THE OTHER HELL (1981) Blu-ray
Directors: Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso
Severin Films

Severin Films gets to the root of all Catholic evil with their Blu-ray of the gory nunsploitation horror flick THE OTHER HELL.

After the bizarre murders of Sister Christina and unbalanced embalmer Sister Assunta (Paola Montenero, BAY OF BLOOD) in the catacombs, the convent of Mother Vincenza (Franco Stoppi, BEYOND THE DARKNESS) is investigated by Padre Inardo (Andrea Aureli, DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING) who needs very little convincing that the place is in need of an exorcism. When he meets a fiery end and his charred head is discovered in the tabernacle, "ecclesiastical detective" Father Valerio (Carlo de Mejo, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) conducts his own investigations. While Mother Vincenza fervently believes that the convent is under attack by the devil, Father Valerio believes the mounting murders to be the work of a sick mind concealing a terrible secret possibly related to the death of the previous Mother Superior.

One of a pair of 1980s-era nunsploitation films, THE OTHER HELL was shot back-to-back with THE TRUE STORY OF THE NUN OF MONZA (the source story of which proved a popular source for nunsploitation films) by Bruno Mattei (STRIKE COMMANDO) – who signed both films as "Stefan Oblowsky", and an uncredited Claudio Fragasso (TROLL 2) – THE OTHER HELL's poster artwork and font suggest a cash-in on Dario Argento's INFERNO (with which it shares certain imagery, albeit executed here with less style) while the plot itself seems like a sleazy, supernatural mish-mash of THE NAME OF THE ROSE and AGNES OF GOD (then a stage play) with a side of CARRIE. The potentially interesting thriller angle of sexual repression (this is the one of the two films without any nudity), pregnancy of a nun being interpreted as the result of congress with the devil ("The genitals are the door to evil," cries Sister Assunta), abortion, and sexual mutilation resulting both in a number of murders possibly committed by a faceless nun (the initial murder-suicide could possibly the result of the hysteria whipped up by Mother Vincenza) is scuttled by proof of the supernatural with stigmatic nuns, an LED-light glowing-eyed devil, spontaneous combustion, and telekinesis. Indeed, the film drags through the middle as Valerio investigates the secrets of the order while the odd-eyed obvious red herring Franco Garafalo (HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) is not sinister enough to be the devil in the guise of a lusty gardener (in the commentary, co-director Fragasso remarks that his character lives too long). Approached as another bizarro Bruno Mattei effort, however, THE OTHER HELL possesses some atmospheric sequences, another wonderful scenery-chewing performance by Stoppi, a suitably hysterical tone, and special effects that are laughable yet still highly entertaining. The score is a compilation of existing Goblin cues, with the opening credits citing the Goblin albums "Roller" (the source for cues for the soundtrack of the Italian version of George Romero's MARTIN) and "Il Fantastico viaggio del bagarozzo Mark" but the most recognizable cues are sourced from the Goblin score for Joe D'Amato's BEYOND THE DARKNESS (which also starred Stoppi). BURIAL GROUND's Simone Matioli appears in the coda sequence.

Not released theatrically until 1985 by Motion Picture Marketing offshoot Film Concept Group (BURIAL GROUND, THE CRAVING, RATS: NIGHTS OF TERROR) as GUARDIAN OF HELL, the film made it to VHS soon after from Vestron Video under its original title. Shriek Show's 2003 DVD was sourced from the film's original 16mm negative. Although the company had a shoddy track record with authoring errors and disc rot, they did their best with THE OTHER HELL's transfer, giving it a high bitrate, dual-layer encode that could not make up for the blooming highlights, sickly skintones, and murky night exteriors and catacomb scenes. Deeming the 16mm negative now unusable, Severin Films has transferred the film from a 35mm blow-up intermediate element for their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen encode. The element is not free from damage with the occasional scratches and chips (as well as a transparent vertical band evident during the dinner sequence) and grain is considerably heavier but white highlights and red gel lighting is more stable (in the case of the former, you can actually see that the faceless nun's white cloth mask is semi-transparent) while the darker scenes are still murky but slightly less so. It is doubtful that the film could look significantly better on home video even with some additional minor digital clean-up. Audio options include the English dub as well as French and Italian tracks in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono. The optional English subtitles follow the English track but contain some transcription errors ("enormous cauldrons" is rendered as "in almost cauldrons"). As with the DVD edition, THE END card appears at the fade out (although in a different font) whereas it actually appeared before the final scare on the Vestron tape.

Ported over from the French Neo Publishing DVD is an audio commentary by co-director Fragasso, moderated by Federico Caddeo in Italian with English subtitles (one of several recorded for Italian releases from this French company that we hope to see translated for stateside editions). Fragasso reveals that he shot eighty percent of the film while Mattei was working on the upper floors of the same location shooting the MONZA film (Fragasso does make the error of saying that he was shooting this film in 35mm and Mattei shooting MONZA in 16mm). THE OTHER HELL was an afterthought to use the same location and shoot at the same time, so Fragasso came up with what he describes as "CARRIE in a convent." He provides some cheeky responses to Caddeo's questions, chuckles over the "exaggerated acting," notes what he would do differently now, and admits that the "charm of the movie decreases" during the section of Valerio's investigation. He also claims that the mechanical bat seen in the film was an early creation of Sergio Stivaletti (whose first professional assignment was Riccardo Freda's MURDER OBSESSION the same year) and that the long shots of Padre Inardo on fire were pasted in from Charles Gray's fiery death scene from Richard Marquand's THE LEGACY.

"Sister Franca" (13:13) is an archival interview with actress Stoppi (who died in 2011) in which she recalls being offered the film before BEYOND THE DARKNESS was released, shooting the two films at the same time while also doing a stage production in the evenings, working with de Mejo and Garafalo, and her objection to the scenes of animal violence (in later years she was an animal rights advocate). The Shriek Show DVD featured separate interviews with Mattei (8:37) and de Mejo (10:15), "To Hell and Back" (11:22) combines the two as they discuss the locations used for the film, the contributions of Mattei and Fragasso, and their subsequent collaboration on BLADE VIOLENT (also with Stoppi). De Mejo also recalls some of the other cast members like ex-girlfriend Montenero and Francesca Carmeno who had a rock band at the time, as well as Aureli and Garafalo (who Mattei reveals used a double in the scene where his character had to cut off a chicken's head). When asked about the Goblin score, Mattei – who was a friend of Cinevox proucer Carlo Bixio – claims that Goblin did the score whereas Fragasso on the commentary cops to it being a compilation of exiting Goblin tracks. The theatrical trailer (3:34) is also included, although framed at 1.66:1 while the Shriek Show version was 1.33:1. The front cover reproduces the UK Interlight Video artwork while the reverse reproduces the Vestron artwork from the US. (Eric Cotenas)