Trust the blasphemous Nigel Wingrove to come up with a contemporary nunsploitation classic sure to generate relentless controversy and titillation. A hero to some people and yet a villain to others, Wingrove has been at the vanguard of the fight against the British censorship for the past 16 years. After the BBFC rejected Visions of Ecstasy in 1990, Nigel found himself losing his home and most of his possessions in an attempt to fund an appeal. He then created the Redemption video label to get himself out of this mess, but the blasphemy and religious imagery associated with Visions of Ecstasy has been stuck ever since. He has now delightfully spanked the Redemption fanatic with the wicked Satanic Sluts, the decadent She Bitches and the depraved pornographic titles released under the Asphyxiation video label. While Mary Whitehouse is turning in her grave right now as I speak, we as the corrupted horror fans are clicking on the checkout sign of our favourite DVD supplier in anticipation of receiving our daily dosage of fornicating nuns and big-titted vampires willing to suck our nutritious blood...when not wanting to suck other things, of course.

Sacred Flesh concerns the abnormal sexual fantasies and repressed desires of middle-aged nun called Sister Elizabeth - a Mother Superior who has thus far lived a life of chastity and abstinence inside a medieval abbey. Sister Elizabeth (Sally Tremaine) is a deeply religious woman who has been accusing her fellow sisters of committing licentious acts of sexual blasphemy within the abbey walls. The Sister tries in vain to prevent herself from succumbing to the same fate, fearing the reaction of her merciless God and horrified by the torments of hell that would torture her thereafter. Her behaviour becomes increasingly hysterical and frightening.

Sister Elizabeth locks herself away from the rest of the world and is subsequently haunted by hallucinogenic visions in which she has her monastic convictions challenged by two supernatural beings. The vision that is most prominent is the one featuring Mary Magdalene (Kristina Bill) and a red devil. In this vision, Sister Elizabeth is encouraged to reach beyond her vows of chastity and to open her mind to the sexual urges that lurk within us all. Needless to say, Sister Elizabeth is greatly distressed by these visions. She lacks the mental power and persuasion which is needed to convince Mary Magdalene that her principles are incorrect. The debate between them rages on throughout most of the film, with Sister Elizabeth falling ever more into a state of turmoil. The Abbess of the abbey (Moyna Cope) believes Sister Elizabeth is possessed by some sort of demon. She writes an urgent letter to the Abbot (Simon Hill) who then journeys to the abbey to see what he can do. The Abbot, however, is not exactly sympathetic towards purportedly possessed nuns. He persistently jokes about their fall from grace and blames their possession on their unsatisfied desires to fornicate with men.

Things take a turn for the worse when Sister Elizabeth is harassed even further by a skeletal 'Death Nun' and a green demon inside a more nightmarish vision. Sister Elizabeth is commanded by the Death Nun to remain fixed in her Christian beliefs and to stay true to her vows of chastity. The Death Nun alludes to the fiery torments of hell as the requisite punishment for sinners and heretics who have abstained from the path of God.

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene forces Sister Elizabeth to relive the sexual profanity committed by her fellow sisters. These fantasies vary from gentle masturbation to sadomasochism, from domination to sexual violence. The fantasies themselves become increasingly violent and explicit as the film goes on, climaxing with a blasphemous scene of orgiastic excess. Each fantasy lures Sister Elizabeth away from the grace of God and to the brink of eternal perdition. She is told by Mary Magdalene that repression leads to sin, but told by the Death Nun that repression leads to God. Her anguish and descent into madness is shown in excruciating detail and we the viewer journey with her to the gate of misery itself.

Sacred Flesh is based in Medieval England - a time of religious hysteria and belief in demonic possession. Many innocent women around this period were unjustifiably demonised as witches and consequently burned at the stake following days of torture and flagellation. Serial killers on the European continent (such as Peter Stubbe and Gilles Garnier) were vilified by the public as satanic werewolves after women were found ripped apart and partially eaten. Supposedly chaste nuns partaking in sexual acts inside a convent were often thought to be possessed by devils or demons. People in society genuinely believed that a supernatural force was possessing humans committing inhuman acts; no human with a moral conscience would even consider committing such deeds of slaughter and vulgarity. Many people also thought that Satan himself wandered the countryside in an attempt to kidnap vulnerable men and women, dragging them into the bowels of hell where they were to be tortured with fire and brimstone for all eternity. So-called witnesses often told terrifying stories of the devil riding a black horse through haunted forests, followed by hordes of bloodthirsty hounds wailing like injured demons. Night time ejaculations were blamed on the succubus, a female spirit that stole semen from men when they were asleep. Most of the victims caught up in this era of mass hysteria were vulnerable women and eccentric old ladies. The patriarchal church at the time considered all women subservient beings and cited the serpent tempting Eve as the cause for their submissive status.

