Color, 1979, 100 mins. 28 secs. / 97 mins. 54 secs. / 88 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Andrea Bianchi
Starring Katell Laennec, Patrizia Webley, Enzo Fisichella, Giuseppe Maroccu, Elisa Mainardi, Mariangelo Giordano
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Severin (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
With all the European imitations of The Exorcist cranking out on the heels of Beyond the Door, filmmakers kept trying to outdo each other on the sleaze scale to make their possession offerings more distinctive and marketable to horror-hungry viewers overseas. However, director Andrea Bianchi (still best known for the outrageous Burial Ground) stepped over the line a bit with in 1979 with his contribution, Malabimba (also known under the more salacious title, Malabimba: The Malicious Whore), a super-sleazy variation augmented with a bit of nunsploitation and hardcore inserts for good measure. The film apparently did well enough in its native country, but few others got to see it until well into the gray market VHS era when it finally amassed a reputation as one of the daffiest, most extreme Eurocult offerings around. Fortunately, that's still no exaggeration.
After her mother dies mysteriously during a seance, pretty young Bimba (Laennec) becomes possessed by the woman's spirit and begins engaging in all sorts of misbehavior like lifting up her skirt at inopportune moments and performing unsolicited, fatal hummers on her bed-ridden old uncle. When her father isn't busy chasing women around the family castle, he becomes concerned about her behavior and enlists the aid of a sexy nun (Giordano) who finds herself exploring Daniela's problems as intimately as possible.
Richly scored by Berto Pisano (including lifts from his score for Death Smiles on a Murderer) and highly atmospheric, Malabimba somehow manages to overcome the utter goofiness of its premise (and the tackiness of its brief but distracting hardcore shots) with Giordano and Laennec (who's forced to do some pretty dirty things with her stuffed animals) delivering committed, highly carnal performances; not surprisingly, their unavoidable coupling is wisely positioned as the literal climax of the film. Bianchi will never be mistaken as a major cinematic artiste, but he always delivers the sleazy goods (check out his delightfully absurd Strip Nude for Your Killer for further evidence). There's little genuine horror content on display here, but most viewers will be too blindsided to notice.
For decades Malabimba was only available in soft, nearly unwatchable dupes from Italian prerecords, with a bootleg DVD release from the early '00s among the worst offenders. Luckily Severin gave this a much-needed facelift on DVD in 2009 with a sinfully sharp transfer with much better widescreen framing. The main feature can be played in its Italian theatrical release version (running 88m13s), while 15 short, additional scenes (sourced from a lower-quality Italian tape and sporting such amusing names as "Uncircumcised Shower" and "Lesbianic Remorse") can be played either separately or integrated into the main feature (running 97m54s). That's enough of an extra by itself, but the disc also comes with a fun new featurette, "Malabimba Uncovered" (16m55s) with Giordano and cinematographer Franco Villa reminiscing about the making of the film. They cover everything from the castle shooting (apparently it was very cold) to the those pesky insert shots, which they maintain were done later and without the participants' knowledge. If so, someone went through an unbelievable amount of trouble as the decor and bedsheets still match. The Italian trailer is also included.
In 2020, Vinegar Syndrome did the world an invaluable service by bringing this film back into circulation with a combo Blu-ray / DVD release in a limited embossed slipcover edition. The film itself is preceded by a disclaimer that the original 16mm negative had suffered some irreparable damage, which means you see some fleeting white specks and other bits of dirt at times; however, the quality is still quite nice given the source with an appreciable uptick in detail (either a good or bad thing depending on which part of the film you're watching). As it turns out, the negative is also the full-length cut and runs over 100 minutes (presumably the use of PAL material in the earlier DVD partially accounts for the shorter running time of the composite option). All those extra bits are back here in pristine quality, and the hardcore inserts look even tackier than before. The DTS-HD MA Italian 2.0 mono track sounds about par for the course for the era and features optional yellow English subtitles. The Italian trailer and "Malabimba Uncovered" featurette are carried over here, but you also get a new audio commentary by the rollicking team of Heather Drain, Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, who get to talk about all things Bianchi while also touching on Borowczyk, Fellini, the familiar castle location, the mystery of Laennec's fleeting career, oral sex puns, and the nutty state of genre filmmaking circa 1979. They even manage to make a running joke out of Patrick Still Lives and try to argue that this isn't a nunsploitation film because it only has one nun, though given Giordano does over the course of the running time, she certainly manages to compensate. A German promotional still gallery is also included and is just as NSFW as you'd expect.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
SEVERIN FILMS (DVD)
Updated review on March 28, 2020.