Nunsploitation films emerge as a genre with the notorious School Of The Holy Beast by cult director Norifumi Suzuki in 1974. Under all that respectability, the nuns at this Scared Heart Convent are horny enough to put any red light district to shame. For extra curricular activities, there is always whipping with a bunch of thorny roses. Stephen Tan reviews.


If School Of The Holy Beast was made today, it would definitely have included paedophilia among its litany of sins. Simply put, the 1974 film, also known as Convent of the Sacred Beast, is sold as Japan's most notorious nunsploitation film.

For those who are unfamiliar with the title, no there are no demons (ala The Devil's Rain or The Devil Rides Out) or satanic black masses but what goes within this Sacred Heart Convent can easily be construed as "satanic."

The film starts with Maya (Yumi Takigawa) having a fun day out which ends with her in bed with a stranger, telling him that she will be going to a place "where women are not women." She enters the convent, not because she is called but to find out what happened to her mother who died there.

As if to leave her past life behind, the initiation process into nun-hood involves Maya stripping in front of the altar in the presence of all the nuns and being draped with a white veil. The first night in the dorm, Maya witnesses one of the nuns flagellating herself with a whip. The nun on the next bed tells Maya that this is what the nuns do when they get the urge.

As Maya settles in the routine of the convent, she comes across two nuns who were caught stealing food. Their punishment - they had to lash each other 20 times. It isn't 20 minutes into the film but by now, viewers would have taken in a fair share of bare breasts and a kissing and fondling scene between two nuns.

The visit of an archbishop does nothing to improve things. In fact, the opposite happens - for the lecherous bishop, the convent is like a brothel catering to his every sexual desire, with the mother superior acting as the madame - after all, she has already given herself to him and has always been in love with the priest. Underneath her cowl of respectability, one of the other senior nuns is really horny like anyone else and one night, Maya gets two of her male friends to have sex with the sleeping nun.

As Maya is eventually fingered as a "bad" element, she gets the dreaded "13th Punishment." Stripped off her top (Japanese cinema was shy about showing male and female genitals), Maya is bound by a thorny vine and whipped by a lineup of nuns with roses and more thorns (an inversion of Jesus' crown of thorns).

When one of the nuns is discovered to be pregnant (after being raped by the archbishop), she is punished in what might be seen as the film's most blasphemous scene. Tied up in a chair (again without her top), the girl is forced to drink copious amount of salt water. A piece of art depicting Jesus on the cross is placed beneath her chair. In a move that would make the witch hunters of Salem proud, if the nun is true to her beliefs, she will not urinate on the art!

In a career that spans more than 20 years, cult director Norifumi Suzuki is probably best known for this film. Very well photographed, the film has some nice visuals - for example, the archbishop lying in an inverted crucifix position (usually associated with the upside down cross of the antichrist). The film's wit is its ability to weave in an incest subplot that is deterministic in its execution and leaves the perpetrator totally a-moral at the end. To go any further would only spoil the fun.

Internal logic and the story are not the film's strong points, it is the film's outright condemnation of hypocrisy within the church vis-a-vis the convent that viewers will remember. It's almost as if within each and every nun or priest lies a festering urge for sex and normality, a need which can be momentarily and damnably satisfied by torture, whippings and masochistic rites. In this convent, sacrilege is probably considered a venial sin.

Note: The School Of The Holy Beast DVD (Cult Epics) is banned in $ingapore.

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January 29, 2007


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