Sacred Flesh (1999) Sacred Flesh (1999/2000) -*

Is it hurting, Mother Superior? Is your chastity bringing you closer to God? Is it allowing you to suffer, to wallow in the devotional damnation offered by so many cloistered couplings? For isn’t your reality a kind of pious paradise, where rank hypocrisy and ecclesiastical dogma fuse in a kind of perverse display of gratuitous abstinence?

     That’s Mary Magdalene (Kristina Bill) talking— or at any rate, a hallucination of Mary Magdalene— disputing with the mad Mother Superior of a Medieval convent (Sally Tremaine) in the depths of the latter woman’s disordered mind. It’s also, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, something that no one could possibly say without sounding like they’re reading it off of cue cards. This whole movie is like that, too. The best way I can think of to describe Sacred Flesh is to invite you to imagine Ayn Rand reincarnated as a New Atheist internet troll with a worldview-defining hate-boner for the Roman Catholic Church, and also as a male goth with an intense fetish for nuns. The film is a tiresome, thudding screed against Catholic notions of sexual purity in general, and against the institution of women’s monasticism in particular, couched in the form of a direct-to-video nunsploitation throwback.

     So we’ve already established that Mother Superior has gone off her rocker. She’s locked herself away in her cloister, which she has festooned all over with presumably devil-repelling crucifixes, to do spiritual battle with hallucinatory beings representing the conflicted aspects of her tortured psyche. In one corner is Mary Magdalene, seated imperiously upon a gilded throne and attended by a cringing, nude devil-girl (Laura Plair). Mary embodies Mother Superior’s powers of reason— but the deranged nun inevitably interprets her as the personification of temptation and sinful rebellion against the divine will instead. And in the other corner are a skeletal nun and a green-dreadlocked whatsit (one of them played by Spider’s Rachel Taggart, and the other by Eileen Daly, from Karl the Butcher vs. Axe and Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft), identified in the credits as “Piety” and “Repression.” Just don’t ask me which is which, since Sacred Flesh takes a philosophical stance in which piety and repression are mutually indistinguishable anyway. Mary Magdalene, as per the above, harangues Mother Superior about the dysfunctionality of the Catholic obsession with female virginity, while the other two allegorical phantoms badger her about sin and oath-keeping and the terrible narrowness of the sole route to salvation. Mother Superior generally sides with Piety and Repression, but Mary Magdalene does the most yakking, bolstering her argument with case studies drawn from the confessions of the convent’s lesser inmates, whose unfulfilled and unfulfillable sexual desires have led them into various Sapphic perversions. Meanwhile, in what I’d be tempted to call a subplot if it ever amounted to anything, a priest called Father Henry (Zone 39’s Simon Hill) comes to investigate rumors of sexual hysteria spreading through the convent, but mostly just follows the old abbess (Moyna Cope) around gabbing about how maybe convents were never a good idea in the first place. Father Henry also brings along a peasant servant named Richard (Moses Rockman), and he spends the bulk of the movie gadding about with a girl from the nearby village (Emily Booth, of Evil Aliens and Cradle of Fear), who I guess is meant to exemplify in her unabashed earthiness a non-neurotic model of female sexual expression.

     So basically what we have here is a crassly shrill polemic masquerading as a kinky, dark skin flick. Overall, I’d say Sacred Flesh averages out to about three and a half long-winded speeches for every sex scene, and has no plot at all for most practical purposes. The carnal conduct at least enjoys the advantage of being pretty explicit by turn-of-the-century standards, although it’s also so determinedly fetishistic that it’s likely to leave viewers who don’t share the fetish cold. It isn’t just lesbian nuns I’m talking about, either. Writer/director Nigel Wingrove unmistakably gets off on the nuns’ vestments themselves, scoring a habit equal to bare flesh for generating arousal, and a wimple specifically a good deal higher. Now I like a good bit of blasphemy as much as the next Hellbound deviant, but I also prefer my adulterous brides of Christ to doff the penguin costumes at some point. To me (and to most other people, I suspect), a wimple is just another marcher in the Roman Catholic Church’s endless parade of silly hats, so it does nothing extra for me to see girls getting it on while wearing them. And as I said, in order even to get to the sexy stuff, Wingrove forces you to slog through a lot of sanctimonious speechifying from basically everyone in the film— even Richard and his peasant gal-pal. Although I was intrigued to learn that somebody had made a nunsploitation movie almost twenty years after the rest of the world gave up on the genre, I’d be lying if I said I expected Sacred Flesh to be much better than this. I never guessed that it would be so goddamned preachy, however.



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