Italy | 1978
Directed by Enzo Milioni
Barbara Magnolfi
Stefania D'Amario

Anna Zinnemann
| 95 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC)
Severin Films
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    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
While vacationing with her sister, Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi) has a premonition of her own death; simultaneously, a mysterious killer is knocking off the guests as their seaside hotel...
Beginning with the release of Mario Bava's seminal The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) and Blood and Black Lace (1964), the Italian giallo established itself as a colorful and perverse variation on the mystery-thriller genre. Bava's early efforts set the standard, but it was up to Dario Argento to take the genre to its commercial peak with a series of stylish gialli in the early-to-mid 70s, notably The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Deep Red (1975). Argento's success spawned a daunting volume of imitations, ranging from the excellent (Paolo Cavara's Black Belly of the Tarantula, 1971) to the dire. Enzo Milioni's Sister of Ursula falls firmly into that latter category.
    Devised, according to its director, as a simple-minded commercial venture to ensure financing for a more lofty 'serious' film pegged to star Dirk Bogarde, Valentina Cortese and Gabrielle Ferzetti, the project marked an inauspicious debut for Milioni. The story parrots Argento's use of vaguely paranormal tropes, but much of its running time is devoted to gratuitous sex. The murders are few and far between, and none of them pack any appreciable impact, but the notion of the killer's favored weapon is memorably kinky: a well-endowed phallus that literally tears the female victim's innards into coleslaw. Perhaps fortunately, Milioni opts not to dwell on the details of the evisceration in any graphic detail, limiting the gore quotient to a few posed tableaux of the nude victims dabbed with blood in their genital region.
    This distasteful bit of sadism to one side, the film is more concerned with bumping and grinding than it is with violence. There is graphic full frontal nudity male and female, for once aplenty, with pretty Stefania D'Amario (best known for her role as Richard Johnson's doe-eyed assistant in Lucio Fulci's Zombie, 1979) disrobing at the drop of a hat. Gorgeous Barbara Magnolfi (the bitchy dancer in Argento's Suspiria, 1977) doesn't participate in any of the sex scenes, and her nudity is limited to some discreet views of her breast when it slips free of her night gown. More's the pity, really, since her character is so ill-developed and disagreeable that it makes it impossible to care what happens to her. D'Amario fares somewhat better at least she's painted in a more sympathetic manner but her performance is strictly functional; at one point she masturbates with a necklace for no particular reason (watch out for those sharp edges!). It's all for the sake of art, no doubt, but the extended lovemaking sessions, scored with monotonous sleazy jazz, are staged with little enthusiasm and generate little, if any, heat. The opening sex scene, with a very attractive and nicely full-figured starlet simulating fellatio, is one of the few scenes to generate any enthusiasm. Among the supporting cast, "guest star" Marc Porel (Don't Torture a Duckling, The Psychic) is on hand for much more screen time than his special billing would indicate; by this time, the actor was in the throes of drug addiction that would eventually claim his life far too prematurely, but he's still an amiable and engaging performer.
    Milioni's handling of the material is completely flat. The cinematography is dull and overly bright, robbing the film of any possible atmosphere, and the jazz/synth score by Mimi Uva sounds more appropriate for a hardcore spectacular than a giallo; a song, titled "Eyes," must have been pegged for hit single status as it gets way too much play. Though far from the absolute bottom of the giallo barrel, Sister of Ursula is still decidedly lower tier rabid genre enthusiasts will want to give it a spin, of course, but don't go in expecting something along the lines of Bava, Argento, Fulci or even Sergio Martino.

Severin's release of The Sister of Ursula continues their track record of giving second-rate films first-rate releases. That's a bit of an exaggeration, of course they have indeed tackled some excellent films, notably their Fulci releases but it does seem a shame to give a film like this such a nice release while other, better gialli languish in semi-oblivion. That said, Severin cannot be faulted for their transfer. The film looks as good as the cinematography will allow. Colors appear accurately rendered, detail is reasonably sharp and print damage is fleeting. (It should be noted that the opening credits look inferior to the remainder of the feature.) The film is said to be fully uncut, though there are a few odd jump cuts that said, this could just be bad editing. The 1.85 transfer is enhanced for widescreen TVs; compositions look balanced and correct. The Italian mono soundtrack is clean and clear, and the removable English subtitles are easy to read. (The tendency to refer to sex as "shagging," however, seems a bit incongruous in such a sleazy picture.)
Extras include a spoiler-filled theatrical trailer (also in 1.85) and a half-hour interview with the director. Milioni comes across as a down-to-earth and likable guy, so much so that it almost makes one feel guilty for not liking his film. 4/23/08