VHS. Pal. Redemption. 18.
I kicked off our survey of Italian Exorcist knock-offs with Pope Paul VI’s observation, from November 1972, that Satan really exists and has us all in his power. Some readers have suggested that I erred in omitting Bruno Mattei’s The Other Hell (“L’Altro Inferno”) from that survey. Did The Devil make me do it? Or was I right in my initial judgement that Mattei’s picture is more properly bracketed with the slew of “lesbian orgy outbreaks in a convent” epics that Mattei’s erstwhile collaborator Joe D’Amato was inspired to perpetrate after seeing Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) than with spaghetti exorcism proper? Either way, now seems as propitious a moment as any to examine this particular cinematic outrage, also known as Guardian Of Hell and Terror In A Convent.
Deploying the “Stefan Oblowsky” guise from his extensive collection of pseudonyms, Mattei shot TOH simultaneously with his The True Story Of The Nun Of Monza in 1980. It’s undoubtedly his best picture (though he himself has had the gall to cite Rats – Night Of Terror as his career pinnacle), which is not to say that it’s in any way accomplished… it’s the sheer go-for-broke audacity, the all-out sense of accelerating, no-holds-barred delirium in The Other Hell that puts it ahead of even D’Amato’s Blue Holocaust (from which it swipe its Goblin score, female lead Franca Stoppi and even its fluffed “shock” ending) in the see-it-to-believe-it sick puppy stakes.
Incredibly, its pre-titles sequence – wherein a deranged nun, apparently having just carried out a gory abortion in an alchemist’s lab, rants about the genitals being “the door to evil” before stabbing one of her sisters-in-Christ to death, apparently at the psychic behest of a statue with red, throbbing eyes – is one of the more subdued moments in The Other Hell, which goes on to delineate trendy cleric Father Vaelrio (Carlo De Mejo)’s vain attempts to put these unfortunate goings-on down to psychiatric rather than Satanic malaise, while all around him bats attack crucifixes, nuns vomit blood after taking communion, stigmata rend every available inch of flesh, severed heads turn up in tabernacles, exorcists catch fire, devil babies are dunked in boiling water and psycho-kinetic sculptures force nuns to strangle themselves!
Sinister gardener Boris (perennial Mattei standby Franco Garofolo) delivers an unsolicited soliloquy about how he prefers animals to people, then leeringly decapitates an unfortunate chicken (yep, its headless body proceeds to take a jerky tour of the barnyard). The wheel of karma turns full circle when Boris, after killing a witch’s cat, falls victim to his own guard-dog in a scene crudely cribbed from Dario Argento’s Suspiria, although Mattei always claimed this picture as a tribute to Argento’s Inferno (with tributes like this, who needs insults?) Mattei’s trump card here is probably Stoppi, who chews the scenery magnificently as Mother Vincenza.
The Other Hell was co-written by “Clyde Anderson” (Claudio Fragasso), a frequent scripting collaborator who has often found himself completing the direction of pictures that Mattei started before rushing on to his next schlock-fest. This ploy, together with Mattei’s already-noted reliance on stock footage, was crucial in sustaining his prolific output. Fragasso also co-wrote what is probably still Mattei’s most widely-seen monstrosity, that insufferable soufflé of amateur dramatics, Fulci thievery, goofy grand guignol and grainy stock footage Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981.)
So who was the real Bruno Mattei (death finally intervened to stop him churning out motion pictures in 2007, the year in which he managed his final two directorial “credits”)? The poor man’s Joe D’Amato? The rodent-obssessed recycler of other people’s ideas and footage? The accomplished technician described to me by David Warbeck? You must be the judge… but to come to a fair decision, one that will not (to paraphrase the dude in Faces Of Death) implicate yourself… you’re gonna have to watch a whole shit load of terrible movies!