Ghost House Underground: Last House in the Woods (US - DVD R1)
Gabe remembers to never look forward to a new Italian horror flick ever again.
Italy, you disappeared from the scene just when I was growing to love you. As a horror fan born in the ‘80s, who didn’t really discover the genre until the ‘90s, I’ve never experienced a genuinely good, and new Italian horror film. The closest I ever get are a series of disappointing Dario Argento slogs, some truly terrible Lamberto Bava garbage, and Serigo Stivaletti’s crushingly bad Three Faces of Terror, and that just doesn’t cut it.
Last House in the Woods so effectively apes the look and feel of the ‘80s Italian heyday that viewers less educated in the language of such films with likely mistake this stuff for awkward filmmaking. These pointedly awkward moments include a whole lot of zooms, especially into eyes, pointless pans, and more close-ups than generally considered acceptable by modern filmmakers. Director Gabriele Albanesi uses a whole lot of modern hand held, shaky cam techniques as well, but for the most part this is a heavily influenced by the likes of Joe D’Amato and Sergio Salvati, minus any sense of artistry.
The derivative script (right down to the derivative American release title, the Italian title is Bosco fuori, which translates to something like The Forest Outside) is another of the films accurate mimicries of the final era of Italian horror, though not one of the more positive ones. I’m not fully convinced that the clumsy pacing, dialogue and structure is a purposefully old school throwback, but again, it is all in-keeping with the quoted material.
Oh wait, my bad, this really is just sloppy filmmaking, not some kind of misguided homage.
At best Last House works only as a pale imitation of the best of the last generation of Italian horror cinema. It looks and sounds cheap in a modern fashion, losing most of the positive nostalgic vibe pretty early in, especially around the half way point when I realized I was watching yet another Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip off. Albanesi does right by hiring Sergio Stivaletti to handle the gore effects, but he keeps them from us for almost half the runtime, and then doesn’t quite ever deliver on their promise. Still, the gore is probably the only reason for anyone to see the film.
Though I suppose it kind of adds to the early ‘80s mystique of the whole thing, this disc looks generally very bad. The frame is dark to the point of zero recognition at some points. I couldn’t tell half of what was happening in any sequence not featuring the brightest of lighting, and even some of the daylight scenes are muddled in darkness. The details that aren’t obscured by darkness are obscured by heavy compression noise. The dim colours, especially warm hues, are blocky and an ungainly disability to blend. Whites are blown out to an obnoxious degree, and wide shot details are wrought with edge enhancement and digital video artefacts. Imdb.com lists the film as having been filmed on HD digital video. There are many clues to the digital video part being a fact, but even a poorly treated HD master usually looks better than this. The transfer also appears to be interlaced.
The audio matches the video. We’re given two Dolby Stereo tracks, one in Italian, the other in dubbed English, both of which sounds more like a scratch track than a finished product. I actually opted for the dubbed track for most of my viewing experience just because I liked adding to the old school feel, and almost every ‘classic’ Italian horror flick was shot sans sound. The background soundtrack drops in and out on both tracks from shot to shot. Only the score remains consistent, and thusly sounds like it has nothing to do aurally with the rest of the film. I’m not sure who inspired composers Filippo Barbieri and Federico Bruno, but its often inappropriate tone is actually one of the film’s only assets. The moody keyboard score almost exclusively plays against the on-screen action, revelling in very few slow and whirling notes instead of punchy and shrill scare cues. It’s not the type of thing one could ever listen to apart from the film, but it’s eerily effective.
Things start with a commentary featuring director Gabriele Albanesi, who is relatively modest in speaking of his skills, but a virtual encyclopaedia when listing his influences, which range from Michael Mann and Dario Argento to John Ford and Sergio Leone. In the commentary, which is in Italian with English subtitles, Albanesi is sure to point out his influences scene by scene, especially all the Dario Argento rips I figured he thought he’d gotten away with. The young director’s heart is in the right place, surely, he just seems to lack either taste or talent.
Our only other extra, besides some trailers, is a short film entitled L’Armadio ( The Closet), written and directed by Albanesi. The five minute short, which concerns a little boy tortured by terrifying scraping noises coming from his bedroom closet, is five time more effective and frightening than Last House, utilizing a creepy synth score, overwhelmingly hyper-realistic sound effects, zany camera work, and a frightful little twist.
I need to give up my impossible crusade for quality modern Italian horror. It’s over. I just need to accept it. Last House in the Woods is a sloppy glop of a film, with nothing but a few goopy gore bits to get us through, and those are way at the end. The disc looks and sounds awful, but there is a spirited commentary track from the director, and a fun little short, but that’s not really a purchase. Skip it.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 14th October 2008
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian
Extras: Director's Commentary, Short Film
Easter Egg: No
Director: Gabriele Albanesi
Cast: Rino Diana, Geremia Longobardo, Daniela Virgilio, Daniele Grassetti, Santa De Santis
Length: 86 minutes
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