Guardian of Hell
Say your prayers.
Year of Release: 1981
Also Known As: L'altro inferno, The Other Hell, The Presence
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 89 minutes (1:29)
Director: Bruno Mattei
Franca Stoppi ... Mother Vincenza
Carlo De Mejo ... Father Valerio
Francesca Carmeno ... Elisa
Andrea Aureli ... Father Inardo
Franco Garofalo ... Boris
Susan Forget ... Sister Rosaria
Paola Montenero ... Sister Assunta
Tom Felleghy ... The Bishop (uncredited)
When a brutal series of murders plague a convent, a priest is brought in to investigate the tragedies, as well as exorcise any evil spirits. As the remaining nuns become increasingly disturbed, he must wonder; is this the work of a psychopath, or that of the devil?
Guardian of Hell, remindin' us that as long as you're wearin' a cross heavy enough to bludgeon an Angus bull to death, you can try drownin' a baby in a pot of boilin' water an still be considered a hero to the Italians. I dunno about anybody else, but that seems like a pretty drastic course of action to take, unless maybe you personally bore witness to the baby's mother makin' the sign of the double-barreled squat thrust with the red guy. But as far as I'm concerned, if you're a nun an didn't try stoppin' it, there aughta be some kinda penalty for the observer based upon how long they watched it go on, an more importantly, how much jealousy they experienced durin' the show. I guess after 20+ years without makin' a stop at the ole Jiffy Lube to get your fluids checked, sometimes your hormones can get the better of you.
An speakin' of people who got the shaft, Skunky Hernandez' clutchin' my last four hours of community service tight as he can like they're the third an final wish granted to 'im by some genie who popped outta that old railroad lantern he's got hangin' in his barn. So with that still hangin' over my head like the cloud of funk that follows Skunky everywhere he goes, Cleave Furguson an I figured on headin' out to Lake Gunkamucka to do some catfishin'. Normally we take Shankles with us cause he likes to chow down on the trash fish we toss up on the bank an helps keep the place from turnin' into a Hitchcock movie. Plus he likes to play with that goofy ole muskrat that ain't been right ever since he caught a five ounce sinker right between the eyes. I'd bring Apollo too, but he pretty well destroys the fishin' an the last time we brought 'im I ended up stayin' up half the night pickin' leeches off of 'im like a babysitter peelin' half dissolved Jolly Ranchers outta the shag carpet after snack time. But anyway, we'd been fishin' awhile an'd just about hit our limits, when Amos Anderson stopped at our spot so he could adjust his hat a little bit an stand beside Cleave's crummy with his arms folded an ask: "you boys havin' any luck over 'ere?" For you city slickers readin', that's game warden code for "show me your licenses before I confiscate your Wonder Boners." So we went ahead an showed 'im our licenses an he was just about to take off, since by that time Shankles was hangin' from a tree branch like a wind chime with the fish head farts an generally not fosterin' the idea of company, cept then Cleave gets this really pitiful bite an starts reelin' his line up so he can detach what's no doubt an uppity crawdad. An of course, bein' that Amos' only other course of action was to call it a day an go home to his shriekin' harpy of a wife, he sticks around to see what Cleave's haulin' in... which turns out to be an endangered Bull Trout that hadn't been recorded in Lake Gunkamucka since 1962. I guess you prolly already know what happened next; Amos immediately goes apeshit an fumbles around with Cleave's line for the better part of a minute tryin' to get the little booger loose an back into the water, an now the lake's off limits until the Department of Fish and Wildlife can conduct a survey to determine how many Bull Trout per cubic foot they got out there, an whether they needa start buildin' little fish condominiums an pipin' in Barry White music to encourage a population increase. Kinda funny when you think about it, cause if Amos'd married Carol Maynard instead of Nan "the raging cuss" Barnabas like everybody in the county told 'im to, he'd have actually wanted to get home to his wife, an thus would never have seen the fish. Still, I ain't real worried about it, cause Saul an Blaine Schwartzberg'll prolly bribe the DF&W director to get 'er open again on account of the stock in Lake Gunkamucka bein' pretty critical to the entire left side of the menu at The Rural Mural, but who knows how long it'll take for the wheels of injustice to turn. Some days it just don't pay to get outta the hide-a-bed.
