"In The Last House on the Beach, the women may not appear in the most favorable light...if it had been an art house film, the same violent scenes would probably have had different implications."
- actor Ray Lovelock
If you're fortunate enough to afford a house in these trying times, do yourself a big favor and avoid any homes that are the last in line. Nothing good ever happens there--and if Wes Craven only knew what he spawned by making The Last House on the Left in 1972 (being remade for 2009), he would have trademarked his exploitative revenge plot. Actor David Hess made a career out of playing violent criminals, including roles in Hitchhike (Autostop rosso sangue) and House on the Edge of the Park (La Casa sperduta nel parco,), one of many Italian productions that copied Craven's cult classic--including Night Train Murders (L'Ultimo treno della notte), the one that got the Italian ball rolling.
Meanwhile, director Franco Prosperi sharpened his smut skills on the Mondo Cane films, which made him just as qualified as anyone else to make La Settima donna, aka Last House on the Beach (the packaging for this release removes "The" from the beginning of the title).
After robbing a bank, three men search for shelter at a seaside cottage housing five young girls and their nun teacher, Sister Christina (Florinda Bolkan). Leading the gang is handsome Aldo (Ray Lovelock, a porn name if there ever was one), an apparently kind criminal who has little in common with his two violent goons: Nino (Stefano Cedrati) and the makeup-loving Walter (Flavio Andreini).
The men hold the women at gunpoint, and two other incidents let the women (and us) quickly realize these guys mean business: Walter murders the house maid with an iron blow to the head (ouch!), while Nino gets stabbed in the leg after attacking one of the girls. I'd tell you which girl, but there's really no point--we only learn a few of their names, and the girls spend most of the film whimpering and cowering in the corner, given no real lines of dialogue or distinguishable traits (in an attempt to make it "easier" for viewers to accept the brutal treatment they receive).
They're all just flesh fodder, vessels for violence that becomes increasingly horrid. The criminals start by forcing the girls to sunbathe at gunpoint (with some gropes thrown in), and later make them watch a naked woman dance on TV. They also strip Christina down and make her change into her nun uniform, apparently to appease fetish fans: "You'd never guess you have such nice curves under those rags...Hey Aldo! You ever made it with a nun?" The men take any chance they get to emotionally or physically humiliate the women, including endless smacks to the face.
It's Ladies' Night(mare)!
And did I mention the rapes? Filmed in slow motion and accompanied (like much of the film) by groovy disco/porn music to make sure we "appreciate" every second of humiliation, the rape sequences (like most of the violence) are more implied than explicit, but still just as disgusting. Lots of random boob shots are presented throughout the film, which is a tad disturbing considering some of the actresses look very young (what's with all the Disney duck posters? An attempt to make them look even more young and innocent?).
What's with all the ducks?!
Why would these girls undress so damn much when they know the danger they're in?! One even sleeps with a breast hanging out of her nightgown! (C'mon! Behavior like that is the most insulting!) When one of the girls tries to escape, she gets caught and brought back for the ultimate humiliation. Look, I'm all for a good revenge flick, but is there any artistic merit to having a man finger a young woman ("This one's a 100 percent virgin!" he says, rubbing his digits together) who then gets killed by having a large walking stick shoved up her cooch? I say no.
That action is the breaking point for Christina, who decides to take off her cross and get even with her captors, including Aldo--who turns out to be not so nice after all. The final sequence is an aggressive counter-punch of female empowerment, but I'm not buying it--this film is anything but flattering to women. Prosperi has an eye for some artistic shots (he also likes to counter-balance the violence with views of the tranquil surroundings), but this Last House is not art--despite the writers' weak attempts, like having Nino read William Faulkner's rape-themed Sanctuary (how subtle).
The story is predictable and achingly slow--many long sequences where virtually nothing happens (most intended to let you soak in and "enjoy" boobs or violence) will test your patience (and are you kidding me with the slow-motion rape?!). There's no real suspense, just telegraphed "shocks" meant to appease bloodlust. It's made well, but the actors are wasted and the action is tasteless.
