Though its Japanese release title is the cheesy “Italian Chainsaw,” writer-director Gabriele Albanesi’s first feature, “The Last House in the Woods,” is less in line with current horror trends than with the homegrown gialli and more controversial U.S. drive-in terrors (“Last House on the Left,” “I Spit on Your Grave”) of the 1970s and early ’80s. Unpredictable, sometimes harrowing tale of a young couple fighting for their lives amid countryside peril may tick off auds looking for a standard-issue genre ride. But this crafty low-budgeter merits specialty DVD release in most territories, with theatrical possible in areas friendly to foreign-language horror.
At first, young lovers Aurora (Daniela Virgilio) and Rino (Daniele Grassetti) seem made for each other. But typical of Albanesi’s psychologically twisty (but mostly credible) approach, a few screen moments later, some time has passed and the relationship gone sour.
Rino still pines for his now disinterested ex, and convinces her to go for a drive that culminates in spontaneous lovemaking — though this impulsive act still doesn’t change Aurora’s mind. Soon the duo have a more pressing crisis to deal with, however, as a trio of passing thugs (David Pietroni, Geremia Longobardo, Cristiano Callegaro) decide to terrorize the couple. They beat Rino and are about to rape Aurora when older married couple Clara (Santa De Santis) and gun-packin’ Antonio (Rino Diana) arrive, forcing the young hooligans into a surly retreat.
Shaken younger pair are taken to their benefactors’ isolated nearby home. Too late, Aurora realizes there is something more than a little off about these rescuers, as well as their little son Guilio (Fabiano Malantrucco), an angelic-looking thing with alarming piranha-like teeth. Soon the visitors are prisoners — and the operative question becomes not “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” but “Who’s for dinner?” Amid escape attempts and some effectively shocking mayhem, the situation is complicated further by the thug trio’s return.
Tale mixes everyday horrors (the thugs’ violent loutishness) with more macabre ones, as black comedy strains with genuine sympathy for believable characters undergoing extreme abuse. Aurora, in particular, is lent more complexity than the usual “Final Girl.” (The difference between something like this and, say, the “Hostel” movies is that by depicting their victims as one-dimensional cannon fodder, latter pics seem to side with the torturers.)
Not everything here works. Clara gets a long, silly explanatory monologue; the significance of a framing-device flashback involving a car crash remains murky. Though it might be intentionally so (in tribute to early ’80s splatter pics), the synth score is still cheesy. Overall, however, “Last House” marks Albanesi as a horror fan-cum-filmmaker whom genre aficionados will want to keep an eye on.
Perfs are solid, tech aspects ditto on a microbudget.