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)