[Blu-ray Reviews] So There Was This ‘Killer Nun,’ ‘Terror Experiment’ & Some ‘Wicker Tree’…

KILLER NUN
Considering its notoriety, being banned from Britain and all, I’m letdown by how inoffensive Killer Nun ends up being. The film opens on a promising note during the opening scene in which a severely pissed off nun confesses her appetite for bloodlust. It seemingly sets the stage for 88 minutes of utter depravity. Based on true events, Killer Nun is about Sister Gertrude, a drug-addicted head nurse at a convent hospital who grows increasingly psychotic. Her erratic behaviour begins to affect the lives of the patients surrounding her. We get sexual degradation, sadistic murder, criminal negligence and some softcore action. All of these ingredients combined read like the perfect recipe for exploitation ecstasy…well, you’d think anyways. The problem here is that not a whole lot happens in Killer Nun and when it does, I was indifferent to the supposed shock value exposed on display. For the most part, what hurt the film for me is the plodding pace. Even during the climax where things should hit its natural breaking point, I was kind of bored. The best thing going for Killer Nun is the nun herself played by Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita). She seems to be revelling in the high camp potential of the premise. Unfortunately everyone else isn’t on the same page. Never thought a film titled Killer Nun would end up being so damn reserved and mild-mannered. One could only imagine what a filmmaker of the likes of David Cronenberg or Brian De Palma could have done with this material. A lost opportunity for certain.

Grain is thankfully present throughout this 1080p transfer. Colour and fine detail see a nice uptick from previous editions. DNR-obsessed studios can learn a thing or two about film preservation from Blue Underground’s consistently faithful remastering work. We get both an English and Italian DTS-HD Mono soundtrack. The sound is as clean and dynamic as you’re ever going to get for a 33-year old exploitation flick. I doubt the fantastic Morriconish score has ever sounded this good. Aside from the Trailer, Poster and Still Gallery, there is the usual inclusion of an interview. This informative 14-minute supplement features co-writer/director Giulio Berruti as he talks about the true story that inspired the film, the initial production, as well as the controversy that plagued the film after its release.

2.5/5 Skulls

THE WICKER TREE
It’s a sad fact that a great deal of people were introduced to The Wicker Man in the form of the hideous (but the finest “so bad, it’s good” comedy of the last 10 years) 2006 remake starring the incomparable, Nicolas Cage. The best you can hope from a reboot is the hope that it attracts a new audience to the original. I’m convinced Writer/Director Neil LaBute’s reimagining had the opposite effect.

33 years later, Writer/Director Robin Hardy returns with The Wicker Tree, a companion piece to the 1973 original. Aside from a very brief cameo by the great Christopher Lee, who may or may not be reprising Lord Summerisle, the film is its own separate entity. Hardy is exploring the same thematic elements, sticks to a structure fairly close to The Wicker Man, all with a more apparent darkly comedic tone. At the same time, he explores the material with a more “modern” sensibility by way of new protagonists, Beth Boothby, a successful Britney Spears type pop singer and her fiancé, Steve Thompson, an equally devout evangelical Christian. They’re of course, Texans and are touring Scotland to spread the word of the gospel to the uninitiated. Like the original’s Sergeant Howie (the late, great Edward Woodward), these naive do-gooders are unsuspectingly lured into a village where they’ll be faced with a fate worse than death. While I’m warm to the new angle, Hardy’s actual realization of these characters comes off as caricatures, which is no more apparent than in the embarrassing faux pop music video. It would never pass as a real music video by anyone’s standards. I’m all for satires but if you’re going to spoof something, take it to the extreme. These characters faintly resemble the types being satirized. Hardy just comes across as out of touch like many veteran filmmakers (George A. Romero’s characters from Survival of the Dead spring to mind). As for the intentional humour, it sadly falls flat. I ended up admiring the film’s eccentricity rather than enjoying it. I believe The Wicker Man is infinitely more successful at dark comedy by wisely keeping it subtly lingering in the background.

By treading closely to the source, The Wicker Tree only reminded me of what made the original so effective. Disappointingly, this follow-up just comes off as a noble but pale forgery. Here’s hoping Cage realizes his out of left field vision of makinga set-in-Japan sequel to his remake in which he reprises his character…as a ghost. At the very least, it should make for a more intriguing film than the official sequel we’re now stuck with.

The Wicker Tree was shot with the ever popular Red One camera. For the most part, it’s visually pleasing but at no fault of Anchor Bay’s transfer, I found on occasion an inconsistent shot here and there that reminded me I was watching a low budget film. As for the Dolby TrueHD 5.1, it’s pretty unremarkable. Even more unimpressive is the so-called special features, which contains a mediocre “making of” featurette and about 12 minutes of not-so-surprising collection of deleted scenes.

2/5 Skulls

THE TERROR EXPERIMENT
The Terror Experiment contains all of the attributes of your “classic” Sci-Fy channel-like feature. Painfully apparent CG. Check. Has-been ensemble (Jason London, Robert Carradine, Judd Nelson and C. Thomas Howell). Check. Like most of these films, it tries to capitalize on the flavour of the week which I guess at the time of its inception was Quarantine. Like that REC remake, the plot revolves around an instant zombie maker virus that’s unleashed onto the poor inhabitants of a Federal Building. According to the director, the story was inspired by the Oklahoma City Bombing. Nobel intentions notwithstanding, this is the same old knock-off with the lame cover artwork displayed on the shelves of those relics known as video stores.

Even at a slim 82 minutes, I found The Terror Experiment to be a chore to sit through. Every camera set-up, straight-faced performance and earnest attempt at plot and character development comes across with all the enthusiasm of a half-baked tortoise. Actually for better or worse, Jason London appears to be the only one delivering anything resembling a committed effort. Bottom line; if you find most of these prosaic sci-fi/horror B-pictures entertaining for whatever reason, knock yourself out. Personally, I’ve already spent more time writing this review than I cared to.

This HD-shot feature contains solid detail and colours but never escapes that videoish look that plagues most low budget horror. The vividness of the image only helps to highlight the poor production value and CGI work. The insert advertises a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix but what we’re stuck with is just your plain lossy Dolby Digital audio. Not sure if the uneventful sound design would have benefited from an upgrade so I’m not too unhappy in this department. The only special feature included is a bland running commentary with Executive Producer/Director George Mendeluk (not sure why his forgettable filmography warranted his name billed on the cover art). It’s one of those tracks where the filmmaker spends a chunk of time enthusiastically pointing out the oh-so-obvious CGI effects.

1/5 Skulls