Suffice to say, the catfish fillets were a little bittersweet that night. But at least I had a semi-decent flick on the TV while I was packin' 'em away this week, cause Guardian of Hell is without a doubt the greatest nunsploitation flick ever made to utilize the screenwritin' stylings of the guy who directed Troll 2. Seriously, give that man a cast that he can actually communicate with an just try to stop 'im. An if you know Claudio like I know Claudio, you'd better believe this kinda educational opportunity comes seldom in a lifetime, so try to keep your eyes open for these Fragassian factoids. They just might change your life. First thing Claudio makes abundantly clear, is that God really aughta be more careful about who he gives the stigmata to. Cause if you pick a hemophiliac, not only do they make real lousy messengers, but you're also makin' a heck of a mess for the dry cleaners. Second, nuns share a magnetic polarity with pews, doors, an anything else made of wood. This quirk of nature lends itself perfectly to the "corpse nailed to the door" scare, an makes them ideal characters for a horror flick. An third, preachin' forgiveness is one thing, but goin' into a full on lip-lock with the daughter of Satan within moments of meetin' 'er could be considered treasonous behavior by the big guy. Never change, Claudio. But if I could be serious for a minute, there's somethin' I wanna say to all the ladies readin'. Now I realize that, provided you attended public school above the Mason-Dixon line, you've heard what I'm about to say before durin' Health class in high school, but I think a refresher course is in order. It is, of course, a well documented fact that men will say anything for five minutes alone with your penis pocket. That much I'm sure is still abundantly clear no matter how long ago sex-ed class was, which is due in no small part to the constant reminder known as "last call" where all you're left with is a buncha guys who look like that rotten head of cabbage buried in your vegetable crisper. But Satan is a whole 'nother animal, an he's far more dangerous an cunning than these single bedroom apartment dwellers. He knows when you're vulnerable, drunk, or readin' the steamier portions of a romance novel, an he knows all the right things to say to put you in the mood to get nude. Maybe he'll promise you a nice place overlookin' the cesspool or somethin', an before you know what happened you're gettin' the mark of the beast permanently bruised into your taint.
Now you're prolly thinkin', "this can't happen to me, right?" Yeah, sure, just like it couldn't happen to Mia Farrow, Juliet Mills, an whoever gave birth to Fred Phelps. You've gotta be prepared when ole hot pants shows up an starts tryin' to pitch-fork your naughty spot, or you're gonna end up givin' birth to a little goat boy an be constantly hassled by religious groups, daytime TV hosts, and an unending parade of maternity suits from Calibos. Doesn't sound so great, does it? So now that I've got your attention, I'd like to make you aware of some of the things you're likely to hear once the Tempter gets you down to nothin' but your smile, cause that'll be your last chance to avoid endin' up on Judge Wapner's Animal Court fightin' a custody battle with Pan. "I don't wanna wear that, an besides, it'll just melt anyway." This is a common misconception. It's hot in Hell, yes, but if his member really was hot as an ember, the heat would've killed his swimmers by now, an since we've all seen Rosemary's Baby we know better'n that. Next one to watch out for is "I have a latex allergy." This one's a little tougher to deal with, as it requires foresight on your part. So what I recommend is tellin' 'im you've gotta blast a greasy dump before the action gets underway, an stuff your own prophylactical protection up in there while he's waitin'. Won't take you more'n about 10 seconds to realize he's full of it, at which point you should feel free to proceed accordin' to what your own moral compass tells you. For instance, if you're not big on bein' lied to, you might wanna palm the nose hair trimmers while you're in the bathroom in case you feel like gettin' stabby later. An the last example I have to prepare you for, is the ever fiendish "I've had a vasectomy" defense. This one's pretty simple really, if he gives you that line you just ask to see the incision scars, an be sure to make it clear that if you don't find any, you might hafta install your own via the phony lacquered fingernails you've got glued onto your testicle terrorizers. In conclusion, I realize that you're all mature, modern women an figure you can take care of yourselves under any circumstances without some man tellin' you how to do your thing, so if you refuse to heed my advice I'll understand. Just be aware that I might not be able to restrain myself from offerin' your little bundle of joy a handful of alfalfa sprouts the next time I see you at the demons only changin' table.
