There’s a short list of directors out there that I think have taken low budget filmmaking and elevated it to an art form. Plenty of hucksters have gamed the medium in the past with whatever change they had in their pocket in order to turn out some substandard monster movie that makes bank on the vaudevillian drive-in circuit of days past but most of them had nothing but disdain for the genre and the fans. Guys like Lloyd Kaufman, Charles Band and Roger Corman have taken budgets of your average cable access program and turned out product that is not only well made on limited means but also tons of fun. I have since added Rhode Island filmmaker, Richard Griffin to that list for the very same reason.
Directors like Griffin don’t come along often and the industry hasn’t changed much. Low budget is still packed with production companies whose only goal is to get paid get money, as it were, but Griffin and producer Ted Marr seem to always put the craft first and make the movies they want to make. They often wear their budgetary limitations on their sleeve because there’s really no point in hiding it, but making up for lack of funds is often a menu of hilarious scripts, a cast that is nothing short of consistent, a genuine love of exploitation and horror and a sense of humor that is hard to find in many cases. Nun Of That, Griffin’s latest, embodies all of these elements and it’s a howl.
As it turns out, the Catholic church has been at war with organized crime for 1,500 years, employing a special order of nuns called The Black Habit to trace and kill mobsters of all stripes. The latest addition to the order is Sister Wrath, a nun with a short fuse. She’s out to continue the work of The Black Habit while avenging the death of Sister Envy, who died at the hands of Richie Corbucci, one of Providence’s most powerful mobsters. Sister Wrath’s war with Corbucci raises the ire of Momma Rizzo, the top of the heap, who employs Viper Goldstein, a Jewish assassin who delights in murdering nuns.
I’d been waiting to see Nun Of That for some time. I originally caught up with it when Griffin started circulating his mock trailer, the fruits of his labor from the 2008 48 Hour Film Project. It makes sense that the trailer would spawn an entire feature, too. It’s a funny premise and an opportunity to be balls to the wall blasphemous. Griffin excels at tap dancing on the taboo and understands the kind of uneasy comedy that comes from antagonizing the sensibilities of people who might be upset by the idea that Jesus parties in heaven with deceased clergy. Yet, at the same time, he skirts away from the easy laughs. Sure, this flick is loaded with goofy dumbass humor, but you’ll have to look really hard for a gag about Catholic priests diddling the altar boys. Maybe it’s played out, but this script just doesn’t call for it and finds it’s laughs in other places. In a recent off-site review I did of the movie I Sell The Dead, I mention that good comedy is hard to come by. The people who are good at it are being paid handsomely to make unfunny people say funny things and often times, the low budget creative types pander to a lowest common denominator because they think that there’s nothing funnier than seeing a guy get kicked in the nuts. I consider myself pretty sophisticated, but on the nutshot tip, the jury is still out. There are fewer things more pleasant than finding writers this funny working in the most obscure corners of independent cinema. Griffin keeps one foot placed firmly in lowbrow territory but at the same time, he seems to be operating a much higher level. To that effect, Nun Of That is fucking hilarious. Start to finish, it’s packed with kind of gags that inspire loud, sudden guffaws rather than an easy going chuckle or two.
Where would the movie be without its cast, though? Gathering dust on my to-be-reviewed pile, that’s where. Scorpio Film Releasing titles tend to share a lot in common in terms of their cast and starting with Splatter Disco, Griffin and Marr attracted a consistent stable of actors and actresses that are exceptionally talented and very relaxed when asked to perform some downright silly scenes. The star of the show is Scorpio regular, Sarah Nicklin, as Sister Kelly Johnson, aka Sister Wrath. Apart from being really easy on the eyes with natural girl next door charms, Sarah clearly has fun with her role as an avenging nun with a short temper. Playing the foil to Nicklin’s nun is Brandon Aponte as the mobster, Corbucci. It’s very easy to to overact a mobster and that’s just what Aponte has done here. He’s plays Corbucci as though he’s Al Pacino or DeNiro projected through a fun house mirror. Also worth mentioning is actor Michael Reed who turns in two roles as both Jesus and The Devil, a pair of characters I wish there had been more time for. Jesus’ musical number as Sister Kelly becomes Sister Wrath is a high point in the feature. Also orbiting the primary cast is a roster of great supporting players such as Ruth Sullivan and Shanette Wilson as their respective nuns and David Lavallee who plays the Jew-jitsu slinging assassin, Viper Goldstein. What would a Scorpio flick be without it’s guest stars, right? Griffin and Marr bring out SFR regular and scream-queen legend, Debbie Rochon, and in a surprising role as The Pope, the mayor of Tromaville, himself, Lloyd Kaufman shows up in one of the biggest cheer-inducing scenes of the movie.
Nun Of That dives headfirst into the most blasphemous of comedy, proudly proclaiming itself to be “a blast for you and a blasphemy”, settling firmly in a world where 60’s style mobsters run wild in Providence, Rhode Island and Catholic clergy is a cabal of hard boiled, bad ass chicks that are both righteous and sexy, phrasing everything as though they have just stepped off the set of Coffy. Nicklin is simultaneously pretty and fierce and spends every second of screen time enjoying herself. As a matter of fact, everyone does, and this is the key to Griffin’s success in his movies. Everone seems to be having the time of their life and I’ve said that in past reviews. If the cast seems to be enjoying themselves, it can make even the worst movies good. Not that Nun Of That is the worst. If you haven’t already picked up on it, you must be blind. Nun Of That is some of the most fun you’re likely to find in a movie this year. Splatter Disco ranked high on my best of ’08 list and right about now, Nun Of That is riding high on my best of ’09 list. A list occupied by titles like Drag Me To Hell, I Sell The Dead and The Hurt Locker. Do not miss Nun Of That. It’s a balls-out riot full of hilarious comedy that will condemn your mortal soul to hell for all eternity… But it’ll be worth it. Trust me.