Review Date: October 5, 2008
Released by: Severin
Release date: 09/23/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
The reality of the recession and the slowdown of DVD came last year when NoShame quietly closed their North American doors to the public. There just isn’t much money to be made these days for cult distributors with the big chains like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Blockbuster applying the 80/20 rule by stocking their shelves with copies upon copies of big name titles. The little guys, and at this point there are a lot of them, have to fight for the scraps. Blue Underground has been terribly quiet after several years of quality output, and even old reliable, Synapse, is feeling the sting. One company who never quite got off the ground, Sazuma, is probably the biggest casualty of war. They released only two films through their website, Sergio Martino’s still unavailable in Region 1 Suspected Death of a Minor
and the brutal sleaze classic, The Last House on the Beach
. Their DVDs were produced with great care, with soundtrack CDs, top notch interviews, and the best menus in the business. They couldn’t tread water in the ebbing DVD market though, and that’s a real shame.
Luckily though, one of their titles, The Last House on the Beach
, is being brought Stateside thanks to the thriving Severin Films. They’ve released a lot this year, but it’s likely no film of theirs will top the slow motion shock of Lovelock and Co. in Beach
. The movie’s a blast, but how does Severin’s DVD hold up to Sazuma’s?
The movie kicks off quickly with a bloody bank robbery, where hostages are blasted and big money scored. There is a twist however – the entire scene is played in close-ups and b-roll. No shots of the perpetrator’s faces, just the carnage around them. Then we are introduced to our second location, the beach house of the title. In contrast to what we are deprived of seeing in the first scene, here we see everything, as the various Catholic school girls get undressed and sunbathe by their pool. Their superior comes out, Sister Cristina (Florinda Bolkan
), and the girls immediately cover themselves up. No amount of clothing though, will prevent them from the carnage that will befall this small little coastal getaway.
The three bank robbers need a place to hide out, and lucky for them the Catholic beach house is in complete seclusion. Led by the suave pretty boy, Aldo (Ray Lovelock
), Walter (Flavio Andreini
) and the lizard-like Nino (Stefano Cedrati
) lay claim to the house…and all the women in it! Nino has his first sexual encounter with one of the schoolgirls only moments after arriving. Their meeting is cut short though, once the girl rams a comb in his one of his quadriceps. That injury doesn’t deter him or the others much longer however, as they all force the head sister to strip in front of them. We, the viewer, don’t see much of the strip, but we certainly see everyone’s facial reactions…ad nauseam.
We end up seeing many more torturous sexual acts, from Crista’s rape at knifepoint to one of the girls being punished Cannibal Holocaust
-style with a wooden stake for attempting to escape. Even though he continues to dabble in the occasional bit of sodomy, Nino’s leg wound continues to spread, and his sickness gets the other girls planning their vengeance. Escaping is no use though – they’ll have to face these voyeurs and provocateurs face to face. As the tagline should read…an eye for an eye.
Last House on the Beach
is a low-budget shocker with subject matter we’ve all seen before, and when we’ve seen it, it’s had a lot more gore than this. Even the big robbery scenes are without blood, with people taking shotgun shots to the chest as if they were in a 50’s B-western serial. Blood is almost non-existent, save for the odd scab or death-inflicting cut. Even the headline rape and torture scenes are surprisingly non-graphic. That doesn’t mean the film is not effective though – far from it. Making the most of a small budget, director Franco Prosperi infuses the film with a pulsating visual style that gives the film a unique energy. As mentioned before, torture and violence are not the subjects of the film – it is how people react that interests Prosperi the most.
At its core, Last House on the Beach
is a film about sight. The way Prosperi introduces characters deliberately plays on how we as viewers identify with characters through visual means. The killers are shown literally faceless throughout their opening scene, at once removing our ability to identify, while also enticing us to wonder what kind of menace we are dealing with. Then right after, during the striptease with the schoolgirls, we are introduced to them as sexual conquests. Prosperi then has fun playing on these initial expectations, cutting away from the disrobing of a schoolgirl in favor of seeing the reaction from the previously alien killers. He prepares the viewer for a routine exploitation picture where the subject is always seeing nude women in sexually helpless situations, and then delivers a film combating such chauvinism. The men are vile, and we are forced to see it through the women’s eyes, rather than the typical male gaze of the camera eye.
Ray Lovelock’s character is treated with the same rug-pulling ambiguity. At first unidentifiable at the robbery, then the robber with a heart and the love interest for one of the captives and then vile and then back to loving again – we’re always kept off guard. With Lovelock, and Lovelock’s ambivalent performance, Franco Prosperi constantly plays on our expectations with the leading man, ultimately telling us that no matter how likable a villain, he never rises above the contempt of his actions. Lovelock, the makeup wearing Walter, and the freakily intense Nino make one hell of a disturbing torturous trio.
