Thursday, November 27, 2014
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: The Seventh Woman
Franco Prosperi’s grubby little home invasion thriller was retitled ‘Last House on the Beach’ for the American market, although an equally apposite alias would have been ‘House by the Edge of the Sea’ – Prosperi’s, ahem, aesthetic is perhaps more keyed into Deodato’s gruelling opus rather it is to Craven’s underside of Americana. But that’s argument for film scholars; Winter of Discontent is when this blog abandons any intellectual precepts, grabs a beer (or several) and deposits itself on the couch. It’s also when the blog owner’s wife wonders ruefully whether or not her husband is a suitable case for committal.
But I digress.
‘The Seventh Woman’ is a fairly unlikeable piece of work even by the low standards of exploitation cinema in general and its subgenre in particular. It boasts a couple of noteworthy elements, but we’ll leave them for last in an attempt to end this review on a remotely positive note. Let’s get the plot synopsis and a few general remarks out of the way first. This could be a pretty short review.
After one of the lamest bank robberies ever, thuggish douchebag assholes Aldo (Ray Lovelock), Walter (Flavio Andreini) and Nino (Stefano Cedrati) make a less than quick getaway in a clapped out Citreon. It’s a testament to how long it takes the police to show up that they actually evade capture. The car conks out near the coast and they hole up in an isolated house. In said property, Sister Cristina (Florinda Balkan) and five of her pupils (Sherry Buchanan, Laura Tanziani, Laura Trotter, Karina Verlier and Luisa Maneri) are taking a break in the lead up to exams and rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Quite why I’ve fixated on that detail I don’t know: the film sets it up as if it’s going to be somehow crucial to how the plot unfolds, then decides otherwise and the Bard isn’t mentioned again.
(Oh, if you’re wondering how the figures add up in relation to the title, the seventh woman is either the housemaid who buys it within half a minute of being onscreen, or the woman that Sister Cristina becomes in order to survive. Let’s be charitable and assume the latter; it makes the film sound more interesting.)
Aldo discovers that Sister Cristina and her charges aren’t expected back at the academy for three days and thus the expected cat-and-mouse shenanigans ensue … except that “cat-and-mouse” suggests a certain degree of tension. And indeed, between the ever-present threat of violence, the clandestinely plotted escape attempt and what the filmmakers probably intended as a cauldron of sexual tension, ‘The Seventh Woman’ had no reason not to be a taut, claustrophobic, edge-of-the-seat B-movie.
In actuality, it’s dreary, predictable, uninvolving and even its most leering bits of nastiness inspire little more than tedium. Its antagonists tick the expected boxes in regard to snivelling villainy, but there’s none of the demented menace that David Hess brings to the aforementioned Craven and Deodato movies. Lovelock was never the most charismatic of exploitation leads and here he just goes through the numbers. Even the usually dependable Bolkan seems like she’s phoning it in.
Grazie, then, for Cristiano Pogany’s dappled widescreen cinematography that at least conjures some nice backdrops; Maneri’s icy presence as one of the increasingly vengeful schoolgirls; and a retributive finale that Quentin Tarantino probably had uppermost in mind when he shot the last scene of ‘Death Proof’.