The decline of the Italian film industry pretty much meant the decline of the Italian horror film. While giants of the genre like Fulci, Argento, Bava, Martino and others kept the 60s, 70s, and 80s rocking with numerous classics and fan favorites, the country has offered little to the genre since the early 90s. Argento still releases the occasional flick, but their quality is often the subject of debate. Taking a backseat to Australians, Asians, and most recently, the French, the Italians arenít likely to stay down without a fight for too much longer. Then came the news of a new Italian horror film set to be made on a shoestring budget and included in the new Ghost House Underground film line. Would that film, The Last House in the Woods, be the catalyst necessary to bring about a second Italian horror boom, or would it simply fall flat? Letís take a look.
Aurora is cheating on her lover, and on her way back to her house, the two are attacked and nearly accosted by a group of three drugged-out thugs (with a title mirroring Last House on the Left what else would you be expecting?) Their lives are then saved by a man and his wife out for a leisurely drive, who then take the couple back to their houseÖthe last house in the middle of the woods. It is there that they soon discover their heroes have actually now become their captors, and that they are planning to feed the young couple to their fang-toothed mutant son. You think that came out of nowhere? You may be right. Better not have been expecting a giallo, that's all I've got to say!
The film is very amateurish, but with a young cast and crew on a limited budget, what else would you expect? They do manage a few stylish shots, however, echoing the rich history of the spaghetti horrors of decades past. You can definitely tell the filmmakers were fans of the genre before their work on the film. The film is stylish in the directorís shot choices and the decision to add a little color to some of the scenes. While it is stylish, it never goes overboard into parody territory. You donít see Suspiriaesque blue and red color bathing each scene, but there were moments where the lighting definitely gave off an Argento vibe. Though it isnít great by any means, it is certainly no worse than many of the other films it takes inspiration from. I think fans of Italian horror films will find much to like in this one.
With a name like The Last House in the Woods, youíre kind of drawn to expect a sort of rape/revenge plot from the film, and at first, it sort of has you going in that direction. At first, the revelation of what was really going on was a little off-putting because itís the kind of thing Iím not really used to seeing in an Italian horror film. After all, there have been Italian Last House on the Left ripoffs before (House on the Edge of the Park, Last House on the Beach, etc.) Finding out that the film was about a crazed Hills Have Eyesish family luring people to their death and feeding them to their son was definitely a hard pill to swallow but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated it. Above all else, for an Italian horror film, itís fairly original. Itís not your typical black-gloved razor-wielding giallo stalker. Itís not a gut-munching zombie epic. It really is something different.
The acting in the film is a little hard to judge because the dubbing is seriously one of the worst jobs that I have ever seen. I know the film is an homage to Italian horror cinema, and that the dubbing may have been done like it was intentionally, but Iím not sure. Itís pretty laughable and at times distracting. I have to admit that I was a tad bored for much of the running time. When the lead character is seen cheating on her boyfriend, you really donít have a whole lot of sympathy for her. This kind of leaves the film without a hero. Once more, later on in the film, their original attackers become their heroes. This was an interesting, if not entirely successful attempt at a twist. I liked the novelty of it (imagine if somehow in Last House on the Left that Krug and the gang somehow were made out to be the GOOD guys.)
At first, I thought the gore level was going to be a disappointment. Too many times have I heard films talked up on message boards and online forums only to be let down with the finished product. I can honestly say, though, this film delivers. If youíre not convinced halfway through, stick it out. Once the credits start, you will have seen some rough stuff. Utilizing among other things teeth, a knife, and a chainsaw, the killings are pretty harsh and generous with the red stuff. Not quite up there with Inside in the realism department, but definitely cringe-inducing. Definitely the best work by veteran FX man Sergio Stivaletti in quite some time. There is one pretty nasty scene involving a large tumor/goiter type thing on the side of one of the insane couple's older children that is nothing short of stomach-churning.
The Last House in the Woods has been given a decent DVD treatment by Lionsgate. Audio and video are superb, as is to be expected for a new release. The only qualm I have is again, the horrible dubbing. As someone who is fairly used to Italian horror cinema, this really isnít that big of an issue, but itís an issue I thought may have died with the 80s. Apparently not. We are treated to an interesting behind the scenes featurette featuring interviews with the director and many of the cast and crew, including Sergio Stivaletti. Trailers for all of the other Ghost House Underground titles are also included. While The Last House in the Woods is a mixed bag, and not the resurrection of Italian horror cinema that many have tried to bestow upon it, it really is unfair to judge it against that. It never tries to be the ultimate Italian horror movie or even the best in a long time. Itís simply an Italian cast, an Italian crew, and a low budget. For what the film likely cost, itís not half bad. It doesnít really pick up until the final half hour or so, and once it gets going, there is enough carnage and bloodshed to keep any jaded horror fan interested. Itís not the best but itís certainly not the worst. Definitely worth at least one look to judge for yourself. Rent it!