Color, 1973, 90m. / Directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares / Starring Cecilia Pezet, Enrique Rocha, Delia Magana, Veronica Avila / Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Rarely has a film's title been more appropriate than Satanico Pandemonium, a wild and wooly Mexican nunsploitation outing that gives those blasphemous Italians a run for their money. (And yes, its title was later used as the name of Selma Hayak's character in From Dusk Till Dawn). Directed by Mexi-horror veteran Solares, who also helmed a few Santo pictures as well as the better chunks of Face of the Screaming Werewolf, our story revolves around sweet young Sister Maria (Pezet), a tranquil and benevolent nun who spends her afternoons wandering through the woods, picking flowers and admiring the birds. Unfortunately her life changes when she's confronted by a swarthy naked guy (Rocha) prone to gnawing on apples. Back at the convent, she finds her prayers insufficient to block the evil influence now creeping into her soul; she even retires to her chambers at night where she indulges in violent fantasies and whips herself into a sexual frenzy. The strange man keeps reappearing (once in the form of a lesbian nun who ravishes her on the floor!), and she realizes he may actually be Satan himself, intent on making her an instrument of evil. Soon enough she's causing all kinds of trouble, making moves on young village boys, provoking suicides, and spilling innocent blood in a rampage of demonic lust.

Complete with ferocious performances, plentiful nudity, and even swirling opening credits akin to Corman's Pit and the Pendulum, this delirious yarn is yet another variation on Ken Russell's The Devils (including an amusing nun orgy with the sisters hopping about shouting "Hail the Mother Superior!" while Maria hallucinates flocks of sheep). The potent atmosphere resembles a fairy tale come to life, complete with isolated forests and antiquated village streets where evil can run rampant in full view of ignorant townspeople. The ironic denouement indicates that the filmmakers weren't taking all of this too seriously, so don't feel guilty about kicking back and enjoying a curious variation on the religious horror craze from the 1970s. In fact, watch it back to back with Alucarda for maximum effect.

Rescuing another outrageous gem completely unknown to most English-speaking viewers, Mondo Macabro offers a sterling visual presentation with nary a blemish in sight. Taken from the original negative, the transfer is flawless with perfect, powdery colors and razor-sharp detail. The optional English subtitles are well-written, and the mono Spanish audio offers few complaints. (Again, not stereo as the packaging claims.)

As for extras, the biggest is "The Devil Went Down to Mexico," a new English interview with screenwriter Adolfo Martínez Solares (the director's son). Starting with Solares' all-star Mexican horror romp House of Terror, this enjoyable featurette covers all the bases and offers a nice primer on south of the border exploitation. Much time is spent on Satanico Pandemonium itself, with several anecdotes about the actors offering some amusing subtext to the main feature. Next up is "House of the Writhing Nun," in which Redemption founder Nigel Wingrove talks for 11 minutes about the nunsploitation genre and his own cinematic contributions, Sacred Flesh and Visions of Ecstasy (plus clips from other naughty nun films like The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine). Also included are a gallery of Mexican lobby cards, Italian release artwork, a text history of nunsploitation, a Mexican nunsploitation filmography (there's more than you'd think!), a bio and filmography for the director, and the ubiquitous Mondo Macabro promo reel.

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