Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last House on the Beach (1978)

3 criminal men, a nun and a group of virgins at the beach

"Last House on the Beach" is an Italian made thriller about three sadistic bank robbin' guys who need a place to hold up from their latest heist. And where else do they pick for their several day lay over from the law? Why some "random" tucked away beach house with none other than a nun heading a group of all female students innocently practicing for a stage play. You know, just the thing deviant kidnappers dreams are made of.

The biggest underlying theme here is if an ordinary group of people, as well as someone of the "divine" cloth, who's ultimately human underneath, is capable of bringing out their inner vengeance to reap on their captures what they sowed. The nun angle one can imagine was a scolding hot topic for someone from the homeland of Catholicism in their collective borders. Similar to earlier Giallo mysteries presenting the finale with a priest holding the knife must have been a real whopper of a shake up to the daily hail Mary spoutin' folks that have unwavering traditions and rituals ingrained in them from the moment they take a first breath. With other movies that present a question it usually lingers after it ends, this, however, directly asks and answers which limits some of the challenge.

The violence comes and goes, there are moments when the kidnappers give break and others when it's let loose such as boredom leading to drinking, drinking leading to groping, and groping leading to raping. There's blood and nudity, yet it isn't relentless or always in the audience's face compared to other exploitation films. Which leads me to believe that the filmmakers were balancing out the shocking physicalities as well as the ominous underlying question that was also asked in its precursors "The Virgin Spring" and "The Last House on the Left": Could a citizen give an eye for an eye if the tables reversed, or turn the other cheek and forgive and forget? The idea is if a thought to be untouchable clergy woman could, so could you.

What's in its favor is the film was shot well for its genre type with a crisp wide angle lens that doesn't always need to zoom or move around a lot as a result. A share of this has random, funky, larger-than-life, rock-tinged music inserted that doesn't always add to making the claustrophobic environment smaller or the situation any more terrorizing. Though they slowly escalate their lusts and push and prod the women into feeling backed into a corner. There was a strange, if a little too stylish for its own good scene that stood out from the rest. It involves a series of chaotic voices that stream overtop of a sleazy, upbeat hard rock number while two of the goons rape one of the young woman from behind in ultra slow motion and with a randomly painted face. There is another surreal one with a scenario similar to "Night Train Murders" with an even larger object forced into a victim--all in slo-mo again with exaggerated, contorted facial expressions in uncomfortable close ups to make a viewer feel every agonizing inch.

The events skip around the several day episode to get to the meat of it, though the pacing still feels somewhat sporadic, causing the film--despite some memorably heinous scenes--to not always be consistently gripping or tension filled. At a few points they step outside to break the single environment archetype of being trapped in a house, though even with Bolkan's subtle acting as the nun and Ray Lovelock's charming looks and dangerous demeanor, this isn't as gripping as it could have been. The bad guys are, well, simply bad guys with few things on their minds. A few areas break the molds of what you would expect a criminal to act like, such as one being a good natured looking drop out of college or another being a pervert who reads Faulkner. The women whisper their escapes but get easily pushed around like the filmmakers wanted in order to lead up to their main agenda towards the latter part of the film. A balance wasn't always struck to give a solid relation between the characters or their plight, causing the audience to look about impassively and make their own loose assumptions.

Rating: 5.5/10

Director: Franco Prosperi
Stars: Florinda Bolkan, Ray Lovelock
Link: IMDB

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