If you watch enough movies, every so often you get that special feeling that the one you’re watching right now is sui generis — a one-of-a-kind viewing experience that, although it may not match any kind of cinematic ideal, is transfixing and fascinating. Singapore Sling is one of those movies. Directed by the Greek auteur Nikos Nikolaidis, it’s a pitch-black neo-noir old-dark-house sex-horror comedy featuring ample helpings of nudity, bondage, torture, general fiendishness, and very poor table manners.
You know you’re in for something special from the very first scene, which depicts two women outdoors in a thunderstorm digging what can only be a grave. (Looks like they’ve done this before.) The one scooping rainwater is wearing stockings and garters under her rain-slicker but is otherwise plainly nude from the waist down. The film begins riffing on Otto Preminger’s Laura almost immediately, with the arrival on the scene of a soused detective on the trail of the killers (?) of a woman by that name.
Turns out the two women are a psychotic mother-daughter act. Having dragged the unconscious detective into their old house, they briefly — between giggles and bouts of sex play — discuss what to do with the fella (plant him in the garden?). But before long Mommy’s found a journal in his pocket with notes on his investigation — and the safest bet seems to be tying up their now-silent captive, whom they’ve dubbed “Singapore Sling,” and torturing him to discover why he’s asking questions about Laura.
As odd as this business has been so far, things don’t get really weird until the younger woman develops a thing for Singapore Sling. (“He smelled of blood, sweat and fear,” she explains in voiceover. “He excited me.”) She steals out of bed in the middle of the night to have sex with him, an act that culminates in the expulsion of vomit on his cheek. She comes back to bed afterward, and Mother awakens and starts addressing the audience: “That little whore — cette petite putain — she thinks I have no idea of what happened. Well, I heard it all, and tomorrow we’ll have it out.”
And so it goes. Before the film’s over, getting raped in his bed is the least of the poor guy’s worries. He’ll be bound, gagged, electrocuted, and pissed on. He witnesses a dinner scene that qualifies as one of the most repulsive meals in cinematic history (I’m still not sure exactly what those women were eating). And, of course, because this is both a descendant of film noir and a psychological horror movie, he’ll have delivered unto the doorway of his soul a very special kind of madness. (This shit is so sick it anticipated a scene in Se7en by about seven years.)
The film’s backbone is its justly infamous scenes of bondage, violence and degradation, some of which are fairly elaborate and specific in their fetishism. (The costumes, too, are gothic-fabulous.) But Singapore Sling’s soul is in its playful absurdity. Nikolaidis claims that he thought he was making a comedy, and I believe him — there are elements here and there that are either so far over the top they qualify as self-parody (in flashback, the daughter gets taken from behind by her father, who happens to be a mummy) or are simply performed with such loony conviction that you know the folks involved had to be kidding. Meredyth Herold, who plays the daughter, has to come in for special praise in a role that requires not just frequent nudity and one fairly punishing-looking bondage scene (by which I mean: ow), but also several monologues delivered to the camera that balance an overstated childish naivete with the suggestion of insanity. And it’s in that hint of real instability that the film finds power to disturb, grinding toward an unpleasantly misogynous climax.
(I will trot out that laziest of criticisms and complain that it’s too long, the delirious illusion of a waking nightmare not quite sustained through 112 minutes.)
While it’s most assuredly a specialized taste, Singapore Sling is fairly sophisticated visually. Composition within each frame is varied and interesting, and Aris Stavrou’s monochrome cinematography ably apes the golden age of film noir. It’s rendered on Synapse’s DVD with blazing white highlights and deep blacks — there’s not much shadow detail on this disc, but Synapse has done a spectacular job making what must have been a pretty ragged source print (there are crappy English subtitles burned in to the image) look fairly pristine. (Scratches and other blemishes start to show up in the film’s latter half.) I’m guessing the blacks have been crushed significantly compared to a film print, but this is a good-looking DVD, and probably as close as most viewers are going to get to a repertory screening of this thing.
If this all sounds like your idea of a good time, invite your horror- movie friends over and try it on a double-bill with (the awesome) Cemetery Man. Also, definitely check out the director’s Web site (warning: embedded MIDI version of “People Are Strange”), which is similarly crazy.