Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Last House on the Left (2009)



Like a lot of people, I have never been overly enthusiastic about Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left" (1972). I have it in my collection for completeness but it's not exactly brilliant, is very mean-spirited and is really quite embarrassingly bad compared to other movies from the same year. The funny thing about "Last House on the Left" was that, despite its awfulness, it was banned during the UK's "Video Nasty" purge in the '80s and remained that way for over 20 years. Although a few slightly censored versions came out, it was only this time last year (March 2008) before it was even legally available as a fully uncut DVD and a lot of people were very disappointed that its notoriety couldn't match up to its content.

So it was obvious that something had to be done and Greek director Dennis Iliadis (previously known for directing "Hardcore" in 2004) obviously set out with good intentions to make a version of "Last House on the Left" which horror fans would actually like. With even more hype than the original ever received, everyone was onboard with this film and wanted it to be the most brutal, horrific thing that they had ever seen. But did Dennis Iliadis succeed where Wes Craven failed? Well, yes and no.

To begin with, "The Last House on the Left" (2009) is not a scene by scene remake but with added gore. That would have been the easy way out and probably wouldn't have been any improvement. It's not a total re-imagining either because, as we all know, the likelihood was that the whole project would have turned into something as hated as Rob Zombie's "Halloween". Instead there are subtle storyline changes, slightly more likeable characters and a lot more realism.

With quite a spiteful opening scene to highlight the nature of the villains, the rest of the characters are all introduced well and enough time is spent on them to get to know them but without creating a lot of empathy or overdoing it. There's room left for them to create their own exposition. While the Collingwood family still remain mostly two-dimensional, some subtext about a dead son, Ben, is brought in to flesh them out but it's never fully realised. It does provide a useful plot device later on and helps to explain a little bit of the motivation behind the way they interact with each other and the gang/family of criminals, but I wanted to know more about their previous tragedy and it just wasn't there. This was a lot different to the beginning of the original "Last House on the Left" though and at least showed an attempt to subtley create a more credible flow to the story.

More important changes occur with the rape scene. It's one of the nastiest rapes that I've ever seen on screen and is definitely up there with "I Spit on Your Grave" (which is also due to be remade this year). Having said that, its realism is somehow marred by being a lot less graphic and it's all over a lot more quickly than you'd expect. It's probably the building tension and the absolutely inescapable certainty of what is going to happen that makes it all seem a lot worse than it is, and Sara Paxton (as Mari Collingwood) is very convincing. What makes it different to Wes Craven's version though is the final outcome of the victim and how it effects the rest of the story. Without giving too much away, this obviously changes the motivation of her parents later from purely revenge to a need to protect and survive at all costs. That was a nice touch.

The parents are played by Monica Potter (as Emma) and Tony Goldwyn (as John). If they look familiar to you it's because, like the rest of the cast, they have both done a lot of TV work. The irony of the actor who played a modern day Jesus in the film "Joshua" (2002) now killing the bad guys was not wasted on me.

Similarly, Garret Dillahunt (as the psychotic Krug) is better known recently for playing the robotic Cromartie in "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles". Once you start to identify any actor with a previous role it spoils the "willing suspension of disbelief" and no amount of make-up or beard-growing is going to change that even though I must admit that even I didn't immediately recognise any of them. Garret Dillahunt is a lot colder in the role than David Hess but unfortunately doesn't come across as at all scary when compared to his lecherous brother Francis (played by Aaron Paul). Spencer Treat Clark (as Krug's son Justin) was the one who gave the best performance in the film, perhaps because he is the least recognisable and can be judged more on his own merits.

One fake recognition for me was with Riki Lindhome who played the evil Sadie and was the only one of the beautiful girls in the film to get her boobs out. From certain angles she looks just like Juliet Landau from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", but amusingly for me once I'd found out my mistake, she played a completely different character in Joss Whedon's series. She's absolutely gorgeous though and has a great topless fight scene near the end which is almost worth buying the eventual DVD for just to keep repeating it.

The practical effects, camerawork, music and overall production values are very good. The only major problems with "The Last House on the Left" which stopped it from being a lot better than the original are the average dialogue and the lack of satisfying kills when it comes to the gang of criminals getting their comeuppance.

Here's where I spoil it all for you (although the trailer above already does that quite well too). The first death is overlong, the second too short, and the final one involving a broken microwave is simply ludicrous. The placement of this scene also leaves a lot to be desired.

Whereas the rest of the movie was nicely paced, the whole "revenge" section is rushed in comparison and the disjointed ending seems tacked on. I didn't get any satisfaction out of it and just felt absolutely nothing at all.

In fact, the ending of "The Last House on the Left" simply nullified the rest of the movie and the little bit of enjoyment that I was getting. The only reason that I can think of for it being that way is that the director first wanted a happy ending and then wanted it to end with a bang but couldn't think of how to put the two together.

Whatever Dennis Iliadis' choices were, he was doing well until he eventually made the wrong one and killed any chance of this film being memorable. It's a shame. "The Last House on the Left" is better than the original in many ways but just as bad in others.

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