Another frustrating aspect of this release is the damn dubbing, which cheapens it even more (if that's possible). Instead of getting the original Italian track with English subtitles, we're presented with a horrid English track. It's clear Prosperi filmed it knowing dubs were essential to making money, which explains a lot of his shots: The director relies on frequent angles that limit (or eliminate) mouth visibility, uses a lot of music, has many lines read off camera and uses things like masks and hair to block lips. It's all part of his effort to minimize the obviousness of the distracting dub, and it doesn't work--the sound just feels removed from the action (not that it would make the film any better).
I've seen films like The Last House on the Left and Day of the Woman (aka I Spit on Your Grave) out of curiosity, but they are films I haven't watched twice. Once you've seen one, you've seen them all. And Last House on the Beach does nothing to distinguish itself from a horde of pointless, demeaning entries.
I question the quality of the film, but not of the transfer. The anamorphic 2.35:1 picture looks pretty damn good for a 1978 film. While there's an overall drab nature to much of the coloring--and a few shots are washed out--overall this is a sharp image that impresses most of the way.
Technically, the mono track is a strong, clear effort--so I can't fault the quality. But all you get here is an English dub, which sounds (and looks) removed from the film. Too bad we aren't given the original Italian track, which would have helped the effort just a tad.
The main extra here is a 2007 interview (28:22) with actor Ray Lovelace, who played lead criminal Aldo--an extra that teases us with some film clips in Italian, which look and sound so much better than the English dub on this disc. It starts with him talking about the origins of his name (he was apparently born at a time when there was a trend in Italy to use exotic, foreign-sounding names) and how he got into acting and music--not only did he sing one of the songs in the film, he also did his own English dub. He also talks about his relationship and work with director Franco Prosperi, mentioning how the man was well known within the genre (in a spooky moment, he talks about how Prosperi worked with Robert Blake back in the day).
The second half of his chat veers toward Last House, where he tries to recall his experiences on set, briefly talking about his co-stars. But the most interesting part comes when he talks about the film's violence and how his perception on it has changed over the years, making for an intriguing listen (far more interesting than the film itself):
"We need to consider for a moment the time when the film was set, the 1960s--the era of the so-called commercial films. There was certainly violence, and it was often gratuitous. I interpreted it at the time with the little experience that I had. I saw it as performance," he says. "Some things that were done at that time, and which I agreed to do, to be honest I didn't worry too much about them because I thought of them purely as performance. Not now. Not today in 2007, and not even a few years ago. You're more careful about choosing work, if you can afford to be, because you can give out the wrong messages. I've got the feeling that this type of film, at the time, didn't give out a social message."
Lovelock notes that it's different today: "Probably because I'm a father, I've got a daughter, and so I understand the problems we have today. There are some shocking cartoons and PlayStation games. And so everything has a different flavor today because there are some very negative messages coming across. As I said, maybe it was in a superficial way, but at the time I had the sense it was purely performance. Of course, if I watch them again now, I see them in a different way. I see them as either violent toward women or sending out messages of excessive violence. I'm not trying to justify myself, but I'd like to explain...a violent act in a thriller is seen as entertainment. If the same violent act took place in an art house film, it would have a different flavor and would send out a social message...there's an acceptance on the part of the audience of a particular type of performance. So there was this unspoken agreement between audiences and the people making films. Of course, nowadays, I'm much more careful about choosing films that could send out messages."
Also included are two versions of the film's trailer: the Italian version (also teasing us with clips in the native language, not a horrid dub) and the German version. It's interesting to see how the subtitles provide some (minor yet noticeably) different translations from the English dub (the German clips even add some lines not in the English dub).
If you're a fan of exploitation movies like The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, by all means check this out. Director Franco Prosperi has some solid shots, the transfer is surprisingly strong and the bonus interview is an interesting listen. For all others, avoid it. There's nothing unique or suspenseful about this clone, a slow-moving snoozer with obvious shocks, slow-motion rape scenes and plenty of other sequences that treat women as vessels for violence. Throw in an awful English dub, and the replay value is non-existent save for the most ardent admirers of cult cinema. Skip It.