Trash Or Terror Tuesday: The Last House in the Woods (2006)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes & DVDs comes…

DVD cover for The Last House in the Woods (2006)The Last House in the Woods (2006)
by #GabrieleAlbanesi

An Italian gorefest about a young couple being held captive by a sadistic backwoods family. A woman escapes a group of bullies seeking to rape her and takes refuge with a seemingly kind couple who have a dark secret hidden in their quiet, secluded house.

“There are some lines that must never be crossed… beyond them all is The Last House in the Woods”

#Horror #Slasher
#TrashOrTerrorTuesday

The Last House in the Woods (2006) features some pretty decent gore, and there are several scenes of horror and suspense. The problem, it seems to me, is with the script. The story is basically ridiculous. And most of the characters are pretty unsympathetic. Even the two most sympathetic characters behave questionably from time to time.

The movie is Italian, and I have a great love of Italian cinema – Italian horror in particular. But I found this one, right off the top, to be irritating me with bad dubbing . So, I actually switched to Italian with subtitles (which I probably should have been on to begin with, but the DVD defaulted to English). That helped a bit, but I still found myself scratching my head at times, wondering what the characters were thinking.

I won’t try to itemize all of the WTF moments in this movie, but one thing that seems to get mentioned by other reviewers is this: there is a gang of asshole rapists in this movie. They menace the two main characters in a random attack at the side of the highway.  Later in the movie, the three rapists return to the area and – for reasons that I can’t understand – they decide to look for trouble in the woods. They stumble onto the house or horrors in which our two main characters are being tortured and terrorized.

The movie seems to recast them as “heroes” at this point. The rapists decide to attack the other bad guys and rescue the very girl they had been attempting rape a few hours ago. I honestly wasn’t sure who I was rooting for. As luck would have it (SPOILER ALERT), pretty much everyone dies so either way it all works out.

So what’s the verdict?

The Last House in the Woods (2006) is Trash. Some may be sufficiently entertained by the gore gags and scenes of horror to call it a mild Terror. I must have felt that way myself 15 years ago when I first watched this thing. I kept it in my collection, after all. But looking at it again now, it just makes me want to watch the better movies that probably inspired it. For example, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). A messed up family living in the woods, using unfortunate travellers as a source of food? There’s even a creepy dinner table scene, and a deformed looking guy wielding a chainsaw, so you do the math.

Of course, so many films have ripped off – I mean, been influenced by – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre over the years that it’s almost pointless to mention it, but… 

The gang of rapists could be a nod to Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) – as the title (The Last House in the Woods) seems to imply. But their role in this movie is so head scratchingly strange that I’m not sure.

There’s also a  tumour-popping moment that conjures up memories of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive AKA Braindead – which I consider to be a masterpiece. 

I would watch any of these three films – as well as many, many classic Italian horror films – over The Last House in the Woods again. It’s not a complete waste of an evening, but I think twice in a lifetime is enough for me. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Are You in the House Alone? (1978)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m really enjoying the made for TV movies these days. – particularly made for TV horror films. For those keeping track of such things, Are You in the House Alone? (1978) is the second feature on the Shout Factory TV Terrors DVD that I purchased a while back. Normally I might wait longer before diving in and watching the second film in set like this, but I enjoyed The Initiation of Sarah (1978) so much that I just couldn’t resist.

Book cover of re You in the House Alone? by Richard PeckI had heard of Are You in the House Alone?, but much like The Initiation of Sarah I had never seen it before. I knew that it was based on a book by Richard Peck, as I used to come it across it fairly regularly at thrift stores and The Children’s Hospital Book Market. I never read the book and didn’t know a whole lot about it. I always imagined that it was about a teenage girl at home alone getting menaced by some kind of psychopath. Perhaps a toned down slasher film (in book form) with no body count, in which we skip right to the final girl getting stalked and chased and finally doing battle with (and defeating) the killer. And, of course, all of it would be suitable for young readers in some PG sort of way.

It turns out that I had no idea what I was getting into when I watched Are You in the House Alone? last week. I am not a fan of SPOILERS, but I think I can reveal the big plot point that shocked me without ruining anything. The film revealed it in the first five minutes, so I think it’s fair to say that it’s not a spoiler at all. Are You in the House Alone? is about rape.

It is revealed to us in the opening scene that our main character – Gail, played by Kathleen Beller – is raped by her attacker. They ask her who he is, but she says “I can’t tell you… No one would believe me…” And then we flash back to how it all began.

It struck me as a strange way to begin a movie like this. But as the story progressed, I started to appreciate the brilliance of it. Now that we know what is going to happen to Gail, it becomes an unusual kind of suspense story – and a mystery. We know that her attacker is going to be someone that no one would ever suspect, so we find ourselves (at least I did) carefully scrutinizing each male character that Gail interacts with  – could he be the one? What about that guy? The suspense builds as we try to figure out who it is, partly due to that strangely human belief that if we can figure it out before it happens, we might be able to stop it. Anyone who has ever re-watched a movie and caught themselves hoping that a character (perhaps even shouting warnings at them) isn’t going to go into that scary looking house this time and get herself killed can back me up on this. We know what’s going to happen, but we’re still on the edge of our seat hoping that it won’t.

