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DIRECTED BY: Gilberto Martínez Solares
FEATURING: Cecilia Pezet, Enrique Rocha, Delia Magaña
PLOT: Sister Maria is a nun at a convent whose tranquil life of devotion is disrupted by a seductive male stalker who claims to be Lucifer.
COMMENTS: Boy, where to start? Satanico Pandemonium is a Mexican mid-70s nunsploitation flick which exemplifies the very heart of grindhouse cinema. Once you see it, you know why Quentin Tarantino named Salma Hayek‘s one-scene character in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) after this movie. Add to that one more credential: director Solares is said to have been inspired by Ken Russell‘s The Devils (1971), so at least he had some taste. For one more point in this movie’s favor, it came out two years after The Exorcist and did NOT try to copy it! Resisting the Devil’s temptations is peanuts compared to that kind of restraint.
Next, I have to say that this is an unexpectedly pretty movie! Filming in Eastmancolor brings out the baby blue nun outfits, the green foliage of the countryside of Mexico, and of course the cherry-red blood that will be spilled. The filming locations, several convents around Mexico including World Heritage site Dominico de la Natividad in Tepoztlán, are also a treat. The casting even has a visible plan, even if the acting lets it down. With her syrupy brown eyes and pouty face, Cecilia Pezet (Sister Maria) is very nearly the Winona Rider of her day, while Enrique Rocha (Luzbel) is just the right roguish kind of handsome rake for his role. If any face can melt the knickers off a nun, it’s Rocha’s. I’m so busy enjoying the eye candy in this film that it’s a shame to pay attention to the plot.
Oh yes, the plot. Sister Maria is a devout nun in a Mexican convent who is not only a spiritual leader second to Mother Superior, but the convent’s resident veterinarian and doctor, too. Seemingly everybody comes to her with their problems. Between a sick cow one minute or a sister coming to her to confess carnal desires for another woman the next, it’s all a gal can do to get in some topless self-flagellation kneeling at her prayer bench in her room. Bless her heart, she tries. But she has a problem of her own: a sinister man appears to her out of nowhere, symbolic offering of an apple in hand, insistently introducing himself as Luzbel/Lucifer/Mephisto. See, that’s the problem with the Devil, he can’t just pick one name and stick to it. Luzbel is trying to seduce Maria into sin through temptations of the flesh, and Maria’s gotta fight hard to stay in the Jesus club.
The film leaves us wondering how much of all this is real, whether it’s an actual Satanic manifestation, a symbolic telling of the real-life sexual tension between ordinary mortals, or something going on entirely in Maria’s head. We see almost the entire story from her point of view, which tends to be interrupted by visions, dreams, freak-outs, etc. We can be certain of two things: 1) the experience is corrupting Maria at a rapid pace, and 2) life at this convent is steadily going to Hell in a handbasket with every passing minute. Maria’s problems become everybody’s problems. Without spoiling it, let’s just say, “prepare to be jolted.” Especially in a cheap way.
Even the jolts don’t qualify Satanico Pandemonium as a weird movie. It is first of all a nunsploitation flick, with plenty of boob-fondling to make sure you don’t forget it. The one thing you learn from this movie is how to take off a nun outfit and put it back on and take it off again. It goes out of its way to be shocking in places, but as a grindhouse movie filmed in Mexico in the 1970s, the shocks come mostly from viewing it across a cultural divide over the border and a few decades’ time. Even though Satanico Pandemonium is well-crafted in visual appeal and pacing, it’s a fast and sloppy budget production that will leave many a plot hole uncorked if you think about it too hard. Except for a couple of brilliant scenes, weirdophiles won’t find much here, but it’s still a delight for its vintage grindhouse charm. Just remember, you could have watched another Ken Russel freakfest by now.
Mondo Macabro’s 2020 Blu-ray release is an upgrade of their 2005 DVD and comes with a surprising amount of extras, including audio commentary from film historians Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger and a featurette on the history of nunsploitation films.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…has everything a good nunsploitation film should have and then some… All of this weirdness is wrapped up in a very attractive package in terms of the film’s cinematography.”–Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (DVD)