The devil has almost always been considered a male creature. He seduces women and has sex with them at witches sabbaths. Hence the reason why it has almost always been women who were possessed by the devil or his demonic army; almost always women who were burned at the stake for stealing babies and slaughtering them at sabbaths; almost always women who were responsible for igniting sexual desire within men and causing them to rape and murder when in the form of a werewolf; almost always women who were vampires leaving their tombs at night to suck the blood of their relatives, infecting them with a supernatural illness and causing inevitable death; almost always women who were responsible for giving men licentious dreams and eliciting night-time ejaculations which many thought was stolen to produce demonic babies. The list goes on and on. The medieval epoch was a horrific time and an exercise in utter human evil.

We can now understand why the male characters in Sacred Flesh (especially the Abbot) were in essence misogynistic bastards, jesting at the tales of possessed nuns and criticising them as immoral beings wanting to fornicate with men. With this repressed sexual energy flourishing through the convent and contaminating the very thoughts of the sexually curious nuns, mass hysteria spread like wildfire, enticing fellow nuns into committing acts sexual blasphemy that the Abbess thought was the work of the devil. Could instances of abuse and hysteria within the Catholic Church be avoided if priests, nuns, and monks are allowed to participate in sexual intercourse or masturbation? Should repressing one's sexual desires be an obligation when serving one's God? Sacred Flesh may be a contemporary sexploitation film flooded with female nudity and sexual shenanigans, but Nigel Wingrove forces you to confront these questions while exposing the hypocrisy of the patriarchal church that is still being promoted today as 'moral' and 'just'. No wonder this film created so much controversy, especially here in sexually repressed Britain.

Sacred Flesh also contains disturbing scenes of sacrilege and suicide. One scene in particular borders on sexual violence with a nun being molested by Father Peter. Other scenes border on sadomasochism.

As with most other nunsploitation films, Sacred Flesh has an artistic side that attempts to convey a convincing story of ecclesiastical misogyny. However, Sacred Flesh also has an exploitive side. Most of the film is submerged with nuns fondling their voluptuous breasts and exposing their shaved genitalia in remonstrative acts against the Christian church. This ambiguity (artistic and exploitive) might alienate some viewers, but it doesn't mitigate the essential message the film is trying to convey.

The only criticism I have regarding Sacred Flesh is the rather poor acting by Simon Hill. The acting by the female cast, on the other hand, is extremely convincing with top marks awarded to all. Credit especially must be given to Moyna Cope for playing the Abbess. She performs her role with an extreme finesse that comes across as authentic and persuasive. Sally Tremaine as the Mother Superior was also elegantly played. Her plight into a world of sexual and violent fantasy was nightmarish and completely unnerving. Nigel Wingrove's direction caught her mannerisms in such a way that you cannot help but think you are genuinely watching the depressing fall of a nun all the way to the bowels of hell itself. The disturbing characters of the 'death nun' vision assisted this authenticity further. Eileen Daly from Razor Blade Smile makes a noticeable appearance as a green-skinned demon, gloatingly tormenting Mother Superior about death and sin and sending her crazy with confusion and agitation. The outcome of this agony is as shocking as it is surreal.

Sacred Flesh is a beautifully shot nunsploitation film with striking colours smashing through the immense shadows and swathing the entire picture with a surreal aura. It is quite obvious that Nigel Wingrove was influenced by the artistic vision of Jean Rollin in Requiem for a Vampire and Shiver of the Vampire - perhaps even Dario Argento in Suspiria. The combination of the fornicating nuns and beautifully lit dungeons is incredibly mesmerising and stunning to watch. Along with Wingrove's virtuoso directing skills and authentic costume design, the sex scenes in Sacred Flesh go beyond the realms of softcore porn and borders on actual erotica. Although we might visualise the image of a nun as an innocent-looking virgin with pure values and strict servitude towards God, the nuns in Sacred Flesh are intensely sexual beings aching to satiate their carnal desires and eager to enact their fantasies of domination and masturbation.

This DVD offers a 16:9 widescreen transfer with bright colours and deep blacks. The Dolby Digital Stereo audio is sharp and clear. No complaints here.

There are some insightful extras on this disc that comprise of two trailers - a theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer (the teaser trailer showing more explicit material than the former). A nice, colourful stills gallery with many photographs exposing the exhaustive efforts that went into shooting the film. An extended gallery of publicity material (video and DVD covers) and behind-the-scenes pictures. The most interesting extra, however, is the nightmarish collection of drawings sketched before Sacred Flesh went into production. Finally, there is some contact information and an in-depth look at Redemption Films merchandise, ranging from vampire magazines to Satanic Slut posters. According to the back of the DVD cover, there is should be an audio commentary somewhere with Nigel Wingrove. I have failed to find it despite searching the whole disc.

Overall, Sacred Flesh is a fabulous nunsploitation picture with clever direction and fantastic light production. Each scene oscillates between delectable nuns stripping and massaging their bodies and heavy philosophical discussions between Mary Magdalene and Mother Superior in regards to the negatives and positives of religious celibacy. An extremely haunting picture and one with a collection of sexual nuns doing everything that will shock and corrupt the righteous Christian. Sacred Flesh is a modern sexploitation classic!


Reviewed by Pryce

Released by Salvation Films
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review