the Holy Beast
In fact, the images the director uses to tell his tale collectively constitute the film's best element. Over and over again, Suzuki presents the viewer with some gorgeous tableau or another. Every detail employed to create these, the cinematography, the sets, the costumes, the lighting, the placement of the actors, their movements, and so on, come together to make each moment of the movie seem more like a painting brought to life than like an ordinary cinematic scene. Whether he is showing two half-naked nuns who are standing face to face and being forced to lash one another with whips before their sisters, Maya, having been bound with the stems of roses, being flogged by other nuns with bouquets of those same flowers, or a pair of lesbian nuns making love amongst an explosion of colorful blossoms, the director really has created an astonishing, wonderfully overwrought visual experience.
What is more, School of the Holy Beast is deliciously exploitative. In addition to the scenes of torture and lesbian sex that have already been mentioned, the movie includes depictions of women being dropped into a reservoir of boiling water, fighting hand-to-hand in a field, and getting beaten, stabbed, raped, or otherwise mistreated. In one particularly memorable scene, for instance, a young nun who was impregnated by a priest who raped her, having accused the man of his crime, is tested by being forced to drink salt water and then being told, after she has been strapped to a chair below which is a pan wherein a crucifix has been set, that she will be regarded as a heretic if she fails to control herself and urinates on the image. The movie is absolutely packed with such incidents.
Regrettably, as much fun as many of the individual scenes of the film are, they are often put together in a haphazard way. Although I do not object to the fact that many of the occurrences Suzuki depicts are unrelated to the central narrative (I have no issue with such an episodic structure), the emotive impact of the film is diminished by the resulting inconsistent tone. Most of School of the Holy Beast is dark and vicious, but some of the sequences, such as that in which two men are dressed as nuns so that hey can sneak into the convent and have sex with the vice abbess, are overtly comic and do not enhance the overall effect of the movie. That said, these sequences are still enjoyable to watch.
Lastly, I should note that the performances of the actors are, on the whole, decent. While I was never impressed with any of the players' work, I was not struck by any person's ineptitude either, which is something of a rarity in exploitation films.
School of the Holy Beast is by no means Suzuki's best work, but it is a lot of fun. It is, moreover, so visually appealing that its faults can readily be forgotten while savoring its sumptuous images.
Review by Keith Allen
© 2008 firstname.lastname@example.org Keith Allen. All rights reserved.