• Nunsploitation Convent Collection, The


    Released by: Cult Epics
    Released on: 7/27/2010
    Directors: Norifumi Suzuki/Walerian Borowczyk
    Cast: Maya Takigawa, Fumio Watanabe, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe, Ryouko Ima/Ligia Branice, Howard Ross, Marina Pierro, Gabriella Giacobbe
    Year: 1970/1978
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    The Movies:

    Cult Epics gathers together two of their finest releases with this, the Nunsploitation Convent Collection, a two DVD boxed set that houses Norifumi Suzuki’s School Of The Holy Beast and Walerian Borowzcyk’s Behind Convent Walls. Both were previously released as standalone offerings, and those who already have those two discs won’t really need this one, but for those who were on the fence or want an easy way to add two of the best nasty nun films ever made to their collection, this release is ideal.

    Here’s a look:

    School Of The Holy Beast:

    This 1974 Toei production from Norifumi Suzuki, director of the delightfully trashy Beautiful Girl Hunter and the Sonny Chiba vehicles, Shogun’s Ninja and The Killing Machine, is a doozy. The man has directed everything from Samurai epics to Yakuza films to Roman Porno films but it’s this uniquely Japanese nunsploitation film, which he co-wrote with Masahiro Kakefuda (who wrote a few of the Sister Streetfighter films starring Etsuko Shiomi), that really shows what he’s capable of.

    Yumi Takigawa (of Kinji Fukasaku’s Triple Cross and Virus) plays Maya, a pretty young woman who lives up her last night of freedom by sleeping with her boyfriend before heading off to a convent where she’ll be enrolling as a Catholic nun. When she arrives at the convent she’s quickly taken into the heard but soon finds that hypocrisy runs rampant, especially with the senior nuns who take advantage of the new recruits who weren’t able to donate enough to reach their lofty status.

    As Maya spends more time in the convent she finds that many of the nuns who claim to be so chaste and pure are in fact nymphomaniacs, lesbians, or both. Through a flashback we learn that the reason Maya has enrolled in this specific convent is that her mother, who used to be a nun, was employed there and in fact Maya was born there. Maya tries to piece together her past and find out who her father is all the while trying to stay out of trouble with the sinister head nun and the bizarre and perverted Father Kakinuma (Fumio Watanabe of Shogun’s Joy Of Torture and Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41).

    Typical of the nunsploitation genre, School Of The Holy Beast is chock full of sex, violence and sacrilege but Suzuki gives the film such a beautiful and artistic slant through some very European visuals (there are some very Suspira-like moments in here and the lighting looks like Bava and Argento at their primary colored best) that it’s hard not to appreciate the movie even if the content might put some people off.

    The script pulls no punches in its critique of the hypocrisy of the organized church, Catholicism in particular. With the head priest and the nuns running the show being as crooked as a common thief and as dishonest as a politician, it’s obvious where the films message is coming from. The history of the Japanese people, who at one time completely rebuked Christianity and even went so far as to kill off a few pesky missionaries who wouldn’t leave them well enough alone, is an interesting aspect of their history and it’s likely that history that served at least partially as the inspiration for the film.

    Suzkuki shoots his film in a location as good as anyone could really hope to make this type of film in. The gothic halls and steeples of the convent wouldn’t look out of place in a Hammer film or an Italian gothic horror movie like Castle Of Blood. The color scheme is also used quite wisely, particularly during a carnal encounter between two nuns in the flower garden contained within the walls of the building. Blood plays an obvious and important role in the look and the symbolism of the film, with a paralley being made between Christ’s suffering and that of one of the nuns who finds herself the unfortunate victim of a rose thorn torture not unlike the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head during his crucifixion. The film also references and outright shows some barbaric interrogation techniques used to find out if one of the nun’s is on the up and up or if she’s in fact involved with the devil – how do they find this out? They force her to drink gallons of salt water, then place a picture of the Messiah underneath her spread legs. If she urinates on the visage of the Son of God, she’s in league with Satan and if she can hold it (for how long? Presumably eternity!) then she is pure of heart. A possible throw back to the attempted Christianization of Japan during the feudal times.

    In the end, this one has something for everyone – plenty of pretty naked girls, some fine sadistic violence, no shortage of gorgeous visuals and clever lighting and framing, and an interesting story that surprisingly makes you think about things once it’s all over and done with.

    Behind Convent Walls:

    Written and directed by Walerian Borowczyk and based off a story by Stendhal, Behind Convent Walls has rightfully earned itself a prime reputation amongst nunspolitation buffs. Based on the novel by Stendhal, Behind Convent Walls (also known as Within A Cloister) delivers that unique blend of arthouse filmmaking and eroticism that Borowczyk would make a name for himself with. This release from Cult Epics presents the film completely uncut and it includes a bit of hardcore footage courtesy of the lovely Olivia Pascal (of Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon).

    The film follows the lives of some nuns in a convent who live under the rule of a Mother Superior (Gabriella Giacobba) bound and determined to keep them pure and away from the many temptations that the outside world offers. So seriously does she take her duties that when she finds some of the sisters fooling around while they were supposed to be cleaning the convent’s chapel, so smashes their violin to pieces. When it comes to light that one of the nuns has been messing about with her boyfriend from the outside, she shaves off all of her hair. She’s also particularly harsh on any male visitors who come to the convent, be it the butcher, Silva (Alessandro Partexano), or the confessor’s nephew, Rodrigo (Howard Ross).

    Rodrigo, however, has eyes for the mother superior’s niece, Sister Clara (Ligia Branice) and Silva has been having an affair with Sister Martina (Lorenda Martinez), who decides that to get some alone time with her beau she’ll drop some morphine into the Mother’s drink. When this goes horribly wrong, the convent and the people around it explode into all manner of blackmail, depravity and wrongdoing in order to protect their secrets and the guilty parties from becoming exposed.

    Quite similar at times to Ken Russell’s remarkable film of The Devils, Borowczyk’s picture was shot with handheld cameras under natural lighting conditions long before Lars Von Trier and his pals decided to start the Dogme 95 movement. As such, the picture has a sort of rough and tumble feel to it that gives it an odd cinema verite tone. The visuals are frequently gorgeous thanks more in part to the fantastic locations that Borowczyk was able to secure for the film and to the natural beauty of the female cast with which he is so enamored rather than any slick camera trickery. Luciano Tovoli, the same man who shot Suspira for Dario Argento, was behind the camera for this one and he does a fine job of capturing everything he needs to. It all works quite well, however, as even if the film moves at a rather odd and languid pace, it’s erotic quotient is strong enough that it’s never dull.

    All of the lunacy and depravity that erupts in this supposed house of God is set to a quirky organ soundtrack that adds an ironic layer of sanctimoniousness to the proceedings while the cast all throw themselves into the material with the right mix of lust and free spiritedness. The film’s plot is very loose in structure and the film feels more like a series of loosely connected set pieces than a structured whole, but some of those set pieces are pretty damn remarkable, highlighted by Pascal’s scene in which she gives herself a thorough working over with a wooden dildo adorned with Christ’s visage and a scene in which the beautiful Marina Pierro fakes stigmata and somehow manages to make it sexy. There’s a playfulness to the picture that contrasts quite interestingly with its ending making for a picture that, like so much of Borowczyk’s work, is a bit of an enigma, albeit a very interesting and frequently fascinating one.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for School Of The Holy Beast looks pretty solid aside from some very minor motion blurring in a few scenes that really doesn’t prove to be too distracting. The colors look very nice, very life like and the plentiful amount of skin on display comes through naturally. Black levels are strong and solid, there are no problems with mpeg compression and there’s only the slightest hint of edge enhancement. Print damage has been kept to the bare minimum and only really shows up in the form of the odd speck here and there, though there is a natural coat of film grain overtop of the picture throughout (again, it’s not a problem and it wasn’t distracting in the least).

    Behind Convent Walls is presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen, and the picture is definitely on the soft side. Much of this likely has to do with how the film was originally shot and it looks like different sources might have been used to put together this completely uncut version. The transfer is progressive scan and doesn’t show any PAL to NTSC conversion issues and there isn’t much in the way of print damage to note. Aside from the picture’s inherent softness (which, again, looks to be source related as previous DVD versions have also had this quality to their transfers), things look pretty good here. If you go through the extras you’ll note that cinematographer Luciano Tovoli talks about how they shot the film under natural lighting conditions which probably explains why some of the colors don’t pop off the screen at you, but for the most part things are fine here.

    School Of The Holy Beast is presented in its original Japanese language in a decent Dolby Digital Mono track. Though there is some minor distortion faintly audible up there in the high end of the mix, for the most part the dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly and without any problems. The yellow subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.

    Behind Convent Walls arrives on DVD with a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack in your choice of Italian, English or French with subtitles provided in English only. The quality of the mixes is fine, and if they’re a bit flat, well, so be it as this is an older and fairly obscure picture. Levels are well balanced and dialogue is easy enough to follow and understand. There weren’t any obvious typographical errors in the white subtitles to complain about – the audio is fine, though the Italian mix seems to have some noticeable background hiss in spots.

    The two big extra features for the first movie come in the form of a pair of video interviews. The first one is with actress Yumi Takagiwa. The second interview is with Japanese film critic Risaku Kiridoushi. The Takagiwa interview clocks in at about seventeen minutes in length and the actress, who seems extremely gracious to be interviewed here, speaks at some length about her work on this particular film, how she feels about some of the themes, and her career in general. The Kiridoushi interview is slightly longer, at roughly twenty minutes, and it does a fine job of filling in some of the background on the movie and its director.

    Rounding out the extra features is the great theatrical trailer for the film, and inside the case is an insert that reproduces the original poster art for the film (which is on the cover in a form slightly modified to remove the nudity) with a chapter stop listing on the other side.

    Behind Convent Walls starts off with the aforementioned Tovoli interview entitled Working With Borowzcyk (17:00). Conducted in English, here the surprisingly amiable cinematographer talks about how he get involved with the director on this project, what it was like working with him, and how they set out to create a certain look for the film. He also talks about some of the film’s themes, how the history of the church in Rome played a key factor in the story, and how it was a nice film to work on since they were shooting in a beautiful area with ‘nice weather and good food.’

    There’s also a Behind Convent Walls Featurette (10:51) which includes interviews with Borowczyk fan Sam Dunn who talks about the period in Borowczyk’s life in which he made this film, while Borowczyk Film Festival Organizer Daniel Bird talks about how Borowczyk came to leave France to make this picture before pointing out the film’s frivolous feel and how it demonstrates the director’s obsessions with objects as well as why they couldn’t show this film in Poland at a Borowczyk retrospective held there. Marc Morris, who runs a Borowczyk fan site and who runs Nucleus Films (who made this featurette) adds his input on the director and this film in particular. Rounding out the extras for Behind Convent Walls is a lobby card gallery and some animated menus.

    The Final Word:

    If you don’t already have the single disc releases, this set is a great way to pick up two Nunsploitation classics. School Of The Holy Beast is about as good as any nunsploitation film you’re ever likely to see while Borowczyk’s entry is as interesting a blend of art and sleaze as you’d expect from the director of The Beast. Cult Epic’s set is a good one, and worthy of your shelf space should have an interest in the material.