A Bring Out the GIMP (Girls in Merciless Peril) Movie Review

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun

Reviewed by YikYakker

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977)

In Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun Jess Franco lavishly presents a very gripping tale of the physical, sexual and emotional torture visited upon Maria (cherubic Susan Hemingway), a young girl living during the Inquisition era.

One day, the evil Father Vicente spies 15-year-old Maria and her boyfriend engaging in a playful (but not R-rated) romp in the woods. He accompanies Maria to her home and persuades her impoverished single mom that the only way to save Maria’s soul from the clutches of the devil is to enroll her as a novice in a distant (and expensive) abbey where he can personally attend to her spiritual well-being.

When Maria arrives at the convent, the abbess (head nun) insists on being addressed as “eminent priestess”, which is Maria’s first clue that something’s not right.

Maria is told to lift up her dress, in front of the priest and the other nuns, and present her womanhood so the abbess can manually verify whether she’s truly a virgin. (She is.) The abbess tells Maria that only a regimen of pain can expunge the devil from inside her, so she applies loops of thorny branches around her top and bottom lady parts, and presses them until they draw blood. Maria gets to wear these continuously (under her clothes) for a few days and nights. Where are the fashion police when you need them?

It emerges that the convent is really a haven for a cult of Satan-worshippers, and we see the abbess strip down a bit and sprawl on the bed for a bizarre ritual. Her attendants place a bowlful of some concoction between her legs, which they claim is made from a baby’s heart but could just as well be hot mango chutney or Tabasco sauce. What happens next gives a whole new meaning to the term hot smoking pussy. (If you look closely at the pic, you can see a wisp of vapor rising above her nether region.) The abbess starts moaning and screaming and writhing around while her attendants lick her like a lollipop. Then she gets a visit from Old Nick himself...or so we presume, because all we see is a pair of bloody hands with hairy knuckles giving the abbess’ tits and torso a workout. Meanwhile, Maria experiences bad dreams (or are they visions?) about women being tortured in a dungeon. One gets gets her hands chopped off by what looks like a giant paper cutter, while another is induced into a splitting headache.

In the morning, Maria does a bit of kvetching to the abbess, who feels Maria needs an attitude adjustment. “Tonight you will walk on a bed of nails!” Unfortunately, we don’t get to see that; all we see is Maria limping around a bit the next day. Feeling desperate, Maria tries to get a letter to her mom, but it’s intercepted. So they put her in an isolation box – looks like a wooden confessional box with carved wooden bars. Later, the priest pays Maria a visit and lets her out of the box...but only so he can pull her robe down and force her to give him a blowjob (not explicitly shown).

Eventually, we find out why the abbess was so concerned about Maria’s virginity. Seems the Horned One wants some fresh untasted meat, so the abbey residents stage a big sacrificial shindig with Maria as the reluctant guest of honor. She’s brought in and made to get down on all fours on top of an altar, her head propped up against the abbess’ shoulders. Satan (or an evil-looking human wearing a really bad devil costume) makes an appearance, slides back Maria’s robe from her rear end, grabs her butt with his hairy hands and pounds her from behind. That touches off a session of mass-participation breast-baring and screwing.

Next morning, Maria wakes up in her box and the abbess tells her it was all a bad dream. Maria doesn't buy it. At the first opportunity, she goes over the wall, only to end up back in the clutches of the priest and priestess. This time they’re really pissed off, so they have her chained to an X-frame. Before the punishment starts, the abbess and Maria have an up-close and personal encounter. Maria suddenly spits in the nun’s face, and the abbess just as swiftly reacts by slapping Maria. It’s all so abrupt and unexpected that it nearly knocked me out of my chair. Really cool.

But the nun says, “Bring out the implements of torture!” and one of the attendants produces some really expensive-looking tongs, which she uses on Maria’s breast. Susan Hemingway displays some truly fine screaming here.

The unholy couple decide that Maria is more trouble than she’s worth so she’s carted off for a date with the Grand Inquisitor. Under interrogation Maria confesses to consorting with the devil, but also rats out the priest and the abbess as Satan-worshippers. The Deadly Duo decide that their best shot at saving themselves from an investigation is to persuade Maria to retract her statement.

So here we are in the dungeon, where we’re treated to eye candy like this and this, until we finally arrive upon Maria herself, completely naked on the torture rack. She’s stretched out nice and tight on a pretty authentic-looking device, but she’s stubborn. So the abbess grabs a torch and jabs Maria with it, finally breaking the girl down and getting her to sign a paper saying she made the whole thing up. This scene is my favorite: dungeon, rack, full-nudity, torches...it’s all good.

At this point in the film, Franco has about 10 minutes left to resolve the “burning” question: will the saga end in Maria’s fiery death?

Movie plusses: Interesting story, good production values, nice performances by all. Susan Hemingway is terrific as the beleaguered but defiant Maria. She ably carries the load in this movie, and also gives dacryphiles plenty to like in scenes like this and this and this one. The two villains are perfect IMO. They insidiously use the girl for their own ends and think nothing about the abuse they are dishing out, except when they are enjoying it immensely. And it wouldn’t be a Franco movie without a lot of gratuitous nudity and girl-girl action thrown in.

Movie minuses: It would have been nice, although probably distracting to the story, to see more prolonged torture scenes involving actresses other than Susan Hemingway. The ending is rushed, as if Franco found himself running out of time and money (again). I found the fake blood distracting; it looked like a very thick oil-based paint that they could have used in lesser quantities. And I would’ve preferred seeing the movie in its original language with subtitles, although the dubbing is mostly well-done.

Still, compared with other Franco films I’ve seen, this one is the best, from a production and story-telling perspective. As a movie that explores the cruelty, corruption and hypocrisy of persons in authority, it merits an A. GIMP-wise, it’s not as substantive as some other Franco classics, but the X-frame and rack scenes earn it a B. This is highly recommended for those who like their GIMPage wrapped inside a well-told, character-driven story.

The film comes in a number of different versions, some edited. This review is based on the DVD issued by VIP Entertainment, which is considered to be the most faithful to the original VHS.

My Grade: A-


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