As subversive in its themes of sexual abandon, power exchange, and enforced deviation as it is impressively scathing in its brutally honest, non-blinking presentation of such exploitable phenomenon as enforced sex, bondage, and torture - ages before Hostel grabbed its first pair of pinchers! - Singapore Sling is a bitch-slap in the face of self-complacent filmmaking as well as an attack against audience expectations. Daring you to watch it, seeking no friends or understanding, this is exploitation filmmaking at its finest (and most primal). Owing something of its gritty, daring psycho-sexual subject matter to Drive-In fare and the roughies of 42nd Street infamy, this purplish bruise against timidity juxtaposes images of perverse sexual violence with elegantly filmed, lush interior designs captured in an impressive polish of bizarre beauty. A poem of perversity, director Greek cult filmmaker Nikos Nikolaidis crafts in this opera of dementia, power struggle, and sexual gymnastics a decrepit yet gorgeous film as disturbingly brilliant as it is lovely to look at.

A jab in the mind, this admirably complex, naturalistically approached story is also a poke to the crotch, embracing you like a diseased prostitute, mocking your contradictory desire and repulsion towards its charnel charms. Beginning, appropriately enough, in a symbolic darkness (dark as lust, dark as sin) in the alienating countryside (a representation of the wild, unrestrained instincts about to be unleashed?), a half-dead, panting mystery man (Thanassoulis) is found during a rainstorm by two women donning goggles -- Mother (Herold) and daughter (Valley), who just happen to be hiding the remains of their latest playthings. Bringing the man to their lushly photographed home, whose shadow-drenched of decrepit elegance mirror physically the women's disturbing mixture of erotic yet deadly beauty and insanity, the cold women name their new pet 'Singapore Sling.'

Before long we're as enraptured by the demented desire and power-games of these fem-fatales as their hapless plaything, provoked into a surreal world where death is a game, and sex is how you play. Re-enacting the deaths of previous victims (including, at one point, the demise of the young woman whom the man was initially searching for), emotional integrity is quickly butchered no less thoroughly as any pretense of sanity or justice. The women - clearly, beautifully mad - indulge in such pleasing pastimes as bondage, sadism and masochism, and shocking games enjoyed with various bodily fluids. Sickness of heart and mentality are the focus as each of these three meat puppets - each, in turn, both victims to one another and of their own natures - descend further into an alienating filth of madness, perversion, and pain.

In Singapore Sling death is made beautiful and suffering of both internal and external natures is fondled with the loving subjectivity of a hand grasping battered flesh. Making decadence attractive, capturing it with stunning black-and-white elegance, a retrospective screenplay and enthusiastic direction, Nikolaidis evokes disgust, fear, and awe not simply by highlighting violence in an honest, brutal fashion but, in addition, by refusing to commend or condemn either the characters. He breaks the banal cinematic tradition of moralizing. Presenting the risky, emotionally charged theatrics of its near hardcore action neither as sympathizer nor moralizer, Nikolaidis instead opts (wisely) to take the perspective of an unbiased, unemotional outsider. A formalist, he watches the heated psychological vivisection between these three deranged and desperate personas without emotion, thereby allowing us to enjoy our own. Any decisions to be made, any condemnations, must be made by us.

In a story as daring as it is intelligent, Singapore Sling is as concerned with characterization as it is with surface titillation and terror. Sex and violence are depicted herein as different sides of a similar impulse, extensions of similar instincts. Long treated suggestively - when approached in either mainstream or even exploitation art at all - the relationship between intimacy and sexual gratification, pain and violence (both mirrored reflections of birth and death, creation and annihilation) have been largely tip-toed around by a culture and capitalist medium more concerned with appealing to housewives than in approaching any pretense at emotional honesty or artistic integrity. Stripping away the puritanical associations of sex and physical love, Singapore Sling likewise eliminates the emotional safety artificially installed by most films where pain and pleasure are kept safely apart. Even more admirably, the director refuses to adapt the tired, hypocritical stance of the modern mainstream horror movie, which often demands that sexual liberation be followed by violent pain and death - a retribution for the pursuit of physical pleasure. Such problematic, rather idiotic (and decidedly sick-minded) 'conservative' posturing of sex and violence are stripped away in this problem child of cinema. Morality is drowned in urine, and disgust and lust are forced to wrestle together in the same pit of sweat, skin, and blood. The result? A film as capable of arousing thought as emotion.

There is no escape for these people - neither the two women who, strangely enough, make themselves as much victims as victimizers, or the man whose identity is played as both an individual persona with a mysterious history as well as a more general representative of Man in general, caught in a cyclical m´┐Żnage of madness, passion, and destruction. The helplessness and hopelessness of the premise (and characterizations) are wonderfully captured by the 'look' of the film. Photographed in black-and-white by cinematographer Aris Stavrou, the picture attains a trace of German expressionism further enriched by a lucid sense of naturalism that manages to both defy and emphasize the surreal atmosphere of these deviants, caught in a dream-world of their own making. The movie owes even more to the Noir cinema of the late 30's and 40's, lending gritty actions a proper feeling of the commonplace, instilling them within the world of realism without loosing its beauty as art - which this film surly is. Neither solely an art film nor exploitation vehicle, horror or rough erotica, this film occupies its own nightmarish geography. Burrowing the sentiments, storytelling traditions, and stylistic underpinnings of each of the aforementioned genres, Sling refuses to obey the tenants of either one, bending tradition to its own dictate.

Synapse should be commended not only for their gutsy decision to rescue from obscurity such a scathingly emotional movie, realizing its importance as a rare hybrid of exploitation sensation and art-film, but, in addition, for the care and respect with which they treat the presentation of the picture. Carefully prepared, the film is offered in 1.66.1 (anamorphic widescreen). The picture lacks any discernible lines, scratches, or blemishes save for a faint line that in no serious way hampers the presentation. Audio is in clear Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 mono, and sub-titles are burned over the small portion of the film where characters don't speak English. While disappointingly few, the extras are enjoyable, including the theatrical trailer and a stills gallery.

Not for the weak-hearted or idealist, this ambiguous beast of sin-cinema threatens everything and fears nothing. Daringly original in its presentation of humanity devoured by its own fetishistic instincts and desires, the movie is also unshakable in its determination to merge sex and pain into an uncomfortable duet. The ending is as problematic to traditional narrative structures as its themes are dangerous to a cinematic world raised on the idiocy of mainstream culture. Bleak, brazen, and decidedly decadent, this is terrorist art at its most primal. A deadly, enticing combination!

Review by William P Simmons

Released by Synapse
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review