The Other Hell (1981) / Dark Waters (1994) Blu-rays Review: Breaking Bad Habits

The various subgenres of exploitation filmmaking are both wild and varied, ranging from bizarre tales featuring Bruce Lee wannabes to brutal barrages upon the senses having to do with the Nazis. In addition to Bruceploitation and Nazisploitation, there’s also sexploitation, blaxploitation, ‘Namsploitation, and even sharksploitation to consider. And they’re all a lot more popular than you probably think, too. But hidden away in the darkest recesses of cinema, there’s yet another form of exploitation film that could effectively eradicate any remaining scruples of the morbidly inclined. I refer to, of course, the weird and wacky world of Nunsploitation.

If you loved Sister Act or thought Nasty Habits was a little too insensitive, you may want to quit reading this now, because Severin Films has not only unearthed one, but two gory and unforgiving titles from one of the most controversial exploitation subgenres ever conceived.

Truly, there is no better place to begin this journey than with The Other Hell (L’altro inferno), a 1981 slice of bloody Italian cheese as deliriously conceived and executed by one of Italian cinema’s most notorious repeat offenders: Bruno Mattei. Best known for some of the worst movies ever, the late Bruno Mattei was the kind of feller who generously borrowed stories, dialogue, and sometimes even footage from other movies in order to create his own, mind-numbing mash-ups which ‒ incredibly ‒ often took on their own unique form of rip-off artistry; the likes of which even Quentin Tarantino would have a hard time competing with.

Although Mattei’s oddly enjoyable form of filmmaking would itself wane as the years went by (his latter-day output, such as when he would stoop to ripping off Italian Cannibal movies for the Japanese home video market), his earlier work represented his best. In fact, Bruno Mattei’s The Other Hell is almost just sublime enough to be considered and hailed as something that slightly resembles masterfulness on his part ‒ a most generous claim considering he shot this film the same year he released no fewer than five features in total! But don’t get me wrong, though, kids: The Other Hell still manages to live up to its title admirably well.

Imagine being stuck at your great aunt’s rural home with little more than a few old jigsaw puzzles with many missing pieces at your disposal. At first, it’s just frustrating and annoying. But then, as a spark of madness sets in from the extreme boredom you’ve been suffering from throughout, you begin to give up on the hopes of making it work “the right way,” choosing instead to make it work your way. Pieces from other puzzles start to find themselves placed in spots where they clearly don’t go, eventually forming something that concerns (of straight up horrifies) everyone around you, but which has become a glorious work of anti-art in your eyes.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is perhaps the best way to describe The Other Hell.

“Borrowing” elements from nearly every other horror movie made within the last eight years or so, from Argento’s Suspiria to Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, and from American horror flicks such as Carrie and The Exorcist (as well as some movies that shamelessly mimicked the aforementioned flicks, as Bruno Mattei was never too proud to rip off a rip-off!), The Other Hell focuses on the outrageous antics of an isolated convent in the country which appears to have welcomed Satan into its midst. After several sisters suffer bizarre and explicit demises, an unconventional young priest with a completely different perspective of good and evil is sent in to investigate.

And it is perhaps the casting of Carlo De Mejo as the young priest in question which gives The Other Hell most of its buoyancy. One of the most charismatic actors to appear in Italian horror movies (including several of Lucio Fulci best gore-fests; he even had one of the few dignified roles in Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination), Carlo’s moments on-screen ‒ whether he’s recording the minutes of his investigation into a vintage Akai VT-100 while simultaneously downing a fifth of booze or deftly defying death at the hands of Satan and his many evil minions ‒ boast a certain amount of dignity. Even if the movie he’s appearing in has no dignity whatsoever.

Another notable facet of Mattei’s The Other Hell is a catchy music score courtesy of legendary Italian progressive rock group Goblin. Well, perhaps “courtesy” is the wrong word to use in this instance, since Bruno didn’t actually bother paying the group to use their music, blatantly stealing tracks from four different Goblin albums (Roller, Il Fantastico viaggio del bagarozzo Mark, Beyond the Darkness, and their score from the Italian release of Patrick). Worse still, it wasn’t the first time Bruno committed such a crime. In fact, he did it the year before on his other Hell, his 1980 Dawn of the Dead rip-off, Hell of the Living Dead, without the actual permission of the famous band itself!

Franca Stoppi, the deranged housekeeper of Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness (why stop at stealing just the music when you can get the cast, too?) stars as the equally nutty prioress of Mattei’s completely insane, utterly bewildering descent into depravity. Franco Garofalo (aka Frank Garfield), who played the crazy bug-eyed SWAT guy in Hell of the Living Dead has a smaller role here as a creepy caretaker; Paola Montenero, Ornella Picozzi, Andrea Aureli, and an uncredited Tom Felleghy also appear in this depraved outing, which was co-written (and co-directed) by Bruno’s longtime production partner Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2).