The movie begins with this nun (Assunta) creepin' around the cave of Dunharrow lookin' for Aragorn, Gimli an Legolas, til she comes to this catacomb that looks like the kinda place you'd expect the Cryptkeeper to move to if his stock portfolio ever tanked. Inside is Italy's secret underground water bong laboratory, an this wild-eyed nun (Kristina) who's showin' 'er assistant how to perform an autopsy. Least that's what she's doin' before she goes gonzo an starts installin' a "Y" incision in a place that's already got one, an proceeds to give the corpse a total hysterectomy cause she's pretty sure Satan's been in there befoulin' things up. Then she opens up this coffin where she's storin' another corpse while she waits for Anthropophagus to haul it off, an explains that said corpse is what happens to Mother Superiors who can't handle the workload an end up goin' on pogo stick rides with strange men just to get through the day. But about that time the lights go out an this skull with laser pointers inside starts force chokin' Kristina, til (an while) she shanks 'er assistant to death. Course, that squealer Assunta runs back to the chapel an tells Mama Super (Vincenza) what happened, an Mama ends up goin' down to the crypt an gettin' bloodier'n the convent's only toilet seat when she pops open the coffin' an gets glopped an flopped on by the assistant's corpse. Pretty sure this is why hospitals use scrubs. Then Mama Super hoses off an leads everybody inside to praise Jesus an tell 'im nice things about Kristina an 'er assistant so he'll put in a good word with Saint Peter, cause frankly, when those two get to the pearly gates there's gonna be a long list of sinnin' with inanimate objects to discuss. But before they can dig into their spaghetti an meatball bounty, Padre Inardo shows up an one of the nuns starts namin' names an outin' Belial for throwin' wild sorority parties an gettin' their congregation killed with poorly thought out initiation rituals, while Mama sits there gettin' more'n more P.O.'d watchin' 'er chances for advancement go down the ole toilet. Then Inardo heads to his room to fill out his "how we doin'?" survey that the kitchen staff gave 'im, til he starts bein' plagued by these noises that sound like someone's repeatedly slammin' a pterodactyl's head in a car door, his desk igniting, all the 100 watt bulbs in his readin' lamps explodin' like a west Texas meth lab, an this blasphemous bat who flies into the room an starts furiously humpin' his graven image of Christ on the cross.
The next mornin', Inardo heads to the chapel an starts passin' out the sacred Ritz crackers to try wardin' off the presence of Satan an any lurking Keebler representatives, only about that time one of the nuns (Rosaria) has a severe gingivitis attack an starts bleedin' all over 'er habit an hasta run out into the courtyard to beg this groundskeeper who looks like Anthony Hopkins for help. Anthony's gotta trim another 16 hedges by lunch an can't be bothered, so the other nuns haul 'er butt back inside an shout dogma at 'er til she goes deaf, an end up havin' to lock 'er up after she starts growin' rock moss on 'er lips. While that's goin' on, Inardo's splashin' holy water around like a sacrilegious starling takin' a swim in the church font, cept before he can make it up to the attic an locate the communal dildo cache, Rosaria starts gettin' a whole lotta stigmata an everybody hasta go back downstairs an see what in the name of Damian's dildonic desecration of damnation defiant damsels is goin' on. Unfortunately, they're a tad too late, an by the time they get inside, Rosaria's been tacked to 'er closet door like a Farrah Fawcett poster, so Inardo figures he'd better go talk to the cardinal an put in for an exorcism permit, only the cardinal tells 'im that exorcisms only work in the movies an that he's gonna hafta bench 'im for bein' too old fashioned. Inardo tells 'im that his new guy's gonna get pitchforked right in his pedantic pantaloons, an that he'll be happy to take over again once the position opens back up. So the new guy (Valerio) heads out to the convent to try figurin' out which one of the nuns has taken to penetratin' 'er fellow sisters in a decidedly more sinful fashion than usual, an by the time he gets there the nuns're all gathered in the courtyard burnin' the furniture cause they think the devil's invaded the sanctity of their end tables an corrupted their ottoman. Valerio thinks they're hidin' either evidence of their guilt or residual orgy fluids, an tells Mama that he's gonna get to the bottom of things if he hasta raid every night stand in the convent. So he sets out to look around the place, til he comes across the catacombs an observes some nutty old bat carvin' out a liver for 'erself with another corpse an decides this prolly ain't the best time to question 'er an leaves one of those "sorry we missed you" notes hangin' on the doorknob.
