Not many readers will be familiar with the work of Nikos Nikolaidis but all that’s about to change with the uncut US release of Synapse Films DVD of his 1990 shock fest SINGAPORE SLING, a truly bizarre glimpse into the sadomasochistic world of a couple of women and their captive detective housed in a baroque villa. The film almost defies classification being part film-noir, Greek tragedy, black comedy and psychosexual nightmare with a huge dollop of the surreal reminiscent of early Lars Von Trier, David Lynch and Kenneth Anger.
The director’s work has been sparsely documented for Western audiences so a brief outline of his cinematic career before we discuss the review feature might prove useful for those wishing to explore his other works. Born in Athens in 1940, Nikolaidis has written and directed several award winning movies that have become cult staples of weird cinema in Greece and immensely popular with European art house film critics, the last of which, SEE YOU IN HELL MY DARLING (1999), like SINGAPORE SLING features three unusual characters caught up in a death-romance triangle in which they attempt to kill one another.
EURYDICE B.A. 2037 (1975) concerns a schizophrenic woman in a hellish prison awaiting ’Orpheus’ to deliver her. This surreal vision combines elements of Kafka and Orwell that introduce themes that resonate throughout the director’s films: insanity, sexual deviance, repugnance, isolation and an influential father figure.
Controversy surrounded the director’s third film, THE WRETCHES ARE STILL SINGING (1979) which concerns five middle-aged society misfits in their forties who come together after years of suffering for various crimes against society. The Greek government initially banned the film due to its sympathetic treatment of criminals and psychotics, but lifted the restriction following uproar from left wing critics.
Nikolaidis’ next film dealt another attack on fascist government. THE SWEET BUNCH (1985) featured an equally amoral group of characters that are placed under surveillance by State authorities and pursued by vigilantes.
The director’s fifth movie MORNING PATROL (1987) again deals with the after effects of devastation. A woman wanders around an abandoned city controlled by computer messages that warn her about attempting to cross ’the forbidden zone’. She meets another survivor and together they attempt to recall their past and the catastrophic events that have led to the city’s demise.
SINGAPORE SLING remains Nikolaidis’ most accessible work to western film buffs due to its lengthy English dialogue between the two female stars. Like most of the director’s films, it is hard to figure out exactly what is going on since events are punctuated with the surreal throughout. The black and white film opens to a beautifully shot credits sequence by cinematographer Aris Stavrou of a garden on a stormy night that reminds one of Kenneth Anger’s EAUX D’ARTIFICE (1953). A rain soaked ’Mother’ (Michèle Valley) and ’Daughter’ (Meredyth Herold) wearing open raincoats and goggles are busy digging a grave for a deceased chauffer. It immediately strikes one as odd that ’Mother’ speaks in a heavy French accent and the ’Daughter’ with an American one. An injured man (Panos Thanassoulis) shuffles through the undergrowth bleeding from a bullet wound in his left shoulder, he surveys the situation but appears too weak to approach. The two women bury the corpse and retire to their villa. They discuss "the old days" when they would kill servants with their ’Father’, bury them in the garden and play sadomasochistic games in which they act out various death scenes involving former employees. We are told of a former secretary called Laura who arrived at the house one night and became party to their violent sex-games. We are unsure whether the Daughter is actually Laura or vice-versa but it appears that she does wear Laura’s old clothes and jewellery. The women appear to be suffering from schizophrenia and we are treated to flashback memories of sadomasochistic violence, lesbianism and a weird scene in which Daughter/Laura loses her virginity to her father dressed in an Egyptian Mummy costume.
The injured man finally makes his way to the villa and is immediately taken captive. Mother and Daughter search his pockets and discover a gun and diary recounting his search for a woman called Laura, whom we discover disappeared three years previously. The man is a detective who has fallen in love with the missing woman. They christen him ’Singapore Sling’ after a cocktail recipe found in his pocket. The nymphomaniac daughter is delighted to once more have a man in the home and continually creeps into his room, where he is bound to a bed, in order to pleasure herself sexually. Self-induced vomiting heightens her orgasm.
Singapore Sling seems captivated by a portrait of Daughter/Laura and recognises the earrings that his captor wears as belonging to the missing woman. From here on in he wonders whether the woman really is Laura and starts to fall in love with her too.
Meanwhile Daughter/Laura tries to hide her sexual dalliances with Singapore Sling from Mother. It would appear that she too wishes to escape from the villa, and expresses fears for her own safety. But Singapore Sling is unable to understand her theatrical ramblings, as he is Greek. When Mother realises that the Daughter is growing fond of their captive she herself decides to take advantage of his sexuality with a series of sadistic tortures, that involve passing electric currents through his body to make him violently tremble - Mother then mounts his quivering body to achieve sexual satisfaction, denying him food and water and eventually involving him in bondage sessions involving three way sex.
Will Singapore Sling escape his perverted captives? Will he discover the true fate of Laura? Or is this dark fantasy just an imagined product of his nightmarish desires?
SINGAPORE SLING is a blatant homage to Otto Preminger’s LAURA (1944) that concerned the detective’s investigation into the murder of a glamorous advertising executive. In that film, too, the detective (Dana Andrews) becomes fixated with the missing woman, who turns up alive halfway into the movie. Nikolaidis also borrows the imagery of a photo of Laura which holds the detective spellbound, lifts David Raksin’s sweeping romantic score from the original and plays it throughout SINGAPORE SLING’s 112 minute duration. However, whereas LAURA was primarily film-noir, Nikolaidis’ film has its roots firmly based in the surreal shock/horror genre visited by the likes of John Waters (PINK FLAMINGOS), Curt McDowell (THUNDERCRACK!), David Lynch (ERASERHEAD) and reminds one of Jim Sharman’s THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). The latter is also set on a stormy night, featuring Tim Curry as Dr. Franknfurter, a transvestite bi-sexual who keeps a couple captive for sexual games whilst creating a sexual monster that ultimately destroys him. Michèle Valley’s ‘Mother’ make-up even resembles Tim Curry’s and the film features lengthy theatrical style dialogue addressed directly at the camera lens/audience.
Valley, Thanassoulis and Herold tackle their roles with flourish and their contrasting accents add to the overall weirdness of the picture. When asked why he had a Greek-speaking actor portraying the role of Singapore Sling, Nikolaidis replied, "... he is supposed to represent me.” The outline for the film came to Nikolaidis some twenty years ago and was influenced by the director’s love of European film noir (especially those of the Kammerspiel), the writings of Nikolai Gogol, Raymond Chandler and the screenplays of Robert Aldrich. It was Nikolaidis’ intention to make a black comedy containing elements of the ancient Greek tragedy with daughter/Laura reminiscent of a cross between the title character from Sophocles’ “Antigone” and daughter Virginia from Jack Hill’s SPIDER BABY (1964), the latter even includes a warped dining scene where a bemused guest watches as the family display terrible table manners, as well as underlying themes of cannibalism. Despite its theatrical and cinematic allusions, SINGAPORE SLING remains a startlingly poetic experience with enough shocking scenes to satisfy fans of the perverse.
Carl T Ford
Directed by Nikos Nikolaidis
Greek and English Language (with occasional English subtitles to replace Greek Dialogue) / Greece / 1990 / 112 mins / Black and White
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Synapse Films DVD release
Region 1 NTSC / Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono