This box set repackages three of Redemption's older titles and gives us three rather different approaches to the nunsploitation genre — two from the genre's peak in the 1970s and one rather knowing post modern take by Redemption/Salvation head honcho Nigel Wingrove.
By far the best title here barely qualifies as a nunsploitation flick at all, for only the opening act actually takes place in a convent, although it is a convent full of the usual staples of the genre: i.e. rampant lesbianism behind closed doors, sexual abuse posing as religious cleansing, self-flagellation, and various other forms of self abuse. Chris Boger's 1977 British-made flick, originally titled "Cruel Passions", is based on the Marquis de Sade's "Justine" and makes a fair job of capturing the mix of philosophical cynicism and sadistic humour that characterises the writer's work. It is probably more famous now for featuring an eighteen year old Koo Stark in the title role, and for being one of the films that put the kibosh on her graduating from being Prince Andrew's girlfriend to becoming the Duchess of York back in the early eighties.
Looking at it again today, it certainly has a very 70s British movie feel about it, surprisingly so since its director appears to have made no other movies since, if IMDB is to be believed. Although set in 18th Century France one always has that typical Hammer movie feel of the British countryside, despite the flouncy period costumes and prettified vice. With its peek-a-boo sleaze and grimy low-budget look, it brings to mind the work of Pete Walker, and that no-holds-barred cynicism inherent in the source material certainly adds to that effect.
The story follows Koo Stark's rather prim orphan, Justine, through an odyssey of exploitation as she and her sister escape the hypocrisy of the convent and head out on a series of adventures across the French countryside. Justine's sister, Juilette (Lydia Lisle) takes a pragmatic attitude to their troubles and succumbs relatively happily to life as a kept prostitute in the salubrious brothel of Mme Laronde (Katherine Kath). Justine though resolves to hang onto her purity and chastity, confident that God's grace will see her through hard times if she remains true to herself. Anyone at all familiar with de Sade's work will realise just how mistaken this view turns out to be; but the shock comes from the fact that Chris Boger's film doesn't draw back in the least from depicting the grisly fate that Justine's naivety eventually leads her to; unlike Jess Franco's curiously vapid interpretation of the story which comes over, as the director himself later admitted, like Snow White lost in the woods. Koo Stark is more like one of Franco's own muses than the star of his own film, and has that sylph like purity of a Soledad Miranda or a Susan Hemmingway, an image which Boger takes great delight in stripping of any last vestige of dignity by the end of the film. Stark's acting is slightly wooden, but her physical presence and her appearance of innocent beauty more than make up for such deficiencies. This is the best film of the three included on this set.
If there is one sin that "The Sinful Nun of Saint Valentine" definitely commits it is that of not fully living up to its name. This early Italian entry is more a rough blue print for the nascent genre than a fully fledged example of such. There is a smattering of mild nudity, some occasional half-hearted torture and the subtle suggestion of cloistered vice and heaving wimple, but this is essentially half-baked historical romance with a Romeo & Juliet style plot about two feuding families who try to come between two lovers by having the girl (Lucita, played by Jenny Tamburi) locked up in a convent. This doesn't deter her suitor Esteban (Paolo Malco) though: He manages to secrete himself within the convent walls, meeting his lover for secret trysts and giving second helpings to the Abbess when he is discovered by her. All in all, he's getting a merry time of it then! The film is directed in smooth workmanlike fashion by Grieco and leaves little impression beyond its picturesque scenery and limp melodrama.
Nigel Wingrove's "Sacred Flesh" delivers up plenty of soft core porn with its pneumatic fashion model types, unconvincingly adorned in nun garb, indulging in steamy bouts of slow motion lesbian fondling and groping. But it rapidly gets tiresome for other reasons: namely the tedious theological exchanges no doubt meant to give the whole project an air of artistic credibility. Pretentious in the extreme, there is virtually no story that can be followed, and unless you are a big fan of Emily Booth, probably little to keep you watching once the lesbian cunnilingus scene has come and gone!
None of these films have an anamorphic transfer, which in this day and age is getting beyond a joke. "Cruel Passions" is worth getting though, especially if you are a British horror/exploitation movie completist; for that reason alone the set is a recommended buy.