Meanwhile, outside, Inardo shows up an wanders around until he ends up in the attic where a buncha racists've been lynchin' mannequins for the last eight years an leavin' 'em hangin' from the ceilin'. Then he heads downstairs where this P.O.'d cat is loungin', an when he tries scoldin' it for leavin' a piddle on the rug, some carnival firebreather who's taken up residence near the kindling rack sends a hurricane force gale outta the fireplace an roasts Inardo like a boar on a spit. Elsewhere, Valerio wakes up in his room sufferin' from religious sympathy pains an finds a recordin' on his reel to reel from some chick wantin' to confess 'er sins. So once Valerio fumbles around tryin' to find his collar an chugs a coupla Rockstar energy drinks, he heads down to the confessional an listens to some saintly babe tell 'im that she thinks she loves 'im but she ain't so sure of a love there is no cure for, cept before he can get 'er room number she says that "she" wants 'im dead an spits a demonic party horn through the window screen before runnin' like an advertiser from the Duggars. The next mornin', Valerio's just about had his fill of all the clowns in this nunhouse an walks right up to Mama in the middle of 'er choir leadin' duties to tell 'er off, only before he can do it she catches 'im starin' at 'er holy moleys an he hasta flee in shame when he loses his nerve. Fortunately, he doesn't have to live with said shame for too long, cause when he heads over to the chapel to do some communionizin' he finds Inardo's head stashed in the little cabinet where they keep the sacramental wine an the Wheat Thins, an all the nuns start makin' faces like some British guy just dropped by an used the holy water font for a bidet. So now Valerio really needs a coupla scotches an a chat with the cardinal, only by now the cardinal's startin' to think maybe Inardo was right about the place turnin' into Satan's heavy pettin' zoo, an Valerio tells the cardinal to give 'im one more shot at it cause he wants to audition for The Real World an show these nuns what happens when Padres stop bein' polite. The cardinal says that's alright with him cause he's got a whole stack of bishops that he's gotta get listed on the sex offender registry anyway, an so Valerio heads back to the convent an starts shakin' down all the nuns' cells til one of 'em tattles to Mama while she's threatenin' to scissor off Anthony's meatballs with his branch pruner.
Course, by the time she finds 'im he's already rifled 'er drawers an nearly gotten strangled to death by Assunta after she emerges from 'er persistent vegetative state long enough to choke 'im out with 'er rosary/anal beads, while this weirdo in a white ninja cowl watches through the doorway. Fortunately, Assunta's atrophied stranglin' muscles eventually crap out on 'er an she ends up plantin' 'er face into the concrete floor, allowin' Valerio to live to fight another dame. Elsewhere, that smug cat that watched Inardo get turned into a charcoal briquette is outside gettin' pissy with Anthony, an he hasta open up one of his attack dog kennels an sic his righteous rottweilers on it while the cowled ninja babe stares at the camera like Bela Lugosi. Cept attackin' 'er cat makes the cowled ninja babe real mad, an she uses 'er brainwaves to open up all the kennels an sic the dogs on Anthony til they corner 'im in his supply shed an tear out his throat after he forgets to latch the deadbolt on the doggie door. Back inside, God is workin' in what hasta be the most mysterious way of all time, an injects a flashback into Valerio's brain usin' his tape recorder, wherein he observes Mama Super beggin' the previous Mama Super not to preach an tellin' 'er that she's made up 'er mind an she's keepin' 'er baby. Mama Super Classic is havin' none of it, an tries boilin' the baby alive with the sacramental stew, only Mama Super the Younger yanks the baby outta there an points it at the old hardass an watches the baby use its telekinesis to make Mama Super the Elder force choke 'erself to death. Then Valerio gets a grip on 'imself an hasta say a coupla Hail Marys for doin' that, til Mama comes by his room an starts makin' 'im feel sorry for 'er now that he knows 'er big secret, only once his guard's down she ends up shankin' 'im an goin' completely bonkers explainin' how the girl in the ninja cowl is the spawn of 'er unholy union with Satan's fire poker, an that the man with the brimstone throne can find a G-spot like nobody's business. She continues to ramble on about how gifted the girl is, an that she's on the honor roll at the local hellementary school or somethin', til the lights brown out an the girl shows up dressed like Christopher Lambert from Mortal Kombat, an she's none too pleased with the way Mama's been buryin' shivs in 'er man. Gonna cut it off here so no mafia goons show up to break my legs.
