The nunsploitation genre is one of those peculiar cinematic niches unfamiliar to the "general moviegoing public," save Sister Act Two: Electric Boogaloo, and is a product of what some - mainly those who wouldn't identify themselves as being part of the aforementioned audience, or would correct me on the title of a Sister Act sequel - might fondly refer to as the halcyon days of exploitation cinema. Heretical points of view and blasphemous depictions, which usually include lesbianism and devil worship, are common characteristics of nunsploitation films. Certainly there are variations on such motifs, but these are the basic hallmarks, and attractions, to this sub-niche genre. With this in mind, Cult Epics DVD release of the nunsploitation shocker, School of the Holy Beast, actually exceeds such expectations.
In School of the Holy Beast an attractive (of course) eighteen year-old named Maya Takigawa (played by the similarly named Yumi Takigawa) spends a footloose and fancy-free day galavanting around town.
Why all the letting down of hair? Well, it turns out that Maya is going to enter a convent ("where women are not women") the following day and is taking the opportunity to indulge whims which might otherwise be forbidden to nuns. These of course include (but are not limited to) a womanly spree of ice hockey-spectating, bumper car-riding and lovemaking with a complete stranger - the perfect climax to Maya's last hurrah.
Once inside the Sacred Heart Convent, Maya is briefly introduced to the nuns before she and her clothing are just as quickly whisked away. Again naked and prostrate, this time in front of a giant cross instead of a dashing stranger, Maya makes solemn as a congregation of habited sisters proceed to cover her naked form with a white shroud. Later, as Maya is beginning to acclimatize to life inside the convent, and grow accustomed to the nightly screams from self flagellation that echo off the holy halls, an immaculate conception-doubting, whisky-guzzling cutie named sister Ishida pegs poor Maya as a spy for the Mother Superior. Ishida's accusation is fueled by Maya's recent entry into the convent and an equally recent string of busts that have resulted in torture, which is of course the cure-all for any sisters who sin. As hoped for, Ishida's claim against Maya results in a not to be missed bitch slap bonanza.
While not a spy, Maya does have ulterior motives for entering the convent. It turns out that her mother was also a sister (follow me) and died under mysterious circumstances inside the convent. Ultimately, Maya risks her own life as she attempts to unravel the mystery behind her mother's death, uncovering many dastardly deeds amidst a murder most foul!
Much to my delight, this is without exception the best nunsploitation film I have ever seen. It goes much, much farther than others dared in its depiction of religious hypocrisy and outright blasphemy. Sure, as usual there is self-flagellation aplenty, but add in rape, incest, masturbation, witch trial torture, rose thorn lacerations, urination on holy effigies, trapdoors, pits of boiling water, not to mention a bout of morning sickness, and it all combines to make a potent, offensive and entertaining exploitation film that is truly astonishing. Furthermore, add to this, striking cinematography, a good plot, serviceable acting and an overall nicely crafted, aesthetically pleasing film and what we get is a real trashy delight of a movie.
This DVD from Cult Epics is highlighted by a very nice 35mm widescreen transfer of the film with nary a blemish in sight. The film is also presented with the original Japanese audio and optional English subtitles. Extras include a trailer and two video interviews. The first with star Yumi Takigawa who recalls, with some noticeable reservations, her involvement in the film - the second is with film critic Risaku Kiridoushi who draws some interesting historical links and places the film within the context of other Japanese "erotic-grotesque" films from the 70's. While not for all tastes, this film is highly recommended for fans of exploitation cinema and will surely make a very nice addition to any adventurous movie watcher's DVD collection.