It’s not, but the comparison to Wes Craven’s 1972 debut is hardly unwarranted, because director Aldo Lado’s Italian film is practically a remake, right down to the lead ugly-mugged thug, but with an added mode of transportation. Heck, a poster in the disc’s advertising gallery even reveals an alternate title of “Last House — Part II.”
Regardless of exposure to Craven’s film — or even its underrated, official remake of 2009 — Euro-cult fans should enjoy the trip. Lado (“Short Night of Glass Dolls”) eases viewers into it with a beautiful title sequence scored by Ennio Morricone that grants us a Kodachrome feel of the holidays in Germany while also introducing our pair of sleaze-ball antagonists, the appropriately named Blackie (Flavio Bucci, “Suspiria”) and Curly (Gianfranco De Grassi, “The Church”). They end the credits and get the flick going by roughing up a market-square Santa Claus and stealing his money.
It’s a mere harbinger of the violence to come. Lado tests your might early with some brief shots of an actual surgery, but that might be the worst your eyes will witness. The scalpel belongs to Dr. Stradi (Enrico Maria Salerno, “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”), an Italian surgeon who lives with his beautiful wife (Marina Berti, “The Divine Nymph”) in a palatial countryside home. They eagerly await the arrival of their virgin-as-spring college student daughter, Lisa (Laura D’Angelo), and her BFF, Margaret (Stillwater-born Irene Miracle, “Midnight Express”) by train the next morning, Christmas Day.
Switching trains late on Christmas Eve, Lisa and Margaret are tormented — psychologically, physically, sexually, in that order — by the ride-hopping Blackie and Curly, and a rich woman (icy Macha Mérli, “Deep Red“) whose acquaintance Blackie makes with a quick round of anonymous, forced-at-first sex in the earlier train’s WC. Curly prefers to get his kicks mainlining horse.
What happens next will surprise no one with plot knowledge of “Last House,” but I’m not about to spoil it for those who do not. If you do, it’s still interesting to see how far Lado will go. As it turns out, not that far; gore is minute, nudity brief, and the most horrific acts either out of frame or unseen entirely. Still, this portion of the film remains disturbing and uncomfortable, especially given the rail car’s confined, claustrophobic space.
The last 10 minutes don’t quite measure up to the “Last House” level of catharsis viewers will seek, but you’ll welcome them nonetheless, because Salerno sells it. In an interview amid the extras, Lado acknowledges the producer was “inspired by” Craven’s film, but claims he himself had not seen it, that “it was never our intention to retell a story that had already been told.” Lado goes so far as to paint his picture as a “metaphor” about the criminals being manipulated by the bourgeoise.
I don’t buy it; too many similarities are at play. But I don’t fault Lado, either; international rip-offs are a rich cinematic tradition in genre, and an enjoyable, effective film is a enjoyable, effective film, whether compared to the original or standing on its own. This one does the trick. –Rod Lott