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Flavia The Heretic

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Posted 5th April 2009 at 08:18 PM by Sam@Cult Labs

Flavia the Heretic

Delving into the mire of Euro-sleaze and exploitation can dredge up some reprehensible, taboo busting sub-genre's of film and there's nothing quite so troubling than the Catholic baiting wonder of a full bodied Nunsploitation flick.

At their best these glorious examples of sacrilegious cinema attack the church on an intellectual level as well as filling their running time with enough sex, nudity and torture as possible. It's little wonder that the epicentre of this kind of heretical filmmaking was Italy, the spiritual home of Catholicism.

After the world wide success of Ken Russell's The Devils, an art film that pushed the boundaries of acceptability with it's marauding, nymphomaniacal sisters raping effigies of Christ and Oliver Reed as a horny priest with a libertine streak and a permanent erection. True to form, the exploitation movie producers saw an opening in the market for films that combined soft porn, horror and a healthy dose of irreligious church baiting. After all, horror is by it's very nature a genre that must test it's audience's limits in order to succeed. What better way to shake up the sensibilities of an Italian or Spanish crowd than to lampoon and insult a church that is central to the lives of a large percentage of the audience. For lapsed Catholics throughout Europe in the 70s, the Nunsploitation genre must have offered a lot of illicit thrills as one sat in the flickering darkness of a low heeled fleapit.

Alongside the Nazi Exploitation films of the same era, which again often came from Italy where Fascism took hold in the 1920s , the cycle of Nun films are a strange and fascinating chapter in the history of extreme cinema, one which holds surprising and jaw dropping visual rewards for film fans with strong stomachs, loose morals or a healthy disregard for religious dogma.

Flavia the Heretic is an example of Nunsploitation with a message. Ok. it's a rather preachy, heavy handed point about the folly of conceding to god fearing rhetoric and allowing those with power to break you down, mixed in with a big dose of by-numbers 70s feminism that sits rather oddly with the films 1400s setting, but, the message is still there...Among the flaying, pig sty rape attacks, crotch-to-head spear impaling, horse castrations, ecstatic sexual frenzy and eroticized dream sequences.

In the film, Flavia is a woman forced into a life of virginity and sacrifice by her rich father. Becoming a Nun, she at first allows the convent to dominate her will, acting out the role of the good little sister. But the turn of events makes her confront her own feelings of rage and revenge. After seeing the new lord of the land rape a young girl in front of her, she harsh witnesses the treatment of a young novice, who becomes possessed by a weird sex cult called the Tarantulas, at the hands of priests and torturers (The unfortunate girl loses a nipple...), Flavia runs away with a local Jewish man she has befriended, only to be caught and lashed.

After her return she befriends the twisted aging lesbian nun Agatha, a woman half crazy and bent on anarchy. So mad that she thinks she could be the next pope, this wired old lady stirs up trouble and makes Flavia realize that the way of the Heretic is her only escape.

So when a traveling band of Moslem warriors led by a handsome prince arrives, she beds their leader and takes them to attack the nunnery. When the place is at her command, she drugs the nuns and they are whipped into a sexual frenzy. Wild!

Flavia is played by Florinda Bolkan (familiar to cult film fans from two Lucio Fulci Giallo flicks, Don't Torture a Duckling and Lizard in a Woman's Skin), who approaches the role with gusto and commitment. Even though the film is pure exploitation, Bolkan's performance shows a real connection with the material and the message, elevating the sometimes odd dialogue and general sleaziness of the material.

Obviously, political correctness has altered what is acceptable in the movies these days, so a fleeing population screaming "The Moslems are coming! The Moslems are coming! "probably wouldn't cut it today, but it did raise an unintentional, albeit nervous, titter in our house. The film is vehement in it's condemnation of all faiths, whether it's the heathen pillaging of the films Islamic aggressors, the weak willed, meek Israelites ("What can I do, I am but a Jew..." is a representative line) or the rampant hypocrisy, sexual repression and total corruption of the Christians, no religion is left unscathed. Those of a sensitive nature when it comes to sacrilege (or equestrian neutering) in all it's forms would do well to avoid this one...

Raising the film still further above it's grimier contemporaries is it's haunting score, a mixture of religious themes and dreamy softcore lounge, and expert cinematography, that puts this on a different plane to fun, sex and shock exercises like The Killer Nun or The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine. Decent performances that shine through the sometimes off putting dubbing, good attention to period details and an edge-of-your-seat atmosphere where you really don't know what nasty path the films is going to take you down next, combine to create a genuine classic in a genre that by it's very nature garners little respect.
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