Satanico Pandemonium (1975)

From bride of Christ to slave of Satan.
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Satanico Pandemonium: From Bride of Christ to Slave of Satan

Distribution company Mondo Macabro are eminently reliable purveyors of lurid, rare world cinema and - praise the Lord - Mexican flick Satanico Pandemonium (AKA La Sexorcista) is no exception. All the ingredients for a one-off viewing experience are there: nuns both clothed and unclothed, blood, lesbianism, oh, and a guest appearance by Old Scratch himself. How's that for a checklist?

The film follows the career of one Sister Maria (Cecilia Pezet), a model of purity in her isolated community deep in the mountains of Mexico. But, as she enjoys a stroll through God's Green Earth one day she is intercepted by - horror - a naked man, who greets her by name. Shocked, she makes for a wayside shrine and hopes that a quick prayer will put things right, but unfortunately for Maria it looks as though this encounter is just the beginning of a lot of sordid goings-on. The same man soon approaches her again, albeit clothed this time, and offers her an apple (see what they've done there?) And so, her battle with sin begins.

Maria returns to the convent and goes about her business but the persistent chap with the apple heads there too, and the way in which he keeps appearing and disappearing - leaving an apple as his calling-card - seems to suggest he has supernatural abilities. Poor Maria resorts to scourging herself as a distraction, but getting topless and bloody actually makes it worse; another nun who is hiding in her cell seduces her, before turning into - yes, him again. Maria is being tempted by none other than the Devil himself, and he wants her to lead her convent into sin. By now Maria's resistance to evil is fading fast, and her newfound taste for wickedness means that she quickly begins to progress along that path... seducing a shepherd, trying it on with other nuns, lying to the Mother Superior, and killing innocents. She even takes up smoking!

Although, as I mentioned, many of the hallmarks of classic exploitation film are there, lead actress Cecilia Pezet - who has nearly all the screen-time - is quite in earnest in this role. Like a lot of good cult movie actresses, such as Dyanne Thorne, neither copious nudity nor a demented premise stops her from giving a decent performance and the fact that the film is not played just for laughs sets up an interesting contrast with the zany goings-on. It also allows Maria to be more than a two-dimensional figure, and you find yourself sympathising with her plight, even when she is up to no good. And, as in fellow Mexican nunsploitation flick Alucarda (1978), there seems to be a genuine spark behind the anti-Catholic diatribes spoken by the lead character here, no doubt indicative of the fact that both films were made in such a staunchly Catholic country. The Church may have offered Maria and her fellow sisters salvation, but the possibilities of sin are also investigated with a demented level of imagination, and the escalating events make for an intriguing piece of cinema.

The entire film just screams 1970s throughout with its vivid, high colours (another impeccable transfer from Mondo), psychedelic music and trippy sequences. And the character of Lucifer makes a delightfully camp addition to the cast, especially in the 70s batwing collars and red spandex outfits: hey, even the Devil has to keep up to date. Although there is far more suggested violence in this film than there is shown, violence when it does come is pretty nasty. Maria's imagined fate at the hands of the Inquisition is short, but brutal - and another example of the way in which the film can shift between real-time and dream-time, carrying the audience along wherever it chooses to go. The end sequence manages to be both ahead of its time and, even as a finale to an already odd film, unsurpassed in its hallucinogenic strangeness. Satanico Pandemonium is an undeniably fun, well-made and yet completely over-the-top masterpiece of nunsploitation cinema: check out the film from which Salma Hayek took her character's name in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).

The Mondo release boasts some great extras: a mini-documentary on Satanico Pandemonium, a documentary on nunsploitation cinema, plus stills galleries, some text pages and trailers.
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