• School Of The Holy Beast




    Released on: Cult Epics
    Released on: 8/30/2005
    Director: Norifumi Suzuki
    Cast: Maya Takigawa, Fumio Watanabe, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe, Ryouko Ima
    Year: 1974
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    The Movie:

    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 sacrilige 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 crucifixtion. 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 infact 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? Presumeably 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.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The anamorphic widescreen transfer 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 plentliful amount of skin on display comes through naturally. Black levels are strong and solid, there are no probelsm 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).

    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.

    The two big extra features 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. 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.

    The Final Word:

    School Of The Holy Beast is about as good as any nunsploitation film I’ve seen so far. It finds the perfect mix of arthouse aestheticism and exploitative sex and violence, resulting in an entertaining sleaze fest that looks just as pretty as a picture. Cult Epics DVD looks good, sounds good, and contains some pretty keen extra features. Good stuff!