"The Sister of Ursula" is an unapologetically trashy entry into the giallo cycle that serves up a mixed bag of nudity, exploitation, and a killer who offs female victims with an oversized dildo. Lead actress Barbara Magnolfi's portrayal of the troubled young Ursula is surprisingly nuanced in what is ultimately a cult-sleaze tossaway.
Dagmar (Stefania D'Amario) has brought her psychologically scarred sister Ursula to an Italian shore resort after their father's death. Shortly after the women arrive at the hotel, a series of ghoulish murders begins, with women of loose morals turning up eviscerated (but only after each has engaged in a softcore sex scene).
The film is not one of the more stylish gialli, and substitutes plentiful nudity for the erotic chills and creepy S&M undertones of others of its genre. Frequent segues into "Skinemax" territory make this feel like an underacheiving Jess Franco film. The sex scenes are patently unerotic, with an emphasis on cringe-worthy humping and startlingly icky tongue-kissing. The inelegant camerawork during these scenes doesn't help matters--it seems as if the cinematographer was as reluctant to focus on these goings-on as I was.
It's hard to dismiss the movie entirely, however, largely due to Magnolfi's on-screen presence. Known to Italo-horror fans as the witchy Olga in "Suspiria," Magnolfi exudes a special kind of crazy girl sexiness in this film. She is clearly damaged goods from the opening scene, with her sulky demeanor and claims of psychic foreknowledge. Her facial expressions convey a deeply wounded psyche and her verbal outbursts are unpredictable and stormy. In a way, the film is more disappointing, seeing that the director was able to elicit a fine performance from Magnolfi and middling-at-best performances from the rest of the cast.
There are also moments of beauty elicited from the setting. Outdoor vistas such as a tracking crane shot of the exterior of the hotel where Dagmar and Ursula are staying show some promise, but sloppily outfitted interiors and some silly costume choices outweigh the better visual choices. A porn-pop soundtrack rounds out the effort, including a theme song "Eyes" which brings to mind unfortunate comparisons with the far superior "Eyes of Laura Mars," also released in 1978.