Singapore Sling (1990)
Film review by: Witney Seibold
“Singapore Sling” is one of the most brutal, sick, unpleasant, and stomach-churning films to be made. That it is artfully shot, well-acted, philosophically poignant, and mannered only seems to add to the discomfort levels. There are no films like this one, and, should you decide you have the stamina, I encourage you to seek it out. It plays like a combination of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and “Grey Gardens,” with sexually torturous hints of “Last Tango in Paris,” with a few dashes of noir-ish “Sunset Boulevard” narration.
Directed by the late Greek filmmaker Nikos Nikolaidis, who has made cult classics like “See You in Hell, My Darling” and “Eurydice 2037,” “Singapore Sling” follows a mother-daughter team who live in a decrepit mansion in the middle of what looks like a South America jungle. The mansion is heavily decorated with lace, pillows, and flowing tapestries. It is an overstuffed, overmoneyed place. You can practically smell the orchid perfume. The mother (Michele Valley) is a painted ghoul who barks orders, likes to repeat herself in French, and may or may not have a penis (!). The daughter (Meredyth Harold) talks like a baby, and frequently sneaks off to the attic to smoke cigarettes and masturbate in the lap of her dead father, mummified. Together, they play gross incestuous sex games, often with costumes, and always involving role-playing. The daughter spends a lot of time narrating to the camera, and she shares that she and mother have killed a few people and buried them in the garden.
The first shot of the film is of the mother and daughter in a rainy grave, wearing raincoats and lingerie (sans panties), dragging a disemboweled victim into the soggy hole. Werner Herzog has said that cinema has run out of original images. The sight of these nearly-nude women dragging a corpse into its grave is, I think, an original image. These women get naked an awful lot.
Into this psychopathic idyll stumbles a man (Panagiotis Thanasoulis) searching for his lost love. He narrates like a noir antihero, and is bleeding from an injury, the nature of which we never learn. The mother and the daughter drag him inside, tie him up, figure he’s looking for his lost ladylove, realize that they have killed the woman, nickname him “Singapore Sling,” and proceed to play dangerous sexual mind games with him.
The games are not, however, of the sadistic “Saw” variety. Indeed, the daughter seems to oscillate between posing as the man’s ladylove, actually believing she is the ladylove, and secretly asking permission to be herself again. Harold’s performance is bold, fearless, and disgusting. It’s rare to see an actress so committed. When she giggles, we don’t see a generic movie killer or artificially terrifying monster. We actually sense the mental illness glinting out of her eyes. In one scene, she sneaks into the man’s bedroom, and, while raping him, reassures him, coos, berates him, insults him, and then gags herself to vomit on his face. The pacing of the film, Harold’s performance, and the unbalanced black-and-white aesthetic give this scene its own sick, interior logic.
There’s a lot of vomiting in this film. There are a few dialogue-free meal scenes in which the mother and daughter scoop piles of revolting-looking food into their mouths, and then puke right back onto their plates. It seems unclear at first what’s going on in these horrid scenes, until you realize that they mother and daughter are playing a sort of juvenile gross-out game. Nothing between these two women is not a challenge.
The man (and none of these characters have names), thanks to his injury, and his bizarre surroundings, soon begins to play along with these often nude and super-libido-ed women. His ultimate goal is, of course, revenge for this woman’s death, but, it seems, he can only kill these women if he manages to become like them. When he starts having sex with the women, we actually can sense his own breakdown, rather than being outraged at his lack of gumption and loss of goal. We begin to ask questions about identity. Can madness be transferred?
I was wincing throughout this film. The images are pointedly revolting, and stand as a challenge to anyone who wishes to view it. Know, though, that it is not merely standard gross-out fare like “Pink Flamingos,” or “Saw.” No. It is an edgy and terrifying horror film about the power of madness and the aesthetics of interior chaos. It’s not the least bit pleasant, and may seem confusing at times, but it’s a journey that an interested party may not regret taking.
If you were grossed out by this review, do not see the film.