Notorious Italian nunsploitation shocker The Other Hell might be Bruno Mattei’s best film
Even the most devout Italian horror aficionado has trouble with the oeuvre of sleaze-master director Bruno Mattei. The prolific genre-hopper (who we sadly lost in 2007) churned out some lulus in his time, downmarket greasy junk like the post-apocalyptic vermin classic Rats (starring Demons vet Geretta Geretta), the earthy and hyper-sexual The True Story of the Nun of Monza (which is like a crack-house version of a film made by Borowczyk or Pasolini) and of course, the shameless Dawn of the Dead riff Hell of the Living Dead, a goofball gorefest that cribs tons from Dawn (Mattei even kickstarted his anglo pseudonym Vincent Dawn with this film) and mashes it into a klutzy mondo film framework. The producers even licensed much of Goblin‘s score from Dawn as well, creating an unholy, disorienting effect.
Amidst Mattei’s mostly ’80s spawned series of trashterpieces sits The Other Hell, a perhaps late out of the gate nunsploitation effort (directed under the pseudonym Stefan Oblonsky) that — like most of these movies — distills the blasphempous femininity of Ken Russell’s notorious masterpiece The Devils and jacks up the sex, violence and skeez to censor-baiting extremes. But unlike most of Mattei’s stuff, The Other Hell (which, like Hell of the Living Dead is co-written by Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso) isn’t really a guilty pleasure. In fact it’s really rather good, a stylish, disturbing and strong effort with solid performances by Mattei’s The True Story of the Nun of Monza star Franca Stoppi and The Gates of Hell legend Carlo De Mejo. And, as with Hell of the Living Dead, the producers here liberally borrow key cues from Goblin’s library, specifically the music from Joe D’Amato’s Buio Omega (which Stoppi also appeared in) and, cynicism aside, it’s used really well.
When a series of deaths occur at an Italian convent, an idealistic priest (De Mejo) investigates. This doesn’t please the Mother Superior (Stoppi) who wants this sleuthing padre to leave, because she’s, y’know, stark raving mad and covering up some not so sweet secrets. Initially, the priest thinks the wanton acts of sexual and murderous hysteria are naturally occurring, something easily explained by human darkness. But the more he prowls the doll-ridden corridors of the convent, the more he suspects the supernatural is really afoot.
The Other Hell gets nasty right from the get go, with an unforgettably revolting scene in which a nun, about to perform some sort of autopsy or ritual on another dead sister while a younger nun looks on, decries that “the genitals are the gateway to evil” and begins stabbing and slicing the dead woman’s vagina before turning her blade on the other nun. All of this takes place in a dungeon beneath the convent that’s so dank and filthy you can almost smell it. In fact, this entire movie feels dirty. There’s real animal snuff here too, with the goony groundskeeper (played by Hell of the Living Dead‘s Franco Garofalo) chopping the heads off live chickens and certainly there’s enough blood and madness for 10 movies. Throw in a surprise zombie nun and the Devil himself and you have a Mattei career highlight as well as one of the most alarming films in the nunsploitation canon.
Severin’s Blu-ray presentation looks good but not TOO good. Grit and grime are present and they damn well should be as the grottier The Other Hell looks, the stronger an experience it is. Fragasso supplies an informative commentary where he shares insights into working with Mattei and refreshingly takes it all fairly seriously. Archival material includes an interview with Stoppi and interviews with Mattei and De Mejo, both no longer on this mortal coil.
The Other Hell isn’t a fun movie. It’s grim, gross, perverse and crass. But by Mattei’s dubious standards it’s the frickin’ Battleship Potemkin. Recommended.