Last House On The Beach

Last House On The Beach (Franco Prosperi, 1978)

aka La settima donna / Terror

In yet another Italian riff on Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, three bank robbers (Ray Lovelock, Stefano Cedrati, and Flavio Andreini) hide out in a seaside mansion occupied by a group of Catholic schoolgirls and their teacher, Sister Cristina (Florinda Bolkan), rehearsing for a performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in between bouts of swimming and sunbathing. The girls soon suffer various types of abuse at the hands of the three – Cedrati and Andreini seem to vie for the Krug role, while Lovelock spends much of his time intimidating Bolkan – including a couple of rapes and the murders of the housekeeper and the postman. It is not until one of their number is brutally murdered, however, that Bolkan dons her habit and plots gruesome vengeance (she is forced to wear the habit earlier on for purposes of humiliation by the robber-rapists and to fetishise her appearance for the film’s audience too).

As with Ruggero Deodato’s HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK and Aldo Lado’s NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, Prosperi’s film is glossier and tamer than Craven’s gritty original but creates a palpably sleazy atmosphere and is the farthest removed from Craven’s supposed inspiration: Ingmar Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING. While Craven’s band of wackos were somewhat grounded in reality (a snuff reality?), the villains of these Italian films are generally weirder. This quirkiness is epitomised in Prosperi’s film where one of the rapists dons women’s make-up before brutalizing one of the girls.

Lovelock’s ringleader demonstrates a tad more sensitivity than the others  and this creates an interesting chemistry between him and Bolkan’s nun. The retribution is less resonant than in the Deodato and Lado films; perhaps it’s because Prosperi overly depends on the editor and the composer to inject more momentum into the climax. The film’s ending makes short work of two of the rapists saving itself for the prolonged – though thoroughly ridiculous – attack on Lovelock. In addition to Lovelock and Bolkan, Eurocult regulars Laura Trotter (NIGHTMARE CITY) and Sherry Buchanan (an actress often on the receiving end of Italian-style gore FX in films such as WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? and ZOMBI HOLOCAUST) co-star as two of the girls.

Cinematographer Cristiano Pogany (son of Gabor Pogany who shot Aldo Lado’s LAST HOUSE ripoff) constantly fills the scope frame from side to side, from foreground to background with the sizable (for a chamber piece) cast amidst Dario Micheli’s (BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) set dressing which perhaps aesthetically demands a certain formal distance from the rough content. Roberto Pregadio delivers a funky score with Edda dell’Orso and Ray Lovelock contributing vocals – with Lovelock’s contribution, a song called ‘Place For A Landing’, having a sax riff that bears a striking similarity to the one used by Roxy Music in ‘Let’s Stick Together’. Romano Migliorini (co-writer of Bava’s KILL BABY KILL and LISA AND THE DEVIL) contributed to the screenplay.

Severin’s delayed DVD represents the film’s third release on the format. The first was a Japanese import from Media Suits. This was taken from an Italian print, presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, a choice of either English or Italian audio and supported by Japanese subtitles. Taken from a PAL master, the standards conversion to NTSC resulted in ghosting during horizontal movement. Extras included an Italian trailer and a lobby card gallery. The second release was Sazuma’s much heralded German 2 disc release of a cleaner 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen Italian print (the Japanese release was slightly brighter but that may have been fading) with German and Italian audio, English and German subtitles, and a hidden English audio track accessible from your remote. Extras included a subtitled interview with Ray Lovelock, German and Italian trailers, German opening credits, and a second disc containing the film’s soundtrack. The English title TERROR shows up only in the German trailer (and not in the German opening credits).

(Please click images to see comparison grabs – Media Suits top, Sazuma Middle, Severin Bottom)

Transfer wise, Severin’s new release appears to have been properly converted from PAL to NTSC, and as one would expect, has a longer running time (1:29:39) when compared to the PAL German disc (1:26:09) and the PAL-converted Japanese disc (1:26:10). The disc also features a progressive image properly flagged for pulldown on hardware DVD players, unlike their progressive, but not properly converted, disc of THE PSYCHIC. Results are acceptable given that the bitrate was lowered to fit the trailers and interview onto a single-layer disc (the German DVD was dual-layered; the Japanese disc was single-layered but featured fewer extras) but colour saturation favours the Japanese disc with the German disc being a happy medium between the two. The German disc also reveals more information at the bottom of the frame than the other two transfers. The master is likely to be the same as the one provided to Sazuma, as Severin ports over many of the extras from that release minus the German titles and the CD soundtrack. Severin’s disc also drops the Italian track and English subtitles in favour of the English dub. While the German DVD remains the definitive release so far, the Severin disc is well worth purchasing for those who don’t want to seek out the import.