Back to sight though. After Prosperi has introduced the characters, he continues to play with sight in the way he handles the rape scenes. Bolkan’s strip is particularly masterful, as Roberto Pregadio’s rousing guitar-driven soundtrack sets the stage for exploitation, but what instead plays out is a montage of facial reactions. The entire scene is rendered solely through expressions, from the humiliated Bolkan, to her scared schoolgirls, to finally the distasteful gaze of their captors. The stake rape is also uniquely handled, in that the event is never seen, only the male actions leading up to it, and finally the heartbreaking reaction of the female victim. Prosperi laces the entire film with this weird suppression of sight, creating a weird unease. Even the dead mailman watches as two girls plan their escape, his eye seen in the background like our eyes back on our couches.
The motif of sight and its power finally comes to a close when the film climaxes in bloody murder. Bolkan, who was forced to watch one of her girls raped, initially watches, but receives no pleasure in vengeance. Instead, she turns her head away while we watch on, waiting for a resolve that never quite reveals itself. Last House on the Beach
is an interesting experiment, and proof again that even when the brow is low, and the budget even lower, the Italians can still transform exploitation into a unique form of cinematic art. The film ends as it began, on a shot of a seagull flying, and we get the sense that, had Prosperi set his sights further down the beach, then we probably would have had a sex comedy. Instead, we eye the perverse.
Let’s get this out of the way first – Severin wisely used Sazuma’s quality master for their transfer of the film, although there are a few differences. Sazuma’s disc had about a 2.3:1 aspect ratio, whereas Severin’s makes things easy at 2.35:1. Basically, what Severin did was zoom in on the master just enough so the black bars on the sides of the Sazuma print were eliminated. In the process though, they cropped off the top and bottom of the frame ever so slightly. The zoom in makes for an ever so slight drop in detail, noticeable mainly in longer shots where eyes sort of lose their distinctiveness. To compensate, it looks like a slight digital sharpening has been added to their print, which makes for subtly harsher edges and a less organic frame than the Sazuma disc. This is all nitpicking, since on the whole the image looks great, with a clean picture, strong colors and a fine clarity. Both discs are mastered in progressive scan, making the fine cinematography even sharper. While I’d give Sazuma’s disc the edge, both are excellent.
Sound wise, though, Sazuma wins out for including the original Italian track (as well as a German mix). There were English subtitles on their disc, and that seemed the best way to view it. Watching this new English dub on the Severin disc confirms that – the Italian language sounds much more believable and serious here, which is important when your film is dealing with rape, religion and death. There were times in the English dub that elicited unintentional laughs because of some of the shoddy dubbing on the girls’ behalf, and others where the power of a scene was compromised by added dialogue. The “cane rape” in particular is much less powerful in English, since there’s an over the top sort of grunting supplied to one of the guys, whereas in the Italian track it remained ominously silent. Considering Severin used the same master and supplements from the Sazuma disc, it’s a shame they didn’t port over the Italian track too. This English track sound clear and is leveled well, but it just isn’t quite the same.
All the video extras from the Sazuma disc have been ported over to this new Region 1 disc. What’s missing? A soundtrack CD (which is pretty major considering how fantastic Pregadio’s score is) a photo gallery and a different set of opening credits. What is here, though, is a nice half an hour interview with Ray Lovelock, where he talks about his career as a whole, from how he got his stage name, to the film itself, and what it was like working with Florinda Bolkan. It’s a nice sit-down with a pretty familiar face in Italian genre films. He even talks about his singing career.
Stylish Italian and German trailers round off the disc, and are notable for being a little crazier than your usual puff trailer.
Leave it to the Italians to take a derivative story and pump it up with gritty, provocative style. There’s slow motion abound, from heads being blasted apart to blunt wooden objects going in places they definitely shouldn’t. The story may be all The Last House on the Left
, but the style turns it into a glorious play on the power of perception. Severin brings this overlooked nasty Stateside with good quality, using the Sazuma master with only the slightest of visual changes. The English only audio track is a step down from Sazuma’s Italian, and the disc is missing the great soundtrack CD that accompanied the old R2 release. All lovers of Italian horror need to check this out, preferably through Sazuma if you’re region free, or Severin if you’re not. If you haven’t seen a Eurohorror flick in awhile then get back in the habit, this is the release you’ve been praying for.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B-
Supplements - C
- Running time - 1 hour and 30 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Interview with Actor Ray Lovelock
- Theatrical trailers