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  School of the Holy Beast Naughty Nuns Run Rampant
Year: 1974
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Stars: Yumi Takigawa, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe, Aya Otani, Emi Jo, Fumio Watanabe, Hayato Tani
Genre: Horror, Sex, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Arguably the mother superior of all naughty nun movies is this extraordinary orgy of blasphemy from Japan’s Toei Films. Opening with an artfully shot romantic montage, this has gorgeous, eighteen year old Maya (Yumi Takigawa) skip through a Shinjuku shopping spree, lounge cocktails at a swinging nightclub, and finally a night of sensual lovemaking with a hunky stranger, who later introduces himself as Kenta (Hayato Tani). It’s Maya’s last fling before she takes holy orders at the mist-enshrouded, gothic nightmare of St. Clore’s Convent.

Inside, Maya uncovers a hotbed of barely contained carnal desire, hypocrisy and perversion, kicking off with her own naked initiation before the Virgin Mary, probably cinema’s only sexy holy communion scene. Self-flagellating “sinners” keep her awake at night. Two lovely initiates sneak into the greenhouse for dreamy, lesbian sex ornately framed by pretty flowers. Another pair are caught scoffing fish sausages and forced to engage in a topless whip-fight. Crazy-eyed, Rasputin bearded, Father Kakinuma (Fumio Watanabe) punishes a pretty nun who stole money to feed her family, with violent, purgative sex. However, Maya finds a friend in pot-smoking, switchblade-wielding bad girl, Sister Ishida (Emiko Yamauchi) and eventually reveals her real reasons for going undercover. She is investigating the death of her mother, a nun from St. Clore’s, and the disturbing revelations spur Maya into a deliciously twisted scheme of revenge.

Nunsploitation is a pretty worthless genre overall and somewhat baffling to someone whose memories of Sunday schoolteachers and prim matrons are far from sexy. Although films by Walerian Borowczyk and Joe D’Amato have their admirers, they never attempt the same satirical swipes as Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971). When the Mother Superior claims Jesus said adulterers are no better than animals, it’s hard to discern whether writer-director Norifumi Suzuki (who also wrote the manga on which this is based) is criticising those who pervert the teachings of Christ or genuinely thinks this what Catholics believe.

Suzuki’s sexy swipes at Catholicism lack the transgressive edge of his European brethren, largely because Christians were historically an oppressed minority in Japan and scarcely have the same influence in their contemporary society as in Italy or Spain. So how come School of the Holy Beast still rates as the ultimate nunsploitation movie? Well, regardless of the subject matter, the extraordinary high art aesthetics have won legions of art-house admirers the world over. Exquisitely lit and framed, this fuses elements of gothic horror, softcore eroticism and hallucinogenic wonderment, reaching an operatic crescendo when Maya is bound naked in thorns and thrashed with bouquets or roses while petals fall and her hair cascades in slow-motion, and a heavenly chorus sings alleluia. It’s a baroque, twistedly beautiful sequence.

Most European nunsploitation flicks are all sex and no plot. This overflows with sub-plots, quirky detours and humorous vignettes and crams in all the catfights, torture scenes and lesbian liaisons familiar from Toei’s sexy schoolgirl action-horror movies. One interesting aside features documentary footage from the aftermath of the Nagasaki bomb, used to illustrate Father Kakinuma’s disillusionment with God. The relentless bad taste - which includes a girl forced to urinate on a crucifix (with that heavenly choir again!) and Maya sneaking in Kenta and a male friend in drag to seduce the sex-starved Mother Superior (“This way you can go to heaven quicker!”) - may offend some, but at a heart this is an outrageously camp gothic horror-comedy and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Many Toei sexploitation movies are structured like the act itself, spasms of pleasure building towards an ecstatic climax. The ending is equal parts Black Narcissus (1947) and Suspiria (1977) with a villainess disposed of by handy trapdoor that leads to a pool of acid, and heavenly Maya having incestuous sex, as she doles out the screen’s first religious epiphany-revenge death orgasm! Of course Japanese movie fans cherish the film for the rare and spectacular nude scenes from Yumi Takigawa, one of the most beautiful stars in J-cinema. A highly respected actress in movies, theatre and television, she went on to replace Meiko Kaji as star of the Female Convict Scorpion series, and remains active to this day, although slightly baffled why School of the Holy Beast is her one movie released in the West.

Click here for naughty nun action
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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