Tuesday, October 14, 2008

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Keep Telling Yourself It's Only a Review

I've never been a big fan of the whole revenge-drama genre inspired by Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (itself inspired by Ingmar Bergman's VIRGIN SPRING) and delivered into infamy by flicks like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. Sure, I'm always up for a little turn-the-tables-on-the-sadistic-thugs action, but at least dress it up with some over-the-top characters (the idiot siblings of MOTHER'S DAY), twist it around (the gender-switcheroo DEADLY GAME) or dredge it in a nice coating of Eurosleaze like Ruggero Deodato's HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (starring LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT's David Hess and John Morghen of MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY as Hall of Fame sleazebags). Now out on DVD from Severin Films, 1978's LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH (aka TERROR) also delivers more than the usual by-the-numbers revenge fulfillment plotline, thanks to some genre cross-pollination and a few directorial flourishes that elevate it above the norm.

When a bank robbery goes bad and their getaway car breaks down, three thugs (Ray Lovelock, Flavio Andreini and Stefano Cedrati) commandeer a house on the beach where a teacher and her teenage students have come to study and rehearse Shakespeare. And do some topless sunbathing. Aldo (Lovelock), the gang's apparent leader, attempts to broker peace between the two groups, a task made all the more difficult by Walter (Andreini) going off and bludgeoning the housekeeper and Nino (Cedrati) assaulting one of the students in the bathroom, only to get stabbed in the leg for his efforts. The thug's reasoning for his attack? "Frickin' chick was naked!"

With logic like that at work, it's no surprise that the robbers – who killed bank employees and bystanders during their heist – can't keep their eyes on the task at hand – making a getaway. Instead, they grope and fondle the students and really get in over their heads when the teacher is revealed as a nun. The moment they make Sister Cristina (Florinda Bolkan of LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN, DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING and FLAVIA THE HERETIC) strip out of her civvies and get into her nun's habit you're pretty sure things won't end well for Aldo, Walter and Nino.

As the days go by and the thugs get closer to making their escape, the situation turns from awful to worse. Students end up raped, dead or both, Nino's leg wound begins to fester and we realize that for all his smooth talk and blonde good looks, Aldo may be the most cold-hearted of the bunch.

Like most films of its ilk, your appreciation for LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH hinges on your tolerance for on-screen abuse. Though not taken to graphic extremes like some of the films in the genre, at times LAST HOUSE actually feels more harrowing thanks to the direction of Eurotrash vet Franco Prosperi (MONDO CANE, FAREWELL UNCLE TOM, WILD BEASTS). The film's assault scenes have a hypnotic, almost Lynchian quality to them, with Walter decked out in makeup (shades of Dean Stockwell in BLUE VELVET?), the wide-eyed terror of the victim and Rocky Dennis, er, Nino standing there on his increasing gimpy limb. One wonders how far Sister Cristina's forgiveness and charity will go and how she and her students will exact their inevitable revenge.

While not great, BEACH is certainly one of the more entertaining efforts in the revenge flick genre. Though the finale feels a bit rushed after the extended abuse the teacher and students are subjected to, the often comically sleazy nature of the criminals coupled with Prosperi's handling of the assaults and the various views of the bank robbery earn this one an above average rating in my book.

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