Sunday, April 30, 2006

School of the Holy Beast (1974)

Japanese nunsploitation! What else do you need to hear? That's a bit reductive, really -- while most examples of this genre exist only to show women of the cloth in various unsavory positions, this film has a point of view. The corruption of the nuns (and one priest) lays bare director Norifumi Suzuki's conviction that God may have indeed abandoned the modern world. (In case that's not clear enough, he all but has a character blame God for Nagasaki.) That this film has something to say beyond the usual exploitation fodder gives it a kick that others of its ilk are missing, but that's not to say that it doesn't also forgo the usual pleasures of this genre. Rather, it's awash in beautifully filmed perversion. Whereas an Italian production around this time period would usually be trotted out in cheap pastels, this film lays on the moody blacks and grays to make the splashes of color all the more striking. (There's a central setpiece involving rose petals that presages American Beauty, if Kevin Spacey had been flogging Mena Suvari with thorny stems.) Quizzically, the film's excitability and need to flaunt the taboo leads to its major weakness: In cramming all the nasty stuff he could imagine into the narrative (whether to bolster his atheistic convictions or just to sell more tickets), Suzuki also turned his film into a scattershot enterprise. There is a plot, but it doesn't kick in until the hour mark; prior to that, there's little more than flailing about in a puddle of muck. It's shamefully entertaining and surprising in the places it eventually goes, but more focus would have helped.

Grade: B-


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