Previously released on DVD by Shriek Show/Media Blasters, Severin Films’ new Blu-ray release of The Other Hell is, much like the film in question, a mixed bag of tricks. Culled from a recently discovered 35mm print reportedly discovered behind a false wall in a nunnery (oh, those kooky, kinky Italians!), this is undoubtedly the best The Other Hell has ever looked better. At the same time, it has never looked darker, as the print used for most of this transfer (and I say “most” as I noticed several upscaled inserts from other sources) is not as bright as the old DVD. In some spots, that is ‒ it varies overall. But it’s still a big improvement.

But then, you really can’t expect perfection in a cheap Italian cash-in that was filmed in 16mm to begin with, so please accept this new Blu-ray as “it” for now. What’s more, we get three audio options to contend with here: English, French, and Italian LPCM 2.0 mono (please note: the volume on the English track is much lower than the others, so watch out if you feel like switching tracks while the movie is in motion), with one set of English subs to accommodate all three audio options. An Italian-language audio commentary with Claudio Fragasso and Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddeo (from a French DVD) is included with its own optional subtitle track.

Additional special features for The Other Hell include a “newer” interview with actress Franca Stoppi, who became an animal rights activist following her tenure in Italian horror movies before passing away in 2011. Another interview featurette with Bruno Mattei and Carlo De Mejo ‒ who also left this world in 2007 and 2015, respectively ‒ has been patched together from two separate interviews from the old Shriek Show disc. Lastly on the disc is the export (English) trailer for the film, which is a wonderful alternative to anyone who doesn’t feel up to immersing themselves in an entire barrel of sleazy, shameless sin for a full 88 and 1/12 minutes.

Of course, if you feel like staying in that barrel for twice the amount of time, don’t worry: Severin Films has got you covered with another Italian nunsploitation horror classic making its debut on Blu-ray. This time, it’s the Italian/Russian/British co-production Dark Waters (Temnye vody) from short filmmaker Mariano Baino (not to be confused with the J-horror flick Dark Water recently released to BD by Arrow Video). And while pairing this criminally neglected, creepy little flick with Bruno Mattei’s The Other Hell may seem like sacrilege in itself, it is actually quite complimentary ‒ as it is practically its polar opposite.

Filmed on the unsettling shores of the Ukraine immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, the little-known Dark Waters stars an equally obscure Louise Salter (who popped up as a vampiress in Interview with the Vampire the following year) as its determined ‒ if tragically naïve ‒ heroine. Following the death of her father, young Englishwoman Elizabeth (the sultry Salter) travels to a convent on a very remote island, where her she was told her mother died giving birth to her. Though the surroundings make it feel like it could very well be the edge of the world, the proceedings of the locale are more akin to something resembling the end of it.

And with as many dark forces at play as there are on this island, it very well could prove to be the unraveling of mankind if Elizabeth doesn’t figure out what’s going on in time. In the meantime, however, the young lass copes with an abundance of creepy nuns, atmospheric catacombs, and a couple of moments that will probably swear you off of sushi for a good week or two. Filmed for what must have been next to nothing, the truly remarkable Dark Waters has all of the heart and atmosphere a grandiose production from the early ’80s would have been given, which is particularly astonishing since the European film industry had all but crashed by this point.

Nevertheless, the all but green Baino manages to execute his Lovecraftian-esque tale of dreamy surreal horror, beginning with an extremely impressive shot of a flooding church. And we learn all about said sequence in one of the many special features Severin Films has included for this Blu-ray release, most (if not all) of which have been provided by Mariano Baino himself. In fact, this Dark Waters Blu-ray could also be viewed as a very overdue video résumé from Signori Baino, as it includes three of his short films and music videos from his limited filmography as well, along with some behind-the-scenes featurettes about the same.

Several deleted scenes and outtakes (many of the extras have been carried over from the discontinued NoShame Films SD-DVD release) make Severin’s beautiful 4k transfer from the original 35mm negative look all the more magnificent; as opposed to the movie looking like a soap opera whenever clips of it are seen in the bonus materials. The Dolby Digital 2.0 English soundtrack reveals another peculiarity: Dark Waters appears to have actually been filmed with sound ‒ something Italian productions rarely did ‒ as many of the local co-stars speak in broken English. As such, you may need to switch on the included optional (SDH) subtitles.

Strangely enough, I don’t think I had ever heard of Dark Waters before this viewing. Sadly, I am not alone in that pool, which is quite a pity: Mariano Baino’s only feature film deserves a look from classic and contemporary horror hounds alike. Plus, it will seem like first class art after watching The Other Hell, so consider that a bonus! Granted, the film’s budget really shows towards the climax of the movie, but I’ll take rubber prosthetics over CGI any day. Just don’t ask me to choose between The Other Hell and Dark Waters, for despite their many, many differences, both movies are quite good ‒ even if one of them is appalling on every conceivable level (especially spiritually).

Break out the holy spirits and enjoy the two sides of nunsploitation horror, kids.

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Luigi Bastardo

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