Posted: 10/09/04
© 2004
The Monk (1973)
by Barry Meyer

This monk monkey's around with the wrong girl! From Luminous Video.

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Italian heart throb Franco Nero was never one to shy away from sordid subject matter, taking on roles that may seem a bit out of bounds for other actors of his stature.  In the controversial production of the classic 18th Century Gothic novel by Matthew Lewis, Nero plays Ambrosio, a well respected monk who is frustrated by his attraction to a fellow young monk.  He is unaware that the object of his affection is really a young woman masquerading in monk's robes. The attraction turns corrupt when the two become secret lovers, and soon, Ambrosio discovers that the young woman is actually an emissary of the Devil who has the power to grant his every worldly wish.  Already knee-deep in a cesspool of sin, the monk finds himself lusting after the young teenage daughter of a parish member.  Ambrosio's evil lover summons up Satan's power to grant the monk a night of passion with the young girl, but the affair turn fatal. After committing numerous crimes, it appears that Ambrosio will be caught and punished by the Inquisition. But, Satan is ready to cut him a deal that promises the monk freedom from his crimes if only he'll just sign over his soul.

Nero puts on a terrific show, letting out all the stops as his Ambrosio slowly unravels into a maniacal frenzy.  But his always impressive blend of good guy machismo was no match to Nicol Williamson's performance of the cannibalistic Duke of Talamur, a nobleman who uses and abuses peasant children as servants.  The dubious Duke promises the serf parents that he is giving their poor kids a better life, but after the children serve him dinner they become the dinner.  Williamson (who you'd recognize as Merlin from Excalibur) delivers a brilliant performance that dances on the edge of camp, giving this rather stark moral play some needed levity.

The 70s were full of debauched tales of religion gone sinfully and scandalously wrong, and The Monk is not the riskiest movie of the genre, despite the Brooke Sheilds' style treatment of Antonia (Eliana De Santis), the young object of Ambrosio's desire.  But, with surrealist megastar Luis Buñuel adapting the gothic tale of corruption and titillation for Greek director Adonis Kyrou, you know you're in for some brazen content, and a whole mess of fun.

Barry Meyer is a writer living out Jersey way.

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