Is there any genre more derivative than the slasher film? Sure, all types of movies borrow liberally from one another, but none are as simple or as often ripped off as your garden variety slice-and-dice scenario. Most end up looking completely identical, with The Last House in the Woods going so far as to prove that this rule applies even to foreign countries. But this grisly Italian shocker just goes to show you how much of a movie's success depends upon its execution. Don't get me wrong, it's not all that good, but despite its repeatedly rehashed premise, it comes closer to being effective than the watered-down junk Hollywood likes to aim at the CW crowd.
Aurora (Daniela Virgilio) and Rino (Daniele Grassetti) are going through a tough time in their relationship. When they decide to finally discuss their romantic woes on a deserted stretch of road, the youngsters find themselves beset by a trio of thugs who proceed to savage them. But along comes an older couple (Gennaro Diana and Santa De Santis) to the rescue, sending the hoods fleeing thanks to a rather useful handgun. Aurora and Rino take the couple up on their offer to rest for a bit at their place, but anyone who's seen a horror movie in their lives can tell that what happens next can't be good. Sure enough, the young lovers soon discover that their hosts have a penchant for violence, kidnapping unlucky travelers to supply their cannibal son (Fabiano Malantrucco) with some good eats. With Rino incapacitated, Aurora realizes that it's up to her to escape this house of horrors — though help eventually springs up from an unlikely source.
I've never seen a film like The Last House in the Woods so blatantly copy others like it, yet still retain a modicum of excitement. There's nothing new about what director Gabriele Albanesi has served up, and he's especially open about where his pet project's genre roots are planted. Huge chunks of the film are taken directly from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, right down to a demented dinner scene and, well, a chainsaw being used as a weapon of choice. Albanesi displays his total lack of originality from beginning to end, so why doesn't it completely bite the big one? I'd say it's because the filmmakers actually tried to make something halfway scary. Albanesi makes the effort to sustain tension throughout the film rather than deliver it in short, futile bursts. It's a big step up over the similar and over-lauded Frontier(s), which threw in a couple of gory set pieces and called it a day. For the movie's first half, the approach actually works pretty well, tweaking the story's tired nature just enough to score a good thrill or two. The last act introduces a rather creative twist, which finds Aurora and Rino getting assistance from the last people they expected.
Unfortunately, not everything about The Last House in the Woods is sunshine and lollipops. Though it fits the movie's all-around grungy atmosphere, the low-budget cinematography makes it look a little too cheap and ramshackle for its own good. Gorehounds will be pleased that the red stuff flows like the Rio Grande here, what with all manner of sawed-off limbs and nasty stabbings gracing the screen. Albanesi alternates between grim and tongue-in-cheeck atmospheres for the most part, but it's when things start to wrap up that the party gets a lot less interesting and a lot more depressing. Maybe it's because he focused his efforts away from sending his viewers on a grueling cinematic journey and onto wrapping his story up with some unnecessary message. That's right, this is one of those flicks that tries to justify the motives of its killers, but in this case, I didn't come close to buying what Albanesi was selling. I still give him credit for supplying a heroine who doesn't wait until the last ten minutes to get some gumption, though the boneheaded moves she comes to make are no strangers to the slasher genre.
I'm sorry to see that The Last House in the Woods didn't embrace its grindhouse roots to as much success as the pitch-perfect Inside did. As an all-around film, it never rises above mediocrity (and that's being generous), but in terms of slasher flicks, the slight taste of success is better than none at all.