Thursday, 29 December 2011

I watch movies so you don't have to #6 - School Of The Holy Beast (1974) Warning: SPOILERS!

It took me quite a while to get into Japanese movies. I realise this is a mindbogglingly stupid generalisation, but I really tried. Then I tried again and still just never found anything that I liked. Eventually I kinda got into Seijun Suzuki and movies like Branded To Kill (1967) and Tokyo Drifter (1966), but I'm not sure if I actually liked them back then or if it was because Jim Jarmusch told me I should. some point, without the influence of Mr Jarmusch or anyone else, I discovered Kaneto Shindo and his incredible Onibaba (1964) and Kuroneko (1968). These two films completely blew my mind at the time, in a way that no other Japanese film had ever done. So, a whole new world of cinema opened up to me. Eventually I came across the 'Pinky Violence' genre...and I was sold. There were some incredible films made under this vague blanket description. And in general, Japanese indie cinema in the 70's was fucking incredible...a great mish-mash of horror, martial arts, sex and violence that crossed borders we hadn't even dreamt of yet in the West. And it wasn't even scrappily put together, like so many American 70's sex/exploitation movies. The Japanese ones often looked absolutely INCREDIBLE.

School Of The Holy Beast
Directed by: Noribumi Suzuki
Starring: Yumi Takigawa, Emiko Yamauchi, Ryouko Ima

OK...School Of The Holy Beast. An mind-boggling mix of sex, violence and religious imagery, as well as absolutely stunning to look at. The following review/run-through, contains some mild images of violence and nudity, so read on at your own risk...

We start off in Tokyo (I assume), where a young woman, Maya, is out enjoying herself.

She hooks up with a man and although he wants to see here again, we learn that she's now finished with that life and off to "a place where a woman is no longer a woman", The Convent Of The Holy Beast. Oooh. Intriguing.

And it's a spooky looking place...

She arrives at the convent, where she has to go through an initiation ceremony (naked of course) before becoming a nun.

The rules are laid down...

"There are 73 chapters on the laws of the lord, but the ones to pay the most attention to would be the sins of adultery, murder and stealing"

She's put in a dorm with some slightly more experienced sisters. Her first night is a bit rough. Self-flagellation is a popular way for the sisters to deal with personal issues and Maya is kept awake through the night by the sound of a whip hitting flesh.

The next morning Maya has her first class.

"The sin of adultery is the heaviest sin one can commit among the Lord's laws. Even by thinking such thoughts one has dirtied their own soul"

Maya questions the virgin birth in class and another girl, Ishida, agrees with her. The teacher is NOT impressed.

Later that night Ishida sneaks up to Maya with a bottle of whiskey.

"Wanna drink? I'm happy that a girl like you finally joined"

Naughty, naughty girls...unfortunately, another sister sees them and snitches. Ishida gets into trouble with the headmistress.

Two other nuns get caught stealing sausages...yup...they really like sausages...

...and are severely punished. They are stripped and forced to take turns whipping each other.

Ishida gets suspicious. Two cases of snitching in a day. Maya the newbie is immediately a prime suspect. I was getting a bit confused here. It's awfully difficult to keep track of who's who when everyone is wearing identical outfits. But, I soldier on...

So, it turns out that Maya's mother used to be a nun at the convent. She died under mysterious circumstances and Maya has enrolled at the school to find out what happened.

A fight breaks out between Maya and Ishiko and they're both put in solitary confinement.

"Bitch! Don't take me lightly!"

Meanwhile, another nun, Isako's father is seriously ill. Her little sister shows up at the convent to bemoan the fact that praying isn't going to do much to pay for the hospital bills. Soon after, a large amount of money goes missing from the collection box.

We get a crazy dorm search, where no money is found. The teachers do however find some pornographic pictures, that the headmistress promises to burn personally.

Then we get to meet the creepy Priest Takenumi.

Isaku goes into the confession and confesses to stealing the money. At first, the priest seems forgiving and even gives her money to return to the collection box. When she accepts this solution a little too easily he soon becomes violent. He pins her down on the bed and rapes her.

Meanwhile, the headmistress just can't stop herself from looking at the confiscated dirty pictures.

Maya sneaks out one night. She goes to a totally awesome-looking nightclub, where the man from her last night of freedom and his friends are waiting. She has concocted a most devious plan!