(Eric Cotenas)

 

Footprints

Footprints (Luigi Bazzoni, 1975)

aka LE ORME

Alice (Florinda Bolkan, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN), a translator living in Italy, wakes from a disturbing dream (of an astronaut left to die on the moon, a scene she recalls from a film) to discover that she has lost three days after having a breakdown and running out in the middle of a conference.  Her friend Mary (Evelyn Stewart aka Ida Galli, KNIFE OF ICE) believes that Alice is exhausted and that the tranquilizers she has been taking caused her to sleep through those missing days.  The only clues to where she may have been are a postcard for a hotel in Garma, a missing earring, and an unfamiliar yellow dress with a bloodspot hanging in her wardrobe.  Alice takes off to Garma and finds herself remembering details of the place (she requests a specific room in the hotel).  Paula, an “imaginative little girl” (played by, who else, Nicoletta Elmi from BARON BLOOD and PROFONDO ROSSO) calls her Nicole and claims that she last saw her on the beach a couple days before.  Alice also makes the acquaintance of Henry (Peter McEnery, THE CAT AND THE CANARY), a biologist who lives on the island.  An old acquaintance (John Karlsen, SLAUGHTER HOTEL) who has been on holiday in Garma also claims to have caught sight of her days before.

When Alice presses Paula for more details about Nicole, the girl is less sure that Alice and Nicole are one in the same (Nicole had red hair) and Mrs. Ines (Lila Kedrova), a vacationing widow who was on the beach with them does not remember seeing Alice.  The dream imagery from the astronaut film becomes more vivid (we learn that the movie character Dr. Blackmann, played by Klaus Kinski, is experimenting with “cosmic isolation”).  Alice learns from Paula that Nicole was always hiding in the woods and that she tried to destroy a document about astronautics.  Paula’s stray dog friend Fox also turns up with a red wig and the wigmaker also recognizes Alice as Nicole.  A boutique that carries the same yellow dress she found in her apartment sends her a hat and a purse with the name “Nicole” engraved on it.  Alice discovers that Nicole bought a pair of scissors from another shop and she buys a replacement pair.  Even the offer of a sympathetic ear from Henry is suspicious when Mrs. Ines points out that Alice’s pin was made by a Garma artisan who died years ago (suggesting that Alice/Nicole may have been to Garma even before her lost three days).

Based on a novel called “Las Huertas” by co-scenarist Mario Fanelli, FOOTPRINTS is a superior giallo-esque piece of cinema and is no easier to pin down to a specific genre than Bazzoni’s LADY OF THE LAKE.  The ending is ambiguous and open to multiple interesting interpretations (even the final text coda inspires yet another interpretation rather than wrapping up the story).  Kinski is sinister but does not get to go off the rails here (he’s dubbed by someone else).  By this point in giallo filmmaking, Nicoletta Elmi functions as more of a signifier of the genre than a character.  The talented Kedrova and Karlsen are similarly more archetypal presences in their exposition-conveying roles.  McEnery is the only unfamiliar presence in the genre and he is quite good with what little he is given to do.  A disorienting storyline filled with ambiguous and suspicious supporting characters (that is not written and/or directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet) requires a strong anchoring central performance and Florinda Bolkan is compelling as always and conveys her character’s disorientation effectively.

