1977 MoviesGuest Reviewsmovies of the 70s

Damian Lahey on ‘Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun’ (1977)


review by Damian Lahey

Filmmaker Damian K. Lahey comes at us again today with a write up of the 1977 Jess Franco film ‘Love Letters of a Portugese Nun’.  

Let’s listen in…

I had picked up a copy of VideOOZE magazine, a DIY publication about euro-exploitation films from Barnes N’ Noble when I was in High School. Inside was a very detailed review of this movie. I don’t care if this ages me but when I was growing up you really had to dig deep for this stuff. Anchor Bay would begin releasing widescreen collector’s editions of some of these on video in the late 90s but before that if you wanted to get yours hands on a lot of these cult films or uncut widescreen versions of Bava, Argento, Rollins, or Franco, you had to spend the big bucks and order these bootlegs from catalogues like Midnight Video, Video Search Of Miami, Something Weird Video etc…

I had a dog eared copy of Midnight Video I would often drool over. And they just happened to offer a director’s cut of this unholy beast. Now, I had heard of cinema sleaze legend Jess Franco but had never seen any of his films and this write up of ‘Love Letters Of A Portuguese Nun’ in VideOOZE was so enticing – this film sounded so smutty and outrageous – I HAD TO HAVE IT. But I needed to be covert. This was sensitive material. I could not risk having this mailed to my house and falling into the hands of my parents. I nabbed a couple stamps from their office desk, stuffed my thirty-five dollars cash (with two sheets of paper folded over it for security) in an envelope and put it in the mailbox with my buddy Troy’s house as the return address. It took a month to arrive. Troy brought it to class and I went to my friend Ashley’s house after school that very day where we excitedly opened the package and stuck the tape in the VCR. I’ll never forget how shocked we were at the preposterous dubbing, off centered German subtitles, warped production value and scandalous content. We had never seen anything like it.

There was a nunsploitation craze for a while and this was made to capitalize on the box office success of ‘Mark Of The Devil’ (1970), ‘Mark Of The Devil II’ (1973) ‘The Nun and The Devil’ (1973) ‘Flavia The Heretic’ (1974) and ‘Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession’ (1976). This film borrows liberally from all those aforementioned films. It also didn’t do as well as they did. That’s why you’re probably hearing about it for the first time on a site dedicated to films you’ve never heard of.

This film is based super loosely on Mariana Alcoforado’s highly debated memoir ‘Letters Of A Portuguese Nun’ about a nun’s romance with a French officer from 1665-1667. This thin cloak of legitimacy was used to justify the film’s outrageous content. For most of its eighty minute running time the movie splatter dumps all over the Catholic Church in every way imaginable. Now, it’s impossible to explain what happens in this film without making it sound exciting. In reality, it’s kind of exciting but more of a curiosity as it’s not made very well. It’s strange because despite all the torture, nudity, lesbian sex, orgies (including one in which a hung over and portly Satan ruts a girl from behind while old lady nuns bare their breasts to show their allegiance to him) none of it is very emotionally involving, erotic or dangerous. But it is consistently action packed and sacrilegious. The big white elephant in the room in regards to Franco and for that matter, a lot of these exploitation filmmakers, isn’t their suspect production value but that their films are often boring. Franco’s films, and I have seen many, are boring more than anyone would care to admit. But ‘Love Letters Of A Portuguese Nun’ to me, is Franco’s most accomplished production and for those yet to be initiated into the world of Jess Franco – this is a great place to start!

Directed by Jesús Franco
Written by Mariana Alcoforado
Screenplay by Erwin C. Dietrich, Christine Lembach & Jesus Franco
Starring Susan Hemingway, William Berger, Herbert Fux, Ana Zanatti, and Aida Vargas
Produced by Erwin C. Dietrich and Max Dora
Music by Walter Baumgartner
Cinematography by Peter Baumgartner