Alrighty, well, I think this one gets a bum rap. It's nowhere near exceptional, and if you've seen many of Bruno Mattei's other movies you might well come to the conclusion that he was on the bottom of the barrel in terms of Italian directors, but in my opinion, the admittedly numerous problems with this movie are all pretty minor. For instance, the lab setup in the catacomb is explained in a half-assed manner near the conclusion, although it still doesn't make a lick of sense even after said explanation. The dog kennel that exists on the grounds is equally out of place and serves no purpose other than to set up the death of the obligatory red herring character. And let's not forget about the priest who witnesses the flashback intended to tie the whole thing together via powers that're never explained. These things, coupled with the fact that it's damn near impossible to tell the characters apart since they're all wearin' penguin costumes, and one particularly tension-destroying special effect, make for some serious damage to the movie's overall score. However, if you've seen many of Bruno's other flicks, you can't help but notice a certain level of improvement from a technical standpoint, and if you've ever seen Troll 2, you might find yourself surprised that Claudio Fragasso is in fact capable of writing what's very nearly a competent screenplay. It's amazing what you can do without a debilitating language barrier. I'm not gonna pretend that we're talkin' about a groundbreaking work of cinematic art, and if you really wanna be a spoil sport about it, it would be fair to point out the similarities between Guardian of Hell and Giulio Berruti's The Killer Nun, but I still say the flick has some merit. Like most Italian horror flicks of the 80s, it gets down to business a lot quicker than the usual American offerings, but also features an opening "scare" before going to the credits, which is more typical of an American made film than an Italian film. Many Italian horror movies simply begin with the opening credits and buildup slowly, which is neither better nor worse than the American method, just different. But what's important in all this is that the pacing is pretty decent. Although, as is often the case, that comes at the cost of having characters that you develop little or no emotional attachment to. The ending wasn't too bad either, and although you understand that the devil is afoot and in control of at least a few of the nuns in some capacity throughout the movie, you really don't know exactly how it's going to end until it happens. All in all "surprising" is probably the best way to sum up this entry in the nunsploitation subgenre, because going in you'd be a fool to expect anything better than what you've seen out of Mattei in the past.
