Starring: Yumi Takagawa, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe, Ryouko Ima
Known as the most notorious Japanese nunsploitation film of all time, Seiju gakuen is a production of the infamous Toei studios, known mostly for their pinku eiga or pink film subgenre. Holy Beast definitely falls into this category, so if you are expecting it to be like some of the Italian nunsploitation greats, beware. And in case you are unaware, pink films are essentially small studio productions featuring softcore pornography, occasionally violence and, more towards the second half of the period, plots dealing with girl gangs, women in prison, and overall bad girls who kick a lot of ass and have a lot of sex. Check out the Pinky Violence box set for the best of the bunch. School of the Holy Beast fits into this category because of the sex and violence, though there isn't a whole lot of the former.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed by the film, mostly because of my expectations. I think I thought it would be like the best of the European nunsploitation films, with a lot of nudity, a good amount of sex, violence, preferably some Satan worship, lesbians, and some sort of corruption in the Church hierarchy. This film has a small amount of sex, some very beautiful torture scenes, no Satan worship whatsoever, a scant amount of lesbians, and a very corrupt, sex-obsessed archbishop. So, really, it doesn't meet all my standards. And I have no idea why this film is called School of the Holy Beast, as this takes place in a convent, there is no devil worship and no holy beast.
Other than being a misled by the title and my lofty expectations, the film is a little slow, but overall pretty successful. It concerns Maya, a young Japanese woman who willingly takes holy vows and enters a Sacred Heart convent to unravel the mystery of who killed her nun-mother many years ago. She endures standing around naked a lot, watching other naked girls get tortured by the senior nuns in some bizarre ways, and, in the most extreme and beautiful scene of the film, getting trapped in a frenzy of nuns whipping her with long-stemmed, thorny roses. The most extreme thing about School of the Holy Beast is the over the top punishment sequences, which includes the aforementioned rose-whipping and a somewhat difficult scene involving salt water torture. The entire film, but particularly these scenes of torture, have beautiful, dreamy cinematography reminiscent of the Gothic films of Mario Bava. The director, Norifumi Suzuki, does a solid job and this film is at least more artistically accomplished than his earlier Beautiful Girl Hunter.
You can get School of the Holy Beast through Cult Epics in a widescreen, unrated and uncut release. The only extras are two interviews and a trailer, along with a reproduction of the poster art in a sturdy, large postcard style insert. Thankfully the audio track is in the original Japanese language with clear English subtitles, though I suspect they could use a new translation.