Last House on the Beach (1978)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2008-09-26 12:00

Directed by: Franco Prosperi
Written by: Romano Migliorini & Gianbattista Mussetto
Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Ray Lovelock, Flavio Andreini & Stefano Cedrati

Reviewed by: Brett H.

“Why, you dirty bitch! You think we’re just kidding?!”

The streets of horror cinema consist of many houses, but it seems as though the last ones are the ones to fear most. They are the ones that clutch the scummiest of secrets. I will give House of Wax and Hell House (among many others) credit for having their share of thrills and cryptics, but if you want to get gritty, you stroll right past these dwellings. When you get to that last house, most famously Wes Craven’s on the Left or the even more sinister shack on Dead End Street, you know film taboos will be put out to pasture. Women will be broken. Blood will be spilled. And, if all goes well, the heathens who have crushed the souls of these women will not live to do it again. If you walk long enough, finally, you will make your way to the Last House on the Beach, an Italian take on the rape/revenge cycle made in 1978. After thoroughly enjoying Aldo Lado’s 1975 Last House on the Left copy, Night Train Murders, I have always been interested in taking a stroll on the shores of the Beach, a film not exactly easy to find on North American sands. Severin Films comes to the rescue of horror fans yet again with a snazzy DVD release, but the real question on everyone’s mind is just how much soap we’re going to need the second the credits begin to roll…

The film begins as a rather clueless trio of thugs rob a bank. But, taking their cash is not enough, they insist upon extra curricular activities. Especially ring leader, Aldo (Ray Lovelock), who figures blasting the hell out of a helpless bank employee would top the day off nicely. After a tame shooting, the guys hop in their car and get the hell out of dodge. Things don’t go exactly as planned as they have car troubles and are forced to take a detour at a large villa on the beach. The thugs don’t have any qualms about breaking the law yet again and bust inside, only to eventually discover that the occupants are all religious schoolgirls. And, not only that, but they are under care of a Nun, Sister Cristina (Florinda Bolkan).

Much like their trip to the bank, these boneheads just have to get themselves in more hot water as one of them bashes the housekeeper over the head with an iron and kills her, showing all the ladies that they mean business. And when things look as though they couldn’t get much worse, two-thirds of the guys decide to take things even further. Soon after making Sister Cristina don a more traditional Habit, the guys begin molesting her and eventually embarrass her to all her students, breaking the news to them that sweet ol’ Sister Cristina isn’t pure. Slaps and backhands? Plenty to go around. Another student is pillaged by the outcasts and frequent attempts at escape turn to be unsuccessful. But, these girls are not dumb and it will take only one slight error for them to show these guys that two can play this deadly game…

Last House on the Beach is a much different movie than those that inspired it, at least in tone. Sure, there’s a lot of abuse and the premise is the same, but director Franco Prosperi usually points his camera away from the violence and exploitation rather than making it the main attraction. Prosperi instead focuses on the faces of the actors to advance the story and portray the violence. After seeing so many violent (or on the contrary, lame) rape sequences in Eurohorror, this approach is new to me and I found it worked quite well. The actors aren’t the most talented bunch out there, but the guys especially do a great job of showing the intent of the villains through facial expression rather than a long, drawn out sequence of smut. It’s not only during rape sequences (which are rare) that this plays a part in the movie, but all the time. Scenes with threats show innocent girls looking worried, confused or desperate and the men oozing in their own self-indulgence.

Genre veteran Florinda Bolkan does a great job as Sister Cristina and her facial expressions are usually right on the mark. One in particular that stands out is when the villains reveal she was not a virgin to her students (meaning, even before they had their way). The looks on their faces show trust falling away, perhaps faith inching from their hearts. The look on Bolkan’s face expresses something much more wrenching; humiliation, remorse and strength. It is at this point we realize the men are going to have their hands full with her. She is smarter than them and we know that it’s just a matter of time. On the flipside, the facial expressions can be very over-exaggerated or out of place, such as the rape scene where the actress looks as though she’s shocked (or staring into headlights) rather than having a look of agony, struggle or total feelings of violation. All in all, the film does get its hands quite dirty, albeit not quite as filthy as other instalments in the ongoing rape/revenge genre. Don't kid yourself, though, this definitely isn’t something you’d want to show off to Granny!

By far, the sickest moment of the movie is when a female’s vagina is impaled by a large stick that had been used as a cane. I’ve seen this done in movies such as The Sister of Ursula much more graphically, but Prosperi makes his tamer (but still feels like an over-the-top demonic Looney Toons short) vision have just as much impact, if not more. Typical for Eurohorror, the film uses its location to the fullest, providing great outdoor shots of the ocean, sun and greenery accompanied by a groovy soundtrack. Severin’s uncut, 2.35:1 DVD is definitely one to praise; the video quality is stellar with great flesh-tones in addition to capturing the vibrancy of the stunning exterior shots. The English dubbed mono track is always clear, showing off the soundtrack well. A half hour featurette, Holy Beauty vs. the Evil Men with actor Ray Lovelock should impress fans, as he really gets into his career and tidbits from the film. Rounding out the extras is both a German and Italian theatrical trailer. If you’re a hardcore fan looking for a gross-out, there are many more shocking stomach churners. But, at the same time, Prosperi’s direction brings something a little different to the table, making it a great watch for Eurohorror fans. Last House on the Beach may be low in budget, but is high in style and packs a good wallop; a unique twist on exploitation madness. We don't usually see the violence actually happen, instead we see the onslaught of violent acts through the eyes and visage of the characters. Still, the eyes tell a story that is just as haunting. Buy it!

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