Get Thee to a Nunnery: The Nunsploitation horror of “The Other Hell” & “Dark Waters”

By on August 2, 2019

If you’re looking for a horror double feature to watch this weekend, we have two Nunsploitation titles for you to check out: The Other Hell (1981) concerns a series of brutal murders — first thought to be a rash of “suicides” — in a depraved convent, while Dark Waters (1993) is a supernatural saga about a young Englishwoman’s attempts to discover her mysterious connection to a remote island nunnery.

Both of these Severin Films titles — featuring naughty nuns and their sexually-transgressive bad habits (pardon the nunny pun) including sado-masochism, lesbianism, and even Satanism — are now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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In The Other Hell (Italian: L’altro inferno), when a nun’s bloodied body is found by her Mother Superior, she calls in a priest to exorcise the demons from the convent, but his his arrival only provokes more evil, and more murders.

Faith and survival are at stake as the convent turns from a haven of serenity and contemplation into The Other Hell!

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The Other Hell was directed by controversial Italian sleaze maestro Bruno Mattei (as “Stefan Oblowsky”) from a screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, Mattei’s frequent partner in cinematic crimes and misdemeanors. It stars Franca Stoppi (“Mother Vincenza”), Carlo De Mejo (“Father Valerio”) and Franco Garofalo.

Mattei lensed this film at the very same time that Fragasso was filming The True Story of the Nun of Monza (Italian: La vera storia della monaca di Monza) at the very same location.

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They used the same actors, costumes and buildings, with Mattei shooting The Other Hell downstairs, while Fragasso shot his Monza film upstairs (they reportedly traded places if a particular area of expertise was required).

Our friends at Severin Films tell us Mattei “delivers a surprisingly stylized yet undeniably blasphemous orgy of stabbings, stigmata, Satanism, sexual violence and graphic savagery that ranks among his very best.”

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The film’s prog-rock score was “borrowed” from music previously recorded by Goblin!

The Other Hell was newly-transferred from a 35mm print which was discovered behind a false wall in a Bologna nunnery!

First-time feature filmmaker Mariano Baino’s Dark Waters (1993) follows what happens when “Elizabeth” (Louise Salter) — as our friends at Severin Films tell us — unlocks “…an unholy communion of torment, blasphemy and graphic demonic depravity.”

The story — co-written by Baino and Andrew M. Bark (his only writing credit) — was very-loosely inspired by the short story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by H.P. Lovecraft, who Baino discovered at age fourteen.

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Much of the filming of Dark Waters was done along the grim Ukraine coast, not too far from where the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident happened in April 1986.

Baino has said the village seen on the beach was actually built for the film, but the production also utilized buildings found in Kiev, about seventeen kilometers from Chernobyl.

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Baino — who shows a clear influence from Italian giallo maestro Mario Bava — had only previously directed a few short films at time (several are included as bonus material on the Dark Waters Blu-ray from Severin Films).

Read more about Nunsploitation films below.

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The first part of title of this blog comes from Hamlet’s angry advice to Ophelia, from Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 1:

“If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.”

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Hamlet’s essentially telling Ophelia she should become a nun in order to preserve her chastity and avoid bearing children who turn out to be “sinners.”

A “nunnery” was Elizabethan slang for “a place where nuns live,” or “a bawdy house” which — as Archie Bunker once said after smelling burning incense — “smells like a house of ill refute.”

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Nunsploitation horror films arrived on the exploitation scene roughly the same time as sub-genres like “Blaxploitation” and “sexploitation.

However, their storylines — frequently depicting ensemble female cast rivalries, or nuns joining forces in rebellion against a sinister Mother Superior nun or a priest — typically resemble the kinds of transgressive narrative storylines found in a sister genre: women-in-prison films.

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Slaves of repressed desire or overt religious devotion often sends these women characters down a pathway toward insanity, although cloistered nuns are just as often seen committing forbidden sexually-gratifying acts — even masturbation, frottage/dry humping, etc. — which turn their convents into veritable brothels, madhouses or even places where Satan ends up being worshiped instead of God.

Films like The Other Hell show that nuns even resort to witchcraft in order to gain power in the convent hierarchy.

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Italian-made Nunsploitation films went even further in the way they presented stories about murder and sexual deviancy.

We’re often told in an opening prologue sequence how a female protagonist is forced to become a nun after having been raped, or told she was sent off to a convent in an attempt to preserve the family name after her secret lover was discovered.

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One of the best examples of Nunsploitation is The Devils (1971), Ken Russell’s controversial film about a nun’s sexual obsession with a priest, which set cinematic new rules about what kinds of storylines — involving nuns and priests and sex and violence — were acceptable to show audiences.

Be sure to read our previous post about The Devils by Night Flight contributor Chris D.

Watch The Other Hell, Dark Waters and other great titles from Severin Films on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.