (Sally Tremaine). Her behavior as of late has been a little strange as she's gotten quite antagonistic towards her fellow sisters, accusing them of immorality while seemingly coming close to committing some specifically carnal sins herself. These odd and angry ways prompt the nuns of the convent to assume that she's fallen victim to demonic possession, and Sister Mary (Moyna Cope) is sent off to the convent to investigate. What she discovers is strange and surreal to say the least, not to mention quite taboo considering that all of the women housed in the convent have taken the sworn oath of chastity...
Filled to the brim with steamy sexy set pieces and a few moments of shocking violence, this film is a lot more intelligent than it might seem if you're to judge it based only on the exploitative surface that it bares. The requirements of the 'nasty nun' sub-genre are all here: molestation, lesbianism, blasphemy, whipping, and other perverse acts of sometimes self inflicted torture; but Nigrove's film also brings up some interesting questions, particularly in relation to the aforementioned and requisite vow of chastity that the sisters have all taken and how it relates to their effectiveness as servants of God.
Performance wise, we're in pretty good shape here. The two female leads are convincing enough both in their delivery and their appearance, though sometimes some of the costumes used in the film for the supporting characters exposes the low budget of the film. Thankfully the cinematography and shot composition created for the film is so good that it almost completely engrosses you into what's happening, even when some of the costume flubs attempt to pull you out. Wingrove's film pays close attention to detail and makes excellent use of the sets, the props, and the ample amount of flesh on display to deliver a gorgeous looking symphony of depravity.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks quite nice on this DVD from Redemption and in fact, it looks identical so far as I can tell to the earlier release from the late, lamented Heretic Films. The black levels stay strong and deep and the level of clarity does justice to the film's excellent cinematography. There is some mild line shimmering present but the picture, overall, is clean and clear and for the most part it looks pretty sharp. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the red hues that are used throughout the movie don't bleed into the other colors at all.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track gets things done. There are a few spots where the levels could have been handled a little better in that the background music hushes some of the dialogue but other than that, this track is fine. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and aside from the aforementioned instances, the performers are easy to hear and understand.
The main supplement on this release comes at you in the form of a feature length commentary (carried over from the Heretic DVD) track from the director of Sacred Flesh, Nigel Wingrove. A lot of emphasis is given to the historical details on which portions of this film are based, and this makes for a very interesting listen. Wingrove explains some of the oddities that exist in the history of the Catholic Church that inspired him to make the film and also details some of the more technical aspects of the production, including specifics towards the look of the movie and how he wound up using some of the locations that he did. He also covers some of the problems that he ran into while making the movie and how he tried to find the right balance of arthouse sensibilities with flat out exploitation movie making. Wingrove proves to be an interesting speaker on this track and in order to really appreciate his film, you need to hear his take on how it all began.
Also included here is Hail Mary (23:34), an interesting documentary on nunspoiltation that features input from Wingrove. Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, this documentary features some great images and clips from nunsploitation films from all over the world. The documentary addresses some of the controversy around these films as well as the appeal before letting Wingrove take center stage and talk about his thoughts and experiences in the genre and about Sacred Flesh in particular.
Rounding out the extra features are the film's theatrical trailer, a teaser, a decent sized still gallery, some behind the scenes images, storyboard artwork, trailers for other unrelated Redemption releases, a promo for Sisters Of Armageddon, animated menus and chapter selection.
While Sacred Flesh isn't really a good starting point for those unfamiliar with the trappings of the nunsploitation genre, it does do a great job of telling a reasonably interesting story with some absolutely gorgeous visuals. Redemption's DVD looks and sounds quite good, and the commentary and documentary are definitely a nice bonus. Recommended for fans of the genre, an interesting rental for the curious masses.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.