Sunday, August 30, 2009


The first "