Directed by Nigel Wingrove
United Kingdom/2000-72 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided by Redemption Video
Article written by Heather Drain
Sexual repression and religion are two things that go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Such a combination has resulted in some of the best art and worst atrocities for oceans of time. Catholicism in particular has spawned some of our biggest madmen and best artists. (And yes that is a line that gets blurry quick.) When you think Catholic, you probably think of one of the Church’s most striking images, the Nun. Brides of Christ dressed in stark black and white habits, vowing to remain completely celibate and faithful to the Savior. Naturally the image of a grown woman whose body is a pure, chaste vessel has inspired many a pervert’s imagination. This is where the Nunsploitation genre comes in. But porn trappings aside, it’s more than just a lewd fantasy. Exploitation art in general is often about stripping down taboos and exploring the forbidden fruit. And for a Catholic, what is more forbidden than a Nun’s sexuality?
While Nunsploitation has roots in such serious movie fare like the tortured classic BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), its flourishing period was in the 1970’s in Europe, especially the predominantly religious countries. By the time the 80’s hit, one of the most infamous subgenres had really started to peter out, but its long-term still pops up, with one of the most recent entries being Nigel Wingrove’s SACRED FLESH.
Now Wingrove is no stranger to provocative imagery and blending the sacred with the profane. In addition to doing pin-up with religious themed photos for magazines like Skin 2, he also is responsible for running Redemption Films, which coincidentally (or not) has released a number of classic Nunsploitation films. H even helmed the once banned short film VISIONS OF EXTASY (1989) that centers on St. Teresa of Avila’s psychosexual visions. So needless to say, Wingrove was more than prepared to contribute some new blood to the slightly dusty genre.
The plot is simple enough. The Mother Superior (Sally Tremaine) of a medieval nunnery is possessed by intense visions of Mary Magdalene (Kristina Bill) as an acerbic whore who is in cahoots with the great horned one. The truth, however, is she’s been pushed to the edge by her own sexual demons, not to mention the near-legion amount of nuns surrounding her that have all given into the sins of the flesh and then some. In between personal anguish and sexy shenanigans, there is commentary courtesy of the Abbot, Father Henry (Simon Hill) about how unnatural it is to suppress sexual urges, especially for young women. In fact some of the best dialogue outside of the Mother Superior is between Henry and the Abbess (Moyna Cope.)
That’s about it but what SACRED FLESH lacks in a detailed plot it more than makes up for it with style and ambition. Visually this is a gorgeous film. Wingrove’s background in photography really shines here, especially when it comes to lighting and sets. The exteriors are lush, though having the outside of the Knebworth House, which dates back to the 1400’s, doesn’t hurt. Even the more basic interior shots are brightened with some brilliant lighting that adds some striking but never garish color. Soft pinks and blues make the skin tones look all the more rich and give an almost glamorous flavor to the girls indulging in their very human nature. It’s telling that the most chaotic sex scene features the strongest and brightest colors. It should also be mentioned that there are some brilliant uses of superimposition throughout, especially during the first lengthy sex scene.
The story is fairy tale simple but the undercurrent of thought is not. There’s an obvious effort to keep the dialogue halfway historically accurate while offering some smart thoughts on religion versus biological issues. Is it the work of the Devil or just humans doing what they are meant to do?
But in a weird twist, it’s this ambition that almost works against the film because it is just too short. There’s plenty of sex to please the sleaze film hound, but there’s enough shame and complex emotion that begs for a longer running time to further explore some of the characters, especially Mother Superior. It helps that Tremaine is quite good here and very aptly handles what could have been a two-note character.
Some of the supporting players are good too, especially Moses Rockman as the saucy young lad Richard, Eileen Daly as the scabby looking Repression, and the great Christopher Adamson as the corrupt Father Peter. (Leave it to a dude named Peter!) It’s especially fun seeing Adamson and Daly in the same film after starring together in 1998’s RAZORBLADE SMILE. (Coincidentally, RAZORBLADE’s director Jake West is responsible for some of the editing duties here, including the gorgeous title sequence.) Seriously, people need to give more love to both Daly and Adamson cause they are always uniformly great in everything.
The flesh quotient is pretty heavy with some borderline X scenes, which is no surprise since there are a number of adult industry women playing the more luridly inclined sisters. This would explain the anachronistic amount of boob jobs and landing strips featured. (Though the winner for the most historically inappropriate use of groomed pubic hair still goes to PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE.) The girls are all gorgeous though and if you love unfettered female flesh, then you will be a happy camper.
If you’re looking for extras, there is plenty to peruse here, including a Director’s Commentary, multiple stills gallery, tons of trailers, and a fun little documentary on Nunsploitation. The only thing missing is Wingrove’s infamous short, VISIONS OF EXTASY, which was the only film to be banned in the UK on the grounds of blasphemy alone. That ban has since been lifted and the snippets that we’re given in the documentary look amazing. Given how short SACRED FLESH is, there is definitely room for an 18 minutes short film.
While it’s no THE DEVILS, though
nothing really is, SACRED FLESH, is a well-made film
with some texture that is well worth watching for any brave viewer out