Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Last House On the Beach (1978)

Well, here's an offensive, tasteless, and joyless slice of exploitative sleaze that may have passed you by. Renamed Last House on the Beach (not sure of the original title) to capitalize on Craven's Last House on the Left, this is a nasty picture with few redeeming qualities. Let's just jump right into it, shall we?

The picture opens with a brutish bank robbery orchestrated by three thugs led by some guy named Aldo that vaguely resembles Luke Skywalker. One guy sorta looks like Ralph Malph from "Happy Days". Anyway, these guys make off with some loot, kill a couple bystanders, and head for the shoreline where they come across what appears to be the only house on the beach (so the title actually fits!). Living in the house is a Nun, Sister Somebody and her five (maybe six) teenage students (all twenty something females). Also, we got a maid, but she's taken care of, almost immediately, when a hot iron is implanted in her face. Then, Ralph Malph attempts to have his way with one of the girls as she strips nude in the bathroom but all he gets for his troubles is a sharpened comb (or maybe a pin) stabbed into his upper leg. Wounds like this tend to fester, get infected, maybe migrate up to the stomach, etc. So, things are bound to spiral downward from this point on.

The first thing I wondered is who the hell shot this overly stylized piece of shit? Couldn't be bothered to check, however. The opening robbery is shot, almost entirely, from the ground level. We got no faces unless they're off in the distance. Lots of feet though. We see one of the robbers off a ways wearing a mask. Weird cinematic shit. Anyway, the picture then cuts to a scene at the beach house where all we see are women's feet and I got worried the whole thing would be shot this way. Thankfully, things relax and we get to see the women in their entirety. And, by entirety, I mean they're naked a lot. Unfortunately, most of that nakedness is of the forced kind so unless you're a sexual deviant, best keep those flies zipped.

The Aldo character, and leader of the gang, is someone the filmmakers try, somewhat despicably, to get the audience to relate to. Here's a normal guy; in shape, blond, articulate. He went to college but dropped out after realizing it would take him a hundred years to make a million dollars. Why not just speed up the process by robbing banks? Or, he could just work harder and get a better job. One of the girls (the very blond one) develops a bit of Stockholm syndrome, seems to dig the guy, maybe she can get through to him, etc. Then, during the first night, he looks on as one of his cronies puts on makeup and rapes one of the girls (with Malph on the other side of her) in slow motion while David Lynch orchestrates the sound effects and also the camera angles. So, Aldo ain't exactly a guy we can get behind (neither figuratively, nor literally). Oh, and he also rapes the nun and then comments on the lax standards of the catholic church these days "'cause clearly, she wasn't no virgin when they took her in." Alright, maybe I'm making up quotes here....I think the guy articulated it a little better since he did, after all, have a year of college under his belt.

Anyway, For the most part, I got a problem with this particular genre of moving picture....let's call it the "men have their way with innocent women only to have the tables turned on them by the end" genre. Into this genre falls such pictures as Last House on the Left, The Night Train Murders, Day of the Woman (aka I Spit On Your Grave), Hitch-Hike, House on the Edge of the Park, etc*. A picture like Day of the Woman is full of misogyny, but ultimately justified (by it's many defenders, not me) because it eventually "empowers" women. Well, sure, it "empowers" them. But not until the audience has been subjected to a 30 minute rape scene that takes place in two parts. They're "empowered" if they've survived the raping and the bludgeoning.  The woman in Day of the Woman gets her revenge. She uses her sexuality (which is hardly an empowering notion - as if to say a woman can't use her wits or her non sexual physicality) to undo her tormentors. The "classic" moment in this particular picture is the bloody castration in the tub. Well, it should be the "classic" moment except I was still caught up on the 30 minute two part rape sequence. Unlike Last House on the Left, which at least raises a challenging moral issue or two, Day of the Woman has nothing to really offer its viewer beyond the horror of a 30 minute rape sequence broken up into two parts. Also, the slicing off dick part.

Anyway, Last House on the Beach falls into Day of the Woman category of the "men have their way with innocent women only to have the tables turned on them by the end" genre in that it has no reason to exist beyond its ability to disgust. The ending, aka the comeuppance, feels tacked on at the last minute of filming (much like the ending of House on the Edge of the Park). There's no natural progression. We got an hour plus of women being harassed, terrorized, violated, beaten, stabbed, tortured, penetrated with canes, etc. It's all shot tastefully of course. We got the aforementioned slow motion. The director (from what I can remember) made a conscious effort not to show the naughty parts during any of the assaults. I guess for fear of titillating his perverted audience. Doesn't matter. We know what's going on. And then there's the one scene where Ralph Malph approaches a helplessly bound girl with his phallic cane. This shot was so "awesome" that the director chose to show it twice! Yes, you guessed it. In slow-mo!

For an exciting climax, we got the nun (trained as a nurse) doing the proverbial ol' "turning of the tables" and poisoning the wounded guy and blowing another guy's head off with the wounded, now dead, guy's gun. And so, it all comes down to a brief sequence pitting the Stockholm sufferer against our lovable rapist, Aldo. Are the girls justified in their vengeance? Of course. No question. Does the audience feel satisfied? Of course not. We're still hung up on all the torturing and, you know, the violating. Other than all the negative shit I just mentioned, Last House On the Beach is a borderline passable entertainment. Mainly because, once you take that shit out you got about five minutes of movie.

*For the record, I think Hitch-Hike and, in particular, Night Train Murders are pretty great pictures precisely because the rape isn't the point. They're both shocking, brutal and, yes, borderline misogynistic, but, like Last House on the Left, they place the characters (and the audience) in situations involving fairly heady moral quandaries.

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