Nunsploitation. Simply typing the word gives me a case of the chuckles. Back in the good ol' days of horror, when taboo subject matter was actually embraced, Nunsploitation cinema was a dark and perverse little niche' in the genre. Ironically, the most prolific purveyor of papal perversion was Italy, a country so catholic the Pope moved in. While most of the Nunsploitative flicks simply offered images of sapphic sisters shedding their habits in orgies of unrestrained nun on nun love, there were a few titles that actually opted to tell a story, and Flavia the Heretic, perhaps the genre's best entry, spun a great one.
Flavia (Bolkan)is a young woman whose overzealous father forces her into the sisterhood where she slowly realizes just how much of a male dominated society she lives in. Her realisation that the religeon to which she is a reluctant servant essentially relegates women to a subserviant and demeaning role pushes Flavia over the edge, and in a burst of feminist rage, she flees the convent with Abraham (Cassinelli), a Jewish drifter who sees Flavia for the strong and beautiful woman she is, but still respects her commitment to her god, even if it isn't his own. When her father's men catch up with her, Flavia is forced back to the convent and Abraham is imprisoned. When the like-minded sister Agatha (Casares) reveals her disdain for the powerful role of men in their society, the two turn a blind eye as a Muslim invasion overtakes their small village. Flavia falls for the Muslim's leader, partly out of lust and partly out of the hope that, in their world, woman have a more equal balance with men. Flavia eagerly hands the Muslim invaders the keys to the kingdom, but soon finds out that she's trading in one repressed existance for another, and at a cost even she isn't prepared to pay.
Flavia the Heretic is another excellent release by the wonderful folks at Synapse. I really enjoy this companies eclecticism, juggling horror, exploitation, erotic, and just out and out bizarre releases that never fail to entertain. I really enjoyed this film in particular and I think that, next to Evil Dead Trap, this is the company's finest release to date. Flavia is an exploitation film on the surface, but is truly a feminist film at heart. Flavia and Agatha are strong female characters whose conflicts are quite believable, and go beyond the typical "nuns and poses" motif of the Franco variety. Flavia's relationships with Abraham and the Muslim general are well written and fleshed out, and star Bolkan balances tough and sexy effortlessly. While there's abundant nudity, gore, and scenes that may challenge the stomachs of more sensitive viewers, beneath it all lay a very well thought out and scripted morality play.
Synapse releases the film in a gorgeous and painstakingly restored anamorphic widescreen transfer that shows very little trace of the artifacting that plagued old VHS versions. The film is also completely uncut, and includes several scenes that were omitted from the western release, including the full version of the hallucinatory dream sequence near the film's end. The reinstated footage looks as sharp and well defined as the main body of the film. The only areas that look a little rough are the typical opening and closing credits, which have a few snaps, crackles and pops, but nothing obtrusive. For extras, Synapse includes a very big gallery of stills, lobby cards, and foreign posters and ephemera, a nice set of liner notes, and a twenty minute interview with star Bolkan in which she offers a great amount of insight (and fierce pride!) about her involvement with the film.
While Flavia does qualify as Nunsploitation in terms of subject matter and content, it's almost unfair to relegate this excellent film to a sub-genre many view as a guilty pleasure. Flavia the Heretic is a moving and genuine story of feminine disenchantment and the lengths of which one will go to effect change in a world that will not tolerate it.