Review: Behind Convent Walls (1978) DVD Release from Cult Epics (2010)

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“My wounds are but the pale reflection of the wounds Christ received on the cross.”

We recently reviewed the 1974 nunsploitation film School of the Holy Beast from Toei and director Norifuke Suzuki here on Cult Following, which was released by Cult Epics in a slipcase box set alongside legendary Polish erotica arthouse director Walerian Borowzcyk’s hard to find erotic nun drama Behind Convent Walls (Interno di un convento) from 1978. While School of the Holy Beast manages to transcend its genre and say a lot about culture and societal fringes, Behind Convent Walls struggles to escape its nunsploitation niche despite the arthouse reputation of Borowzcyk and the cinematography of Luciano Tovoli, the cinematographer behind Dario Argento’s most iconic films. That being said, it is a solid example of that genre and ultimately works well as a drama within the confines of being a piece of erotic work even if it doesn’t say much beyond that.

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Behind Convent Walls primarily deals with a convent full of nuns in Italy in the 19th century. It does address some class issues as some of the nuns are daughters of noblemen who didn’t know what they were getting into when they were sent to the nunnery. The abbess in charge of the nunnery (who is named Flavia perhaps in a nod to Flavia the Heretic) is quite strict about nuns giving into temptations of the flesh. However, these temptations that are out of bounds in the nun’s world are a bit on the excessive side; they vary from loving Christ too much, to playing the violin and even nude Christian yoga performed by Sister Veronica (Marina Pierro). There are some odd cases among the nuns, including a pregnant one not allowed to venture outside. Ultimately, the excess of the abbess leads to a shocking ending to the film I didn’t see coming. It’s here and in the treatment and depiction of the higher ups in the clergy in this time and their attitude that the film becomes somewhat politically subversive about class structure, down to soldiers under the thrall of the duplicitous Bishop in charge of the convent, which almost seems a nod to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. But these are surface level invocations of issues, and, ultimately, this is a nunsploitation/erotica film. The most scandalous scene being with one of the nun’s having a dildo fashioned with the face of Christ painted on one end which she uses to make herself a literal “Bride of Christ” and consummate the nun’s marriage with God. This masturbation scene is the most graphic sexual scene in the film and what makes the film infamous, followed by the nun explaining herself to the abbess and demonstrating her intent with the Christ dildo.

The cinematography in this film is credited to Luciano Tovoli, who shot Suspiria and Tenebre for Dario Argento and Single White Female, a dark erotic thriller for Barbet Schroeder in the 1990’s, so I was expecting the cinematography to really pop. Suspiria is itself very similar to nunsploitation/women in prison genre, with the gothic horror trappings of women ensconced away in a school, their fates in the hands of the coven running the school. However, the set-ups in the film are very shaky and kind of flat and blown out. Almost all the camera work in this film is shaky, whether handheld or shot from afar. I suspect this was a result of a low budget, but Borowzcyk’s voice as a filmmaker isn’t really present in this film, especially since as films such as The Beast prove, he call tell an erotic horror/fantasy. The lighting in this film is entirely natural light and this hurts the film, since it washes out much of the detail of the location and set dressing and makes the heavily caked and pasty white makeup most of the nun actresses wear very obvious on film. The story is also a bit hard to follow with some nuns only being named once throughout the film, making it difficult to keep track of the characters save one or 2 nuns like Clara (Ligia Branice) the abbess’ niece.

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Ultimately, Behind Convent Walls (Interno di un convento) is not as deep or subversive as School of the Holy Beast, but it is a solid example of nunsploitation film and definite must have for fans of the genre. The erotica aspects are well done, with lesbianism, plenty of nudity and illicit sex scenes a plenty. However, the social commentary is very minimal. Cult Epics does a solid job with the transfer, with an animated menu, and an interview with Tovoli as an extra, who himself chose to shoot the film in natural light, and talks about how the rise of erotic horror pushed Borowzcyk out of filmmaking, since his preferred style was this softcore absurdist erotica that didn’t traverse too far or at all in that direction.

Behind Convent Walls (Interno di un convento) is available as a single disc or as part of the Nunsploitation Convent Collection with School of the Holy Beast, which is definitely the way to get it.

Purchase Links

Behind Convent Walls on DVD from Amazon.com

The Nunsploitation Convent Collection from Amazon.com

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