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro does perhaps his most stunning work on a giallo (more so than Argento’s BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE or on his previous collaboration with Bazzoni: THE FIFTH CORD) here with his trademark blues and golds along with some wonderful natural lighting and sparkling sunlit exteriors; Storaro’s camera operator Mauro Marchetti also worked with him on Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS.  Academy Award-winning composer Nicola Piovani provides a lyrical organ and orchestral score that (as has been observed in the forums) recalls passages from his masterful work on Gianfranco Mingozzi’s FLAVIA THE HERETIC (also with Bolkan) the previous year.  The ornate Garma exteriors and interiors contrast starkly with the Alice’s bare apartment and the modern architecture of the Italian locations and add wonderfully to the film’s surreal feel.  Pierluigi Pizzi’s (THE WITCH IN LOVE) production design is hard to tell apart from the Turkish locations and may have been largely confined to the Italian locations; if his contributions include the ornate stained-glass window of a peacock that figures prominently in the film, then he should be proud of his work here.

English-friendly sources for FOOTPRINTS were few and far between before the age of international tape and then DVDR trading.  US viewers likely saw the film on its US tape release as PRIMAL IMPULSE from Force Video (as part of their “Wild Women” series that also included the horror version of Jess Franco’s FEMALE VAMPIRE as EROTIKILL and Bruno Corbucci’s sexy, comic-strip adventure ISABELLA DUCHESS OF THE DEVILS as MISS STILETTO).  That release had fine colour and a sharp image but was cropped to fullscreen.  In Europe, the widescreen Swedish-subtitled and Greek-subtitled releases were the ones to track down (the Swedish-subbed release seems to have been more widely traded on DVDR).  The film was to have had a tape release on the UK Redemption label but at the time the licensors only had a fullscreen Italian master (in Italy, LE ORME was re-released as part of the Nocturno sell-through tape series in the nineties).  Recently, a widescreen German transfer broadcast on Kinowelt’s TV station started making the rounds and that master was a candidate for use on the Shameless release until Marc Morris tracked down a superior widescreen master.

Morris (who did the encoding, authoring, and menu design as well as assembling the extras) and Shameless Film Entertainment are to be commended for yet another wonderful release of a neglected title.  The dual-layer encoding of this anamorphic widescreen master at its best looks better than the German TV broadcast that made the rounds a while ago and is letterboxed at a wider ratio than that 1.66:1 transfer.  The English Dolby 2.0 track is fine with only some hiss in quieter scenes (a snippet of dialogue from an Italian-only that is missing from the English audio track on the screener has been fixed on the final disc).  Scenes that only existed in the Italian version have been inserted into the master from a lesser source and English subtitles have been included for theses scenes as well as a complete set of English subs for the Italian Dolby 2.0 audio track (Italian subtitles for the English dialogue are a nice touch too).

The English and Italian tracks reveal a lot of little differences between the two translations.  Alice’s last name is Cassidy on the English track but it is Campos on the Italian track (the latter makes sense since on both tracks she tells Henry that she is Portuguese), John Karlsen’s character is named Alfred Lowenthal on the English track and Alfredo Laurenti on the Italian.  Kinski’s character speaks English on both tracks.  Certain scenes have always had subtitles on all prints (i.e. Italian subtitles for English/German/French dialogue spoken on the Italian prints and English subtitles for the same dialogue on English prints).  Although the source has Italian credits and text, the conference flashback has the English print subtitles.  At 92m 28s (96m 41s at film speed), the Shameless release is longer than the 88m Greek tape release and  92m 18s NTSC tape release (probably the same content-wise) as well as the German broadcast which would run 95m 17s at film speed.  The English title sequence has been included (mastered from the widescreen Greek tape release) as well as a rare theatrical trailer, the US Force Video trailer, a photo gallery, a series of start-up trailers and a Shameless trailer reel consisting of twenty trailers for their current releases.  As with several other Shameless releases, FOOTPRINTS comes with a double-sided cover (with the LE ORME artwork on the reverse).

Along with their restored but bare-bones release of THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN and their restored, extras-laden releases of WATCH ME WHEN I KILL, THE DESIGNATED VICTIM, and BABA YAGA, Shameless Film Entertainment have been steadily turning out thus-far definitive releases of films that have not always received such respectable treatment on the DVD medium, and for prices that other labels would sell barebones releases at.  FOOTPRINTS is another triumph for Shameless (and Marc Morris).  A true fan of the film cannot live without this release, and a true Eurocult scholar cannot not have this in their library for reference and viewing pleasure.

(Eric Cotenas)