Surprisingly, we learn the truth about an hour into the movie, and then it becomes something else…

TV listings ad for Are You in the House Alone? (1978)

At the time that this movie first aired, I was a big fan of the TV show Quincy M.E. (1976-83). It was about a medical examiner who, each and every week, would uncover cases of injustice often due to a broken or flawed system. Laws that were unjust, rules that made no sense – or even a lack of laws and rules where there should have been some – would inspire Quincy to go above and beyond his job and crusade for changes in the system. Most of the episodes were left open ended because the show was shining a light on an actual problem in the real world and hoping that by doing so, someone might be moved to change it.

In it’s final act, Are You in the House Alone? becomes a little bit like an episode of Quincy, as it exposes the injustices of a system that fails the victims of rape. Gail feels that she can’t tell the truth – and that even if she does, her attacker will never be punished. She and her parents (played by Blythe Danner and Tony Bill) come up against attitudes, beliefs, and laws that seem to protect the rapist more than his victims. It feels ahead of its time (and still all too relevant today) but truthfully it’s the kind of story that Quincy might have taken on (and perhaps even did). In any case, it’s compelling viewing, and works on many different levels.

Shout Factory included Are You in the House Alone? in its TV Terrors set, which strongly implied that it was a horror film. In some ways it is – what happens to Gail is certainly horrific and nightmarish, and it contains some suspenseful sequences – but you would not be wrong to also label the movie as a drama, It’s a much more serious minded film than I expected – but I think that’s basically a good thing. If it was just another watered down, family friendly version of a slasher film, how interesting would it be?

Are You in the House Alone? (1978) is another fine example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema made for TV in the 1970s. As I’ve said before, if you didn’t grow up watching these kinds of movies at your home drive-in, you might not appreciate it quite as much as I do. This one, however, will be of interest to fans of issue-oriented movies of the week, and people who are curious to see an early exposé of rape culture, gender discrimination and the unjust patriarchal system. And if that doesn’t sound like a fun and fascinating #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, then you clearly didn’t grow up in the 1970s…

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Demoniacs (1974)

The consensus among my friends and acquaintances seems to be that The Demoniacs (1974), or Les Demoniaques (1974), is not Jean Rollin’s best film. I have to agree with that. I would much rather watch The Grapes of Death (1978), The Living Dead Girl (1982) or Requiem for a Vampire (1972), which I just saw for the first time a few months ago. Still, The Demoniacs is notable for a few things.

It was apparently Rollin’s first film with a larger budget. It was a France-Belgium co-production, and was shot on the Island of Chausey in Normandy. It has been called Rollin’s most “atypical film” and I can see why. Instead of the crumbling castles and graveyards of previous films like Requiem for a Vampire and The Iron Rose (1973), The Demoniacs spends a lot of time on the beach, and inside the remains of a wrecked ship. Rollin talked about his desire to make a movie that related to the swashbuckling adventure films of his youth, and with The Demoniacs he has created a story about pirates, or “wreckers”, who lure ships to their destruction on the rocks and then pillage them. The wreckers also gleefully murder any survivors, and in the case of the two sisters at the centre of The Demoniacs, they rape them and leave them for dead. Being a horror film, of sorts. the sisters survive and make a deal with the devil to get their revenge on the wreckers.

You could say that The Demoniacs is more of an unusual rape revenge film than a horror story. There are some weird, surrealistic and perhaps supernatural touches (it wouldn’t be a Jean Rollin film without them, would it?), but it isn’t about vampires or living dead girls – or is it? I must admit that I’m not 100% clear on all of the details. And as with a lot of Rollin films, it’s hard to decide exactly what kind of film it is. In a lot of ways, Jean Rollin is his own genre. Nobody makes movies quite like he does, and I believe that his films are not for everyone. I like to call his style art-house exploitation. Explicit and sleazy, but somehow classy and artistic at the same time. Rollin’s are not the only films to which I might apply this label, but I consider them to be perfect examples. They contain a lot of nudity and sex, and the word “porn” sometimes gets bandied about, but films like The Demoniacs are not porn. To be fair, Rollin did direct some actual hard core porn movies, but The Demoniacs is not one of them. A viewer who goes in expecting it to be porn will discover that it is decidedly soft core. There are a couple of deleted sex scenes on the Kino-Lorber Blu-ray, and if there had been any doubt, these scenes make it clear just how “soft” things really were…

Joëlle Coeur as Tina, one of the wreckers in The Demoniacs (1974)

I think most people would agree that the true highlight of The Demoniacs (1974) is the performance of Joëlle Coeur. She does not play one of two shipwrecked sisters, but rather one of the pirates, or wreckers, and she seems to take particular pleasure in molesting and murdering other characters. She also spends a lot of time naked. Coeur had an all too brief career as an actress, appearing in about twenty movies between 1972 and 1976, including I Am Frigid… Why? (1972), Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973) and Seven Women for Satan (1976). Exploitation film fans lost a potential superstar when Joëlle Coeur hung up her… um…  hat.

Poster art for I Am Frigid... Why? (1972)Poster art for Seven Women for Satan (1976)

Jean Rollin’s films are not for everyone, and The Demoniacs (1974) is a Jean Rollin film that isn’t for every Jean Rollin fan. I will probably never watch it as often as some of his other films, but I believe that it contains enough of his signature touch, as well as other #NotQuiteClassicCinema goodness, to make for a very pleasant #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn