If nuns make you nervous, you’re not alone. Whether it’s their distinctive religious attire, their unwavering devotion to a higher power, or their reputation for meting out corporal punishment in Catholic school, it’s hard to deny that there’s something vaguely eerie about them at times. As the new supernatural horror film “The Nun” prepares to haunt theaters, here’s a look at 20 movie nuns that are guaranteed to give you the creeps.
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The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Audiences first met the eerie title character of “The Nun” in the sequel to James Wan’s horror hit “The Conjuring.” Sporting a ghostly complexion, a bad attitude, and a mouthful of rotting fangs that would make Pennywise the clown jealous, the Nun is referred to by several names throughout the film, including the Marquis of Snakes, the Defiler, and the demon Valak. But don’t worry if you can’t remember what to call her. Should you happen to meet her, you’ll be far too busy screaming.
Nuns on the Run (1990)
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Legendary funnymen Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane play a pair of bumbling gangsters who disguise themselves as Holy Sisters in this dreary British crime comedy that was released two years before the similarly themed “Sister Act.” With little to recommend it beyond a memorable title, the film barely made a ripple at the box office. Still, there’s no denying that the sight of Idle and Coltrane ogling scantily clad teenagers while wearing nuns’ habits is downright disturbing.
Agnes of God (1985)
No stranger to offbeat roles, Meg Tilly is unforgettable as Sister Agnes, an emotionally disturbed novice who secretly gives birth in her convent bedroom and strangles the newborn infant with its umbilical cord. Nominated for three Academy Awards – including Tilly for Best Supporting Actress – this adaption of an acclaimed play by John Pielmeier is a haunting examination of faith, motherhood, and the catastrophic effects of child abuse.
The Other Hell (1981)
The horror genre encompasses a wide array of categories, and few are as proudly perverse as the one called nunsploitation. Blending Christian iconography with fetishized violence and sexual exhibitionism, these films are the very definition of an acquired taste. Director Bruno Mattei’s “The Other Hell” is an especially outrageous example of the subgenre. Focused on supernatural mumbo-jumbo rather than human depravity, the movie offers a cavalcade of creepy nuns doing all manner of grisly harm to each other.
Ms. 45 (1981)
Director Abel Ferrara’s superb grindhouse thriller tells the story of Thana, a mute seamstress in New York’s garment district who transforms herself into a pistol packin’ vigilante after being sexually assaulted twice in the same day. With her sanity slowly crumbling, Thana eventually dons a nun’s habit and heads to a neighborhood costume party with murder on her mind. In the title role, actress Zoë Tamerlis delivers a wordless performance that’s both tragic and terrifying.
The Devils (1971)
Ken Russell’s gleefully blasphemous epic about a 17th-century priest who’s accused of being a warlock by a sexually repressed nun set off a firestorm of controversy when it was released more than four decades ago. Awash in graphic images of inquisition tortures, public exorcisms, and naked nuns participating in mass orgies, the film’s power to shock remains potent to this very day. As the hunchbacked Sister Jeanne des Anges, whose false allegations set the plot in motion, Vanessa Redgrave gives the boldest performance of her career.
Killer Nun (1978)
Say what you will about “Killer Nun,” it certainly lives up to its title. Following the removal of a pesky brain tumor, Sister Gertrude begins exhibiting signs of odd behavior, including anonymous sex with strangers, fits of psychotic rage, and an obsession with the torture of martyred saints. Things take a turn for the worse when she’s accused of throwing a geriatric patient off the roof of a hospital. Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg gives the deranged title character her all, particularly in the scene where she crushes an old woman’s dentures under her foot while yelling “Disgusting!” over and over again.
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The Exorcist III (1990)
Stylishly directed by author William Peter Blatty, “The Exorcist III” stumbled at the box office when it originally debuted. But over time the film’s witty dialogue, surreal imagery, and genuine scariness earned it a devoted cult following. Though the film ends with a grotesque exorcism scene that was mandated by the studio, today it’s best remembered for a one-of-a-kind scare involving a nurse, a nun, and a massive set of surgical shears. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, this agonizingly suspenseful sequence will make you jump.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Aside from the brief appearance of an extraterrestrial nun in the fourth installment of the “Species” franchise, alien nuns tend to be rarer than you might expect in cinema. Which is why the creepy fish-faced Caretakers in Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” are so special. Seen tidying up, preparing meals, doing laundry, and generally keeping an eye on the planet Ahch-To, these squat-shaped nuns manage to throw an impressive amount of shade at Rey with nary a line of dialogue.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Proving that creepy nuns can also be funny, this classic John Landis comedy includes a hilarious sequence in which Jake and Elwood Blues return to the Catholic orphanage they were raised in and encounter the ruler-wielding Sister Mary Stigmata, memorably played by character actress Kathleen Freeman. Nicknamed the Penguin, Sister Mary has a few creepy tricks up her sleeve, including an ability to open and close doors with her mind, and a talent for floating across the floor like an angry phantom.
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Don’t let the fact that this diabolical depiction of witchcraft was made in 1922 fool you. Though it’s almost a century old, “Häxan” is a masterpiece of horror that continues to disturb audiences with its nightmarish special effects and profane imagery. Like a heretical history lesson brought vividly to life, the film recreates terrifying tableaux of Satanic debauchery, including possessed nuns cavorting with the Devil himself.
The Town (2010)
Like a Catholic version of “Point Break,” Ben Affleck’s “The Town” features a group of thieves who disguise themselves as nuns to pull off an armored truck heist. The image of Affleck and his crew wearing flowing black habits, identical rubber masks, and armed with assault rifles was so powerful that Warner Brothers put it front and center on the film’s official poster.
School of the Holy Beast (1974)
A young novice joins a convent to learn the truth behind her mother’s mysterious death in this sumptuously photographed Japanese cult film that remained virtually lost until the DVD boom of the early 2000s. Packed with scenes of erotic degradation that would make the Marquis de Sade wince, this no-holds-barred depiction of religious hysteria includes an infamous sequence in which two tormented nuns are forced to flagellate each other at the behest of their demented Mother Superior. Not for the squeamish.
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Nicknamed “Sister Death” by the students under her care, the blind nun who appears in this spirited Spanish horror film isn’t crucial to the plot, but she sure cuts a sinister figure. The story follows three teenage girls who learn a valuable life lesson: never mess with a Ouija board during a solar eclipse. Directed and co-written by Paco Plaza, whose popular [REC] series helped reinvigorate the found footage genre, “Verónica” drips with ominous portents and occult symbolism.
The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
Based on a true story, this remarkable period drama about four innocent young women sentenced to the infamous Magdalene laundries in Ireland will set your blood boiling. Unflinching in its depiction of the physical abuse, psychological cruelty, and sexual crimes committed by the corrupt nuns who ran the institution, the film shines a much-needed light on a dark corner of history. As Sister Bridget, the vicious Mother Superior whose benevolent smile masks a diseased soul, Geraldine McEwan is absolutely chilling.
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The Convent (2000)
Before he directed an enjoyable tribute to ‘50s monster movies called “Big Ass Spider,” Mike Mendez paid homage to ‘80s splatter films with this ghoulish tale set in an abandoned convent. The plot is simple: all hell breaks loose when a group of newbie Satanists accidentally revive a bunch of demonic nuns. Luckily, shotgun-toting Adrienne Barbeau is on hand to deliver some holy absolution. Perfect for fans of “The Evil Dead,” “The Convent” is a fun horror comedy that plays its scares big and broad without ever descending into campiness.
To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
Nastassja Kinski was only 14 years old when she starred as a naive nun who joins a mysterious religious order known as the Children of the Lord in this troubled Hammer Studios production. Although it’s loaded with arcane rites, human sacrifice, and a cameo appearance by a demonic fetus, the film is best remembered for two things: Christopher Lee’s gonzo performance as a Satanic priest, and Kinski’s controversial nude scene.
Dark Waters (1994)
When a young woman ventures to a remote island to learn the secret of her birth, she encounters a bizarre sect of heretical nuns living in a crumbling convent. Overflowing with Lovecraftian images of amphibious creatures and weird rituals, “Dark Waters” is an atmospheric gem that’s long overdue for rediscovery.
The Sentinel (1977)
Thanks to the success of “The Exorcist” and “The Omen,” theaters in the late ‘70s were filled with theological horror movies, and this adaptation of a novel by Jeffrey Konvitz was one of the creepiest. When a high-strung fashion model moves into a Brooklyn brownstone that’s inconveniently located over the gate to Hell, she’s forced to deal with more than noisy neighbors. At the end of the film, her bloody battle against the Prince of Darkness awakens the building’s blind guardian priest (seen here), setting the stage for her to take his place as a blind nun in the movie’s creepy final shot.
|Courtesy of Paramount Pictures|
The Devil Inside (2012)
If you were tricked into seeing this abysmal found footage fiasco because of the blind nun who was featured heavily in its marketing campaign, don’t feel guilty. Although she’s only in the movie for one brief shot, she’s undeniably creepy.