Guess there's nothin' left to do but hack off this sucker's head, stuff it in the chapel cubby, and see how many people barf when it's discovered during afternoon mass. The plot is one that's been done time and again, with only minor tweaks made to the formula each time a new incarnation comes into existence. The Italians were probably the most prolific at making these demonic possession flicks, both due to havin' the Catholic headquarters inside their border, and because they were shameless bandwagon hoppers. But in general, the story hasn't changed much since The Exorcist. Tweak the setting, either ramp up or tone down the repulsiveness (depending upon whether you wanna make an A movie or a B movie), maybe change the gender of the affected person(s) if you really wanna get crazy, but at its core it's the same old story. So if you enjoy the motif, you'll prolly enjoy the plot in this one. The acting, despite being dubbed, is pretty effective due to the utilization of some very over the top physical acting. You tend to notice the wild eyes and facial expressions in foreign movies more than you might in one of your native language, because that's about the only way you're going to be able to assess anyone's acting talent. For the most part, the cast is simply adequate, but Franca Stoppi is excellent as the whacked out Mother Vincenza. They make her hold it together for the most part up until the climax to avoid spoilers, but when they finally let her go full fruitcake it's pretty spectacular. Here's who matters and why: Franca Stoppi (Beyond the Darkness), Carlo De Mejo (City of the Living Dead, The House by the Cemetery, Contamination, The Dead Are Alive), Franco Garofalo (Hell of the Living Dead, Hercules 1983, The Scorpion with Two Tails, Eyes Behind the Stars, The Return of the Exorcist, Sex of the Witch), Paola Montenero (A Bay of Blood), Andrea Aureli (Lady Frankenstein, Don't Torture a Duckling, Hercules Against Rome, Hercules and the Black Pirates, Samson and the Queen Slave, Colossus of the Stone Age, The Loves of Hercules), Dolores Calo (Torso, The Antichrist, The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times), Tom Felleghy (The Cat O' Nine Tails, Voices from Beyond, The House of Witchcraft, Escape from the Bronx, Nightmare City, Eyes Behind the Stars, Damned in Venice, War of the Planets, The Red Nights of the Gestapo, The Night Child, Deep Red, Eyeball, Seven Dead in the Cat's Eye, Night of the Devils, All the Colors of the Dark, 4... 3... 2... 1... morte, The Wonders of Aladdin, Caltiki the Immortal Monster), Simone Mattioli (Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror). So really, pretty good genre cast here with no mainstream credits for movies with any socially redeeming value.
The special effects, as a whole, are fairly respectable. There's really just the one bad one, and although I realize using that unbelievably obvious Cabbage Patch doll in place of the baby during the flashback sequence ruins what was supposed to be the most intense scene in the entire movie, it's still just one effect. Made me think of the end of Pumpkinhead 2, except that Guardian of Hell had a lot less to lose by screwing up their big scene. Everything else is alright, and includes the charred corpse of Padre Inardo, his crispy severed head, a torn out throat on the Anthony Hopkins lookin' gardener, stigmata wounds, random soggy guts from two separate "autopsy" scenes, a dead cat (that to their credit doesn't look real enough for me to believe it was) and the burned face of Vincenza's daughter. They did decapitate a chicken for no good reason, and although that's pretty much what happens to every chicken you've ever eaten, I figured it warrants mentioning for anyone that would rather not see that sort of thing. The shooting locations aren't bad, mostly just interiors of the convent, which are all very authentic on account of the movie having been shot in a real convent. But for my money, the main event is the catacomb, which is a real place in Naples called the Fontanelle cemetery. The significance of this is that all the skulls and bones you see laying about in the catacombs are real, victims of the Great Plague of 1656 and the cholera epidemic of 1836. Of course, the set that's supposed to be in the catacomb with the dissection table and test tubes strewn about would have been done somewhere else, but in general, the shooting locations add a great deal of authenticity to a subject that kinda needs as much credibility as it can get. The soundtrack is alright, and was produced by the Italian band Goblin, whom most horror fans are familiar with for their work on the original Dawn of the Dead, and Suspiria. They also did the soundtracks on Contamination, Zombi, Phenomena, Hell of the Living Dead, The Church, Deep Red, and Beyond the Darkness. I read somewhere that the soundtrack for Guardian of Hell was actually lifted from the soundtrack to Beyond the Darkness, but can't confirm it. In any event, Goblin has a very distinctive sound, and always add great Italian flavor to their soundtracks. That said, I feel that they overused it a bit on this one, and as far as those guys creating music that fits a convent setting? I'm not sure that's even possible. I did like the soundtrack, but it doesn't exactly fit in well with the setting or the subject matter. Overall, Guardian of Hell is watchable, and enjoyable if you can let the lapses in reasoning slide. If not, they'll probably snowball on you to the point that you have to shut it off. Recommended for demonic possession completionists and fans of the nunsploitation subgenre, but that's about all.