Review Date: March 26, 2007
Released by: Sazuma
Release date: 3/8/2007
Region 2, PAL
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
There exists one major difference between The Last House on the Left
and the several Italian variants (Night Train Murders
, Last House on the Beach
): the depiction of violence. Craven’s film employed a verite aesthetic, the cinematography lacked polish, but the violence was real. Italians, always the more artistic, would treat violence in an operatic fashion, emphasizing it and stylizing it to a point where it becomes artifice, an almost mockery of itself. Perhaps the fact too, that violence was seen as far more grave Stateside than it was in Europe also had a bearing on aesthetics and perception. Sazuma returns with their second release to their “Italian Genre Cinema Collection”, Last House on the Beach
, which does something very interesting with the rape revenge formula. Take a look – that’s what everyone else in the film does.
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.
Sazuma proves here, as they did with Suspected Death of a Minor
, that even small (by cult label standards) companies can release beautiful transfers. This anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is incredibly clean, with hardly any noticeable dust or specs. There are a few very minor scratches visible, but even those appear to have been corrected. The colors look great – vivid, and you can really tell on that tropical beach setting. The progressive transfer makes for an impressive sharpness and clarity too, those many slow-motion sequences looking almost too real for comfort. There are a few slight frames of pink discoloration that appear in the first few minutes of the film, but after that, it’s nearly a flawless transfer.
The film is presented in either Italian or German mono, and sounds very clean. There is no drop-out or any hissing or distortion problems. The Pregadio soundtrack sounds just as great here as it does on the bonus soundtrack CD. The subtitles are a slight step down though, with an awkwardness in translation making itself evident a number of times in the film. It is always clear what the people were saying, but some poor verb conjugations and other errors sort of momentarily distract (“I get the bandage and be right back” and so forth). It is possible to watch it in English, although the track is not advertised on the packaging nor in the menus. Track 3 though, is your typical English dub, but still the Italian track is recommended.
There are some extras on the DVD, but the real find is on disc two: the previously unreleased original soundtrack by Roberto Pregadio. His theme song has that melancholie female humming characteristic of Morricone, but done with a comparable grace. Track three, the rape theme, basically, is a rousing little pre-synth number, and the remainder of the songs are based around these two musical types. The exception is the second song, a radio-ready pop number sung by Ray Lovelock. Kind of humorous actually, and mostly out-of-place compared to your usual Italiosploitation scores.
The big extra on the main movie disc is a 30-minute interview with Ray Lovelock. Editing could have brought the track down to a good 15-minutes, but there is still some interesting observations from Lovelock about his career and the film itself. He explains how he got started, how he started a band with Tomas Milian and what it was like working with Franco Prosperi and his cast. Most interesting of all is how he tries to vindicate the violence in the film by dismissing it as done for purely entertainment purposes, saying that there were exploitation films and then auteur films with a message. Anyone who has seen their share of Italian films knows though, that that line was almost always blurred, when you look at how Fulci, Argento and Martino are now thrown inside the canon of Italy’s top auteurs.
The disc is rounded off with original Italian and German trailers that aren’t really anything special (especially since you don’t know what is being said if you speak English), the German opening credits (really boring white text on a red background) and a small photo gallery. An easter egg is also available for those willing to go "face" to face with Ray Lovelock over some karaoke. The egg is a clever and amusing use of subtitle option, and the editing is hilarious. Free shipping from their website can also be found by searching through the remaining menus. The menu structure again deserves note, with Sazuma proving they know how to really package a product. The menus look great, as do the transitions, which can be turned off in the setup menu as a nice bonus. The packaging is really nice too, adding red to the nice layout and motif that made Suspected Death of a Minor
enticing. Numbered #2 on the spine, it will match nicely with their first film, and presumably the rest of their future collection.
Last House on the Beach
is, story-wise, a derivative take on Last House on the Left. Director Franco Prosperi, like most Italian, is less interested in the script though, and more interested in the ways of stylizing it for the cinema. What he creates here is a unique play on sight and perception, where the act of rape is not nearly as interesting as the reactions it elicits from its participants. Get ready for some extreme close-ups and get ready to be disturbed. Sazuma does a commendable job with the disc, giving it a top-notch transfer and a few nice extras, including a soundtrack CD. The translation isn’t quite 100%, but that should not deter fans of the genre or those seeking something different to import this Region 2 PAL disc from sazuma.com
. Eye this little voyeuristic shocker down.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 36 minutes
- Not Rated
- 2 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- Italian Mono
- English Subtitles
- German Subtitles
- Dutch Subtitles
- English Commentary Subtitles
- Soundtrack on a separate CD
- Ray Lovelock interview
- Italian trailer
- German trailer
- Poster gallery