Director: Enzo Milioni
Severin Films

Crowning themselves the saviors of European trash cinema, Severin Films has brought to DVD one of the more notorious sex-horror hybrids of late 1970s Italian cinema. Enzo Milioni’s SISTER OF URSULA has amassed a reputation over the years for its outrageous mix of tasteless sex and violence, but does it live up to word of mouth? In a surprising revelation, yes, and this is one of the more watchable and memorable of Severin’s recent releases!

Dagmar and her tightly-wound psychic sister Ursula travel to a beautiful beach hotel in their search for their long-missing mother, whom they want to share their recent inheritance with, but shortly upon their arrival, a mystery killer begins offing local women with a giant phallus (!). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a giant phallus. Where other gialli substitute a knife for a penis in sexually thematic murder scenes, here it’s up front and center that the killer is murdering women with, in basic terms, a penis…”his” penis.

The ensemble cast looks lost and bewildered, the plot meanders with no clear sense of direction, and the surprise reveal of the murderer’s identity is almost too much to take! Still, SISTER OF URSULA is a sleazy good time, aided by a beautiful seaside location and a very addictive theme song by Mimi Uva. In the late 1970s, the Italian horror genre was in a slump, attempting to mix the popularity of sex films with graphic blood and violence, resulting in a series of bizarre films that have been hailed as cult classics in recent years: GIALLO A VENEZIA, MALABIMBA, PATRICK LIVES AGAIN, PORNO HOLOCAUST, the list goes on. URSULA is actually one of the more restrained of these in terms of violence, but the erotic scenes are raunchy as hell (with some obviously hardcore oral sex), and get a load of that Freudian weapon! You don’t really see it in action, but shots of naked female bodies with bloody crotches give the general horrific idea of its use (!). The pacing is a tad off in-between the murder and sex scenes thanks to plentiful soap operatic subplots, with only some nice photography and ludicrous dialogue really holding the audience’s attention, but thankfully the film remains consistent in its sleazy aesthetic to become a minor Eurotrash classic certainly worth a rental to see if it’s your cup of tea.

This poor cast. Just watch these actors try to work. Barbara Magnolfi (SUSPIRIA) and Stefania D’Amario (ZOMBIE) both look extremely uncomfortable throughout the film, as if they’re really slumming to even show up on the set that day, let alone perform on-camera. D’Amario is a long way from her familiar role as the frumpy nurse in Fulci’s classic, and is in fact much more eye-catching here than she would be in later films. Her out-of-left-field masturbation scene with a gold chain given to her by an admirer is unbelievable! Magnolfi, on the other hand, is less memorable than she was as the mysterious student in SUSPIRIA, and her unexpected nude scenes are awkwardly filmed and far from sexy. At least she seems to be kind of enjoying her manic outbursts. Another familiar face, the late Marc Porel, seems to have shown up here to score some easy money as a red herring heroin addict gigolo (reportedly not far from his off-screen persona). Yvonne Harlow, as ‘Stella Shining’ (nice name for a lackluster cabaret performer), is a striking, voluptuous blonde, but she has a hard time lip-synching to the English theme song’s lyrics, to the viewer’s delight. All things considered, URSULA is no prize-winner or one of the better Italian shockers coming out of the industry of the time, but it’s a pretty entertaining and singular viewing experience.

For a film that has languished on third-generation bootleg lists for years, SISTER OF URSULA looks great! After some graininess and washed-out color during the opening credits, the film cleans up nicely after all these years, with a solid color palette, a clean, crisp image, and properly letterboxed (with anamorphic enhancement) at 1.85:1. The Italian language track, presented with optional English subtitles, is beautifully rendered.

A garish Italian trailer (with welcome English subtitles) is included, with all of the key nude scenes spotlighted for exploitation purposes, and director Enzo Milioni, who did little else of note, appears for a 30-minute interview to answer every question you may have about this sordid little chiller. He thankfully doesn’t have any false pride in the film, realizing its limitations while giving background on the film’s conception (to make money for a more legitimate feature with Dirk Bogarde that was never made), the picturesque locations at a hotel on the Amalfi coast, cast members Barbara Magnolfi and Marc Porel (who were a married couple at the time), Stefania D’Amorio, Yvonne Harlow (who made the outrageous claim of being Jean Harlow’s great-granddaughter!), and Anna Zinnemann (a producer’s wife), composer Mimi Uva, a release version with unauthorized hardcore inserts, and shooting being disrupted by the discovery of politician Aldo Moro’s body. You even get a peek at the actual wooden phallus from the film, which Milioni still has in his collection! It’s a quite insightful chat with Milioni, and the perfect compliment to a truly bizarre feature. I do hope the supplement producers put him back in touch with Barbara Magnolfi, who he professes great love for and believes has disappeared (she can be found on MySpace and through her official website). (Casey Scott)