Color, 1978, 89m.
Directed by Franco Prosperi
Starring Florinda Bolkan, Ray Lovelock, Flavio Andreini, Stefano Cedrati, Sherry Buchanan, Laura Trotter
Wild Dogs (Blu-ray & DVD) (Austria RB/R2 HD/PAL), Severin (US R1 NTSC), Sazuma (Austria R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
After the international success of the rape-revenge shocker Last House on the Left, distributors were quick to cash in with plenty of European imports whose connection to the Wes Craven film ranged from uncomfortably close (such as a virtual remake, Night Train Murders) to utterly laughable (Mario Bava's Bay of Blood, widely retitled as Last House on the Left Part II). One of the weirdest later offspring of this craze, Last House on the Beach (originally titled La settima donna, or "The Seventh Woman" in Italy) managed to inject the scenario with a fresh twist by -- get this -- mixing in some nunsploitation for good measure. Weird, elegant, unpleasant, and compelling at the same time, it's a fascinating attempt to meld artistry with trash that still hasn't received its due.
Following a deadly bank robbery, three robbers are told by their superiors to hide out and decide to go on the lam in a desolate beachside area. They find refuge at a house where several young girls and their chaperone, Cristina (Bolkan), are busy rehearsing in surreal animal outfits for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at an upcoming Shakespeare festival. Soon the females are all held captive both in the house and outside on the beach by the thugs, including leader and professed non-killer Aldo (Lovelock), sex-crazed Walter (Andreini), and shirt-allergic Nino (Cedrati). During a bout of verbal taunting, the men discover that Cristina is actually a nun and derive no end of amusement from provoking her, while the girls are subjected to various ordeals culminating in a bizarre sexual assault with Nino dressed in women's make-up. Through various flashbacks and stories the truth about the major players comes to light, and Cristina can only cling on to her holy teachings for so long before eventually exploding in a frenzy of righteous violence.
Though the plot suggests standard exploitation fare, Last House rises above the norm primarily thanks to the committed performances by Bolkan and Lovelock (with the latter even warbling a rock tune early on entitled "Place for the Landing"), stylish direction by Franco Prosperi (prior to his outrageous animals-amuck masterpiece, Wild Beasts), and a killer score by Roberto Pregadio, featuring appropriately lush vocals by the omnipresent Edda Dell'Orso. The scope photography makes excellent use of the limited locations, often drenching scenes in unearthly blues, and despite the gritty tone of the subject matter, the film manages to evoke its most shocking moments through implication rather than explicit thrills. There are only a few flashes of nudity throughout, and the one prolonged rape sequence is rendered almost entirely in the dark, focusing on the participants' faces in slow motion to create a haunting effect. Of course, the film does slide into the gutter occasionally, mainly with its obvious delight in placing Bolkan in a nun's habit just so she can be manhandled and persecuted at knife point, which is presumably enough justification for her gun-toting revenge. Despite the Last House connection, in the end both the plot and treatment more closely resemble the American girls-in-captivity favorite Cheerleaders' Wild Weekend, which would make a great double feature. On top of that it displays a peculiar obsession with Donald Duck in the background of many scenes, which ties this to at least two major gialli by Lucio Fulci made before and after this film, Don't Torture a Duckling and New York Ripper. Or maybe Italian thriller filmmakers just had a weird thing for cartoon ducks.
Though it popped up in an English-language incarnation of varying lengths under its initial export title as well as Terror, Prosperi's film has suffered mightily over the years due to brutal pan-and-scan transfers that rendered it completely incoherent. A widescreen Japanese DVD eventually appeared, but the first winner in the home video market was a release by Sazuma, presented in a fine uncut anamorphic transfer. The packaging only lists audio options in Italian and German, but the English is actually on there as well; Lovelock and some of the supporting performers clearly performed in English, while Bolkan mostly spoke Italian. Both are legitimate, so it's really your call as to which of the two you'd prefer (i.e., the classier Italian track, or the juicy '70s English track with plenty of the usual suspects from the dubbing community). Subtitles are available in Italian or German. The front of the package credits the film under its original Italian title as well as its German one (Verflucht zum Toten), so most dealers may list it that way. Also included on the disc is a lengthy featurette, "Holy Beauty vs. the Evil Beasts," which features Lovelock talking about his career (with some anecdotes carried over from his earlier DVD interviews) as well as his memories of working on the film and his co-stars. He also explains how he got his name despite being Italian, which is an interesting story by itself. Also included are the German and Italian theatrical trailers, the alternate German opining credits, a photo gallery, a brief but informative liner notes by Christian Kessler entitled "Of Nuns and Jackals," and a very funny karaoke-style Easter Egg that won't be spoiled here. However, the coolest extra by far is a second disc containing the entire CD soundtrack in beautiful stereo; Pregadio's score has never been released before in any form (and yes, that song is included as well), so this wonderful bonus is almost worth the entire price by itself.
Following up on the Sazuma release (now out of circulation), the American DVD premiere from Severin is virtually identical with the same transfer and Ray Lovelock featurette, as well as the German and Italian trailers. The only difference is that it drops the Italian and German language tracks, the photo gallery, and the Easter Egg (as well as the soundtrack CD, alas), but the much lower price tag (and its NTSC availability) might make it a more attractive purchase. Either way, it's well worth hunting down and makes a nice reminder of how politically incorrect international films used to be.
In 2015, a new Austrian label called Wild Dogs (whose name appears nowhere on the packaging or discs) revisited the film with what's touted as a world premiere of a new HD restoration. They aren't kidding; it looks pretty spectacular, especially if you're familiar with the history of the film. The original Italian negative is the primary source here with some damaged bits slugged in via an interpositive, resulting in a few very slight shifts that don't affect the viewing experience in any negative way. Interestingly, there's also an option to play it "unrestored" with just the interpositive transfer from start to finish, complete with some debris and damage removed from the restored version. Both have high bit rates and occupy virtually the exact same amount of disc space (20GB), so check out both and see which you prefer. Audio is presented in DTS-HD Italian and German options; interestingly, the few English-synched bits from the prior transfer are clearly done in Italian here, which means the Italian track is in synch and sounds completely natural all the way through. Optional English and German subtitles are offered, and it's great to finally be able to see this in its native language in an English-friendly option. There's also a German-language audio commentary (no sub options) by Dr. Marcus Stiglegger, plus the usual German and Italian trailers and a gallery of stills and poster art. However, there's another fun extra advertised nowhere on the package: a 7-minute "Flash Frame" reel compiling all of the extra frames at the heads and tails of every single shot in the film (complete with editing grease pencil marks) into one single viewing experience, accompanied by funky selections from the soundtrack. It's actually kind of delirious and a lot of fun to watch as jettisoned images from the film zip by in fast motion, resulting in a kind of musical flip book effect. The limited (1,000) mediabook edition also includes a DVD with identical extras as well as a German-language liner notes booklet with bios and an essay by Bjorn Altvatter.