The newest release in Kino Lorber and Redemption’s series of cult films on Blu-ray is Sergio Grieco’s Le scomunicate di San Valentino aka The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine (1974), which they released together with Enzo G. Castellari’s crime/suspense film, The Cold Eyes of Fear. By all rights, with a title referencing sinful nuns, Grieco’s film should be a solid entry in the Italian nunsploitation pantheon — at least that’s what my 16 year old self was expecting when I first sought out a bootleg of the film many years ago — but instead Grieco delivers a middling medieval drama that riffs on Romeo and Juliet and Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, with just a dash of licentiousness and Inquisition-flavored sadism.
Esteban and Lucita are determined to be together, but Don Alonso, Lucita’s father, is so intent on keeping them apart that he locks her away in the St. Valentine convent. Regardless, they plan to run away and elope, but Esteban is accused of murder and heresy and, badly wounded, must hide out in a secret room in the convent. When Lucita’s amorous roommate is also found dead, Lucita is tortured and forced to confess, then sentenced to be burned alive. Esteban vows to save her, but the depraved abbess gets in his way and a hysterical inquisitor sentences everyone in the convent to death.
Director Sergio Grieco (The Mad Dog Killer, Violence for Kicks, and co-writer of Enzo G. Castellari’s war film Inglorious Bastards) fails to deliver a truly shocking nunsploitation film of the likes of Bruno Mattei or Joe D’Amato, nor does he reach the dizzying heights of nun-themed art house films like Ken Russell’s masterpiece The Devils or Walerian Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls. There is nothing particularly wrong with The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine other than the almost unforgivable sin of tempting us with such a fantastic title and then delivering an Inquisition-period melodrama with very little sex, nudity, sadism, violence, or Satan worship.
The worst that happens here is the enraged Inquisitor orders execution by slow death for all of the convent and seals the nuns up inside. Starvation, dehydration, and insanity set in almost immediately and the nuns engage in lesbianism and some mild attempts at devil worship via a painting on the wall. Instead of following on the coattails of other nunsploitation plots, Grieco attempts to blend various elements from classical literature. Perhaps his film suffers because he takes what is essentially a genre of blasphemous softcore porn and attempts to instill some seriousness and highbrow drama. The silly sets and occasionally painful cinematography from Emore Galeassi don’t do the film any favors either.
Though the acting overall is decent, Paolo Malco (House by the Cemetery) is a boring male lead and Jenny Tamburi (The Psychic) is wasted as the passive Lucita, whose character could get into a lot more trouble than she does here if a little more attention was given to the script. Her stern father, played by Franco Ressel (Seven Deaths in a Cat’s Eye), contributes to the absolutely ridiculous surprise happy ending, where he banishes himself to a monastery for being so wrong about her love for Esteban. Bruna Beani (What the Chambermaid Saw) as Lucita’s would-be lesbian lover and Françoise Prevost (Spirits of the Dead) as the deranged abbess, the only characters who try to make this the true exploitation film it should be, are simply not given enough screen time.
As with most Kino/Redemption Blu-ray releases, The Sinful Nuns Of St. Valentine is mastered in high definition from the original 35mm negative, though Kino does a natural looking restoration without dramatically cleaning or restoring the print. Presented in an AVC encoded 2.36:1 transfer, in a resolution of 1080p, Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine certainly looks better than the previous releases, including the Redemption DVD, but still has a fair amount of age damage. Some grain and scratches are evident and there are a few scenes that look more faded and washed out than others. Over all, the detail is much clearer than the earlier releases and this is a decent Blu-ray print, particularly when you consider that this is a largely ignored Eurocult film.
There is only one LPCM Mono audio track available in Italian with English subtitles. The audio sounds decently balanced, though there is some slight age damage and occasional hissing and cracking is noticeable. The dialogue is clear enough, though chances are most U.S. viewers will be relying on the subtitles. The Italian track is certainly better than the original English dub, which is how I was first introduced to the film, but to be fair, the Italian dialogue is also a dub, as most films from this period were habitually dubbed over in a variety of languages. The decent, if very melodramatic score from Coriolano Gori sounds relatively well-mixed and doesn’t compete with the dialogue.
As with Kino and Redemption’s other recent Blu-ray release, Cold Eyes of Fear, The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine disappointingly lacks any real extras outside of some trailers. There is a trailer for the titular film, as well as some other Redemption releases like Virgin Witch, House of Whipcord, and a few others.
Though I would love to be able to recommend every nunsploitation film ever made, even I have to admit that The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine leaves a lot to be desired and is maybe only suitable for genre newbies that are afraid to dive right into the hard stuff. Though there are a few topless scenes, some murders, and a bit of torture on the rack for Lucita, this is one of the most milquetoast entries in the nunsploitation subgenre. What should have been named “The Mostly Chaste Nuns of St. Valentine” is presented on a decent Blu-ray from Kino/Redemption and is definitely an improvement on earlier prints, but due to the disappointing film and lack of special features, this is hardly a must-have in their otherwise excellent output of ‘70s and ‘80s cult cinema.
~ By Samm Deighan