Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on September 20th, 2010
A nunsploitation box set was always an inevitability, and here the good people at Cult Epics chime in with just such a collection, one limited to 2500 copies. There are only two films here, but they are two good ones, the works of strong directors. One is a distinctively idiosyncratic work, showing the unmistakable hand of its filmmaker. The other will quite simply knock you out the back wall.
Behind Convent Walls is Walerian Borowczyk’s contribution to the subgenre. A repressive abbess rules her convent with an iron fist (not to mention the blade concealed in her cane), but the sexuality of the nuns will not be repressed, and it will make its presence known, whether through rebellion or madness. The film defies any linear summary, given that it is almost impossible to tell the nuns apart, and the various incidents are not only disconnected, they take place with very little motivation or logic. Instead, we have a strikingly beautiful exercise in pure cinema. The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror, on the subject of Borowczyk’s Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes, notes, “Borowczyk’s imagery, here fed by his fetishistic fascination with all things antiquarian, is often stunning and the film becomes a sort of still life in which familiar yet alien objects … seem imbued with a secret significance all their own.” Exactly the same is true for Behind Convent Walls. While nowhere near as powerful a film as The Beast, it is nonetheless well worth one’s full attention.
As for School of the Holy Beast, I reviewed this back in 2005, and as my opinion of the film hasn’t changed, I’ll merely repeat (here and below) what I said then. After a wild night with a man she just met, Yumi Takigawa enters the convent of St. Clore as an apprentice nun. She hasn’t joined out of religious conviction. Her mother was a nun here, and died under mysterious circumstances when Takigawa was born, and she has come here to find out what really happened. She encounters all the necessary ingredients of a nunsploitation movie: lesbians, a lustful priest, plenty of whippings, lashings of torture, and tons o’ blasphemy.
Watching this 1974 film (based on a comic series) is to realize that the terms “over the top,” “blasphemous,” “delirious” and “outrageous” are sorely inadequate. Most films of this kind promise much, but are hopelessly ham-handed in their execution. This is energetically shot, the colours are eye-poppingly sumptuous, the climactic torture sequence (involving our heroine bound naked by thorny vines and whipped with roses) is a jaw-dropper, and there’s even a touch of the supernatural. Then there’s the merciless attack on religion, of a ferocity that one cannot imagine a Western filmmaker getting away with, especially in this day and age. For connoisseurs of sleaze, you are about to encounter a masterpiece.
Of the two, Behind Convent Walls is the one that will strike viewers used to contemporary ultra-HD pictures as the most aged. The soft-focus photography by Suspiria‘s Luciano Tovoli is delicate and beautiful, but very grainy and the colours are rather pale. Its aspect ratio is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. As for School of the Holy Beast, the colours are very strong (though they do sometimes fluctuate) and the print is in good shape, and quite sharp. There is some grain at the start, but it soon almost completely vanishes. The blacks aren’t always as strong as they should be, however. The film’s 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format is preserved.
Both films are presented with mono soundtracks. Again, Holy Beast wins out. It has a little bit of buzz going on, but nothing severe. The job gets done, the tones are warm enough, and the sound isn’t thin. Convent Walls comes with a number of language options. I would avoid the awkward English dub. The Italian one sounds more natural, even if that’s only to these non-Italian-speaking ears. But either way, the mono has aged, sounding rather muzzy, and the music is plagued by a gurgling quality, which does tend to detract from some striking sequences.
Behind Convent Walls:
Working with Borowczyk: (17:00) Tovoli shares his memories of making the film, and he is very warm in his praise and admiration for the director.
Behind the Walls: (10:51) An interesting piece, situating the film in the context of Borowczyk’s oeuvre. I wish it had been longer, but what’s here is strong.
School of the Holy Beast:
Interview with Actress Yumi Takigawa: (17:00) A solid featurette with Takigawa reminiscing about the movie.
Interview with Critic Risaku Kiridoushi: (20:00) Though there are some interesing nuggets to be gathered here, Kiridoushi spends far too much time on endless redundancies and pointing out the completely obvious.
A very nice box set. If one is limited to choosing two nunsploitation films, it’s hard to go wrong with these two.