She brings the men back to convent. Dressed as nuns they have no problems being inconspicuous. The men enter the headmistress' room, where she is asleep.

They have their wicked ways with the headmistress, who soon seems to start enjoying herself.

"I'll take you to heaven. I'm sure it'll be more effective than prayer"

When finished, the two men run of them still clutching the headmistress' underwear.

Mizuki saw Maya with some suspicious-looking sisters in the hall and is quick to rat her out. She is obviously the evil snitch!

"We will teach her what the wrath of God is all about"

The punishment method this time involves thorns and roses.

Mid-punishment and Ishida finally comes to the rescue.

"You bitches don't play fair, do you?"

She takes the blame and pulls a knife.

"You hysteric sisters. I accept this fight"

Ishida is expelled.

Maya finds out some more details about her mother. It turns out that the current headmistress was responsible for her death. She was being punished for being pregnant and when hanged the force of the fall and the rope forced the child to be born.

That child was Maya. As if that wasn't bad enough...during a cliff-top confrontation with the headmistress Maya finds out that the creepy rapist priest is actually her father.

Just as the headmistress and the priest are plotting to sort out Maya, a new headmaster is sent over from Rome. This sister, Natalie Green, is not going to take any shit from anyone.

"With me in charge, there will be no more breaching of the rules. In this convent, I smell a witch, a follower of the devil, who tries to lead us astray. I will find out who this witch is and expose her!"

Eeek...doesn't sound too good.

And oh no...Isako is pregnant! She is brutally punished and when she tells them the priest did it, nobody believes her. They force her to drink a lot of water...

...and then they put an image of Christ between her legs...if she wets herself and soils it, she's a witch!

All the sisters are told to witness the punishment, but Maya refuses. This doesn't go down too well with Miss Green.

"So you admit you're a heretic?"

The other sisters gather round Ishiko who has now been tied up for hours. Eventually she can't hold it in anymore. She gives in and urinates on the image of Christ.

"This woman is a witch who blasphemes against God"

Meanwhile, the headmistress tries to kill Maya, using a hidden trap-door, but Maya is too fast. The headmistress falls into the trap and dies.

Maya runs over to Isako, but it's too late. She's already dead. Maya destroys the image of Christ, throws a statue of the virgin Mary on the floor, shattering it.

Miss Green and Co confronts Maya and ties her up. The rest of the convent goes to watch the priest deliver a sermon, leaving Maya and Miss Green alone.

"The time of the witch's death has come"

She fills a glass with a red liquid and pours some powder into it.

"It's a poison that will take you to hell in a mere second"

"Now taste your last meal"

"While you burn in hell, the priest and I will have private mess in your room"

But, HA! Maya breaks free and swings from the rope attached to the church bells. She kicks the evil Miss Green through the window and she is impaled on a stake as she hits the ground.

Headmistress, check. Miss Green, check. Only one baddie to go! The priest!

She sneaks into his bed, knowing that he'll expect Miss Green to be there when he gets back. He has sex with her before realising it's not who he expected.

Erm...this was Maya's revenge, I guess.

"I am your daughter. You had sex with your own daughter. You broke every law in your religion as well as your daughter's"

If this logic wasn't weird enough, it goes all supernatural on us.

But, but...the important thing is that the priest dies and Maya can return to civilisation.

Oh dear...that was a lot to take in. I'm pretty sure I got the names right. As I was saying earlier, it is a bit difficult to follow at times, but if you stick with it you sort of get the hang of it. Director Naribumi Suzuki seem to have thing about torture involving being forced to wet yourself. I seem to recall a similar thing happening in a previous effort of his, the absolutely incredible Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973).

So, while I really enjoyed School Of The Holy Beast, it's not one of my favourite Pinky Violence films. There is heaps and heaps of nudity and quite often it seems like they were struggling to think of how to squeeze in some more. But,'s part of the game. Anyway, it looks absolutely stunning and the violence is not actually as horrific as I might have made it out to be. The thing about these films is that the violence is often very cartoonish and over-the-top, making the onscreen horrors much easier to digest. With the blood a luminous solid red, you're never allowed to forget that you're watching a piece of fiction.

School Of The Holy Beast is available on R1 DVD from Cult Epics as part of their Nunsploitation Convent Collection.

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