DVD: School of the Holy Beast/ Seijû gakuen (1974)
Label/Studio: Cult Epics / Catalogue: DVD-033 / Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: August 30, 2005
Synopsis: A shapely babe becomes a novitiate in order to unearth the horrible torments that were inflicted upon her mother within the Sacred Heart Convent. Nunneries were never so naughty!
Special Features: Japanese Video Interview with Actress Yumi Takigawa (16:37) with English Subtitles / Japanese Video Interview with Critic Risaku Kiridoushi (19:19) with English Subtitles
Labeled in the video interview by film critic Risaku Kiridoushi as the first real effort in the “erotic-grotesque” genre of masochistic Japanese sexploitation filmmaking, School of the Holy Beastmight well be the ultimate nunsploitation film, too. Basically Forbidden Behaviour done to or by nuns of drifting moral and spiritual standing, School admittedly subscribes to the overtly S&M aspects that pepper Japanese sexploitation films; it’s all confined within the sacred walls of a convent, but the use of chains, rope, denied micturation, and trauma to the chest are things western sexploitation filmmakers wouldn’t linger on so elegantly with a 35mm ‘scope lens (not 1.85:1, as the sleeve states), a small chamber orchestra, and ethereal vocals.
It’s trash of truly outrageous caliber, although unlike tangential entries that fixate, sometimes with obsessive fascination, on more specific fetishistic behaviour, School maintains its steady revenge narrative – advanced by increasingly brutal punishment sessions, and the occasional sex/assault scene. (The fact that director Suzuki films each set piece so beautifully for the ‘scope ratio makes School platinum-level sleaze, but the use of rape to elicit frat-boy laughs in one sequence reinforces the genre’s still controversial status. School goes nowhere as far as the Angel Guts series, but the film maintains its own stream of grotesqueries.)
Cult Epics wisely included interviews to place the film and the inherent conventions of the studio into some context for genre newbies, as well as western audiences who might be skeptical about the film’s merit. In the first video interview, actress Yumi Takigawa describes the sneaky way in which she was cajoled into her starring role, though she admits her naïveté as a twenty year-old numbed her radar when filming seemed to yield an unusual amount of previously verboten nudity and lesbianism. Conflicts with the director were regular, particularly during the infamous ‘bramble thrashing’ sequence, which Suzuki edited into a disturbingly elegant operetta; in the intervening years, however, the two have since worked together and are respectful friends (says she). That said, Takigawa still can’t understand why the film maintains any interest and warrants a DVD release (or maybe it’s a deliberate attempt to downplay her connection to the genre), and though she never again appeared in any ‘pink’ level films, fans of director Kinji Fukasaku may recognize her from Jingi no hakaba (aka Graveyard of Honor, from 1975), and Fukatsu no hi (the 1980 megaproduction, Virus).
Critic Risaku Kiridoushi, in his lengthy video interview, gives an excellent overview of the ‘erotic-grotesque’ genre pioneered by studio TOEI (who recently produced Fukasaku’s notorious Battle Royale films), and the uniquely Japanese elements that make School a weird little enduring classic. More importantly, Kiridoushi also traces some of the links between transplanted Catholicism in Japan, and its function as key stressor in the film’s faithless priest (himself made up to resemble a morally reprobate, Rasputin-like creature).
Because guilt is such an elemental cornerstone of Catholicism – harbinger of punitive pain, and precursor to redemption – it makes the faith an ideal dartboard for the sexploitation genre; director Suzuki unabashedly uses guilt – from impure thoughts, secretive acts, and theft – to place his pretty cast in ridiculous stages of undress – which either shock the governing nuns, or partially kindle their own sadistic streaks when meting out punishment. And more discreetly, one does get the impression the filmmakers seemed to relish depicting a sacred Western faith & cultural anchor as a bankrupt cult, with practitioners and followers in need of a good lay once in a while.
Although bad behaviour is still celebrated in B-level exploitation films, they just don’t make them as glossy as this anymore, and Cult Epics have done a superb job in presenting School of the Holy Beast uncut, and in a near pristine transfer.
A genuine treat for fans of high-grade erotic trash.
This title is available separately or as part of Cult Epics’ The Nunsploitation Convent, which features School of the Holy Beats and Walerian Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls / Intérieur d’un couvent / Interno di un convento (1978).
© 2005 & 2010 Mark R. Hasan
Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review