NOTE: Please be sure to read the more recent,
somewhat more balanced,
and much further in-depth Review of this film,
based on my liner notes for the Shriek Show DVD.
In the opening moments of this cheap, squalid little film, we find a nun wandering, lost and frightened, in the crypt of her convent. She and the camera creep slowly through the ossuary...
Suddenly a dark shape with glowing eyes rises from the gloom! "Oh, boy!" says the viewer. "Here comes the monster!" But the viewer's hopes are about to be cruelly dashed. The dark shambling thing, whatever it is, never reappears. What we do see through the rest of the film is a closeup of a paper maché devil-head, whose glowing red eyes are clearly light bulbs on a dimmer switch. Is this supposed to be the head of the monster? A gargoyle? The director's mother-in-law? Do we care??
At the end of the ossuary, the lost nun runs into the charming Sister Assunta, the convent embalmer, in her appalling little workroom. Sister Assunta is -- well, her rosary's dropped a few beads. She's two or three masses short of a Novena. Her Psalter doesn't go past 94. She travels in a pair even when she's alone. In other words,
She explains to her terrified Sister in Christ that in order to embalm a dead nun properly, you must first purify her body. She demonstrates -- by hacking out a corpse's private parts with a dagger. Then, she goes stark drooling bonkers, fondling the bloody bits in her hands and blathering on about how they are the gate to Hell (get it? She's hinting that woman's body and her carnal desires are "the other hell"). At this point, the paper maché devil-head pops up and goes, "Booga booga!" Sister Assunta begins choking (on her own performance, we imagine); and when the other nun tries to assist her, Sister Assunta stabs her repeatedly with her dagger.
This is the high point of the film, folks, in both quality and taste.
Other than the gross-out, the best this movie can summon up for a scare is having someone burst into the room, either through a door or from a coffin. This tired old trick is used three times -- once when Sister Assunta's dying body is found; once after a possessed nun develops stigmata and disappears; and even in the last seconds of the movie. Frankly, scarier things have popped through the door on a Seinfeld episode.
Other highlights include the immolation of an elderly priest. "Who's there?" he cries. "The Devil!" whispers the paper maché devil's-head, and the priest goes FOOMF! His charred head later turns up in the sanctuary.
We're also treated to some gratuitous animal cruelty: a cat is mauled by savage dogs (definitely fake), and a chicken is beheaded by the lumbering gardener (unfortunately real).
As far as the rest of the plot goes, it's drivel masquerading as the conflict between faith and reason, Dionysus and Apollo, masculine and feminine, butter or Parkay. The nuns believe it's all the work of the Devil, while Father Valerio, the priest who comes to investigate, is sure there's a rational explanation.
The "truth" is revealed to the priest through his tape recorder (which has apparently been possessed by his super-8 movie camera, because it starts showing images): it seems Mother Vincenza, as a young nun, had become pregnant (probably by the gardener) and had given birth to a child. The then-Mother Superior found out about the child and, calling it the spawn of the devil, tossed it into a pot of boiling water. Sister Vincenza rescued the child, but the incident brought on Carrie-like psychokinetic powers in the baby (Sister Carrie?). The child, played in this scene by a ridiculously unconvincing plastic doll, used her mind to kill the Mother Superior. Thereafter, Sister/Mother Vincenza went mad and raised her disfigured child in secret, all the while telling her that she is the child of the Devil.
At this point Father Valerio's tape recorder turns back into a tape recorder, whereupon Mother Vincenza comes into the room and shoves a knife into his groin.
This ushers in the poorly-paced finale, which is too dreary to describe in detail. In the end, we have both a rational and a demoniac explanation for all the goings on. Is this the filmmakers' way of saying the mystical, feminine sides of our natures can never be reconciled with the rational, masculine side? Men are from Mars, Women are from The Other Hell?
The director of this mess is credited as "Stefan Oblowski", but don't be fooled: it's the dreaded team of Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso. These are the people who inflicted Virus/Night of the Zombies/Hell of the Living Dead, Rats: Notte del Terrore and Zombi 3 on an unsuspecting world. In The Other Hell, they manage to rip off Carrie, The Exorcist, The Devils and The Omen (among others), while the music is stolen from various Goblin-scored films, including Buio Omega. And don't miss the Mario Bava riff -- the scenes in the convent attic, which almost succeed in being atmospheric and disturbing. That is, until you ask yourself: "What is a room full of dolls hanging from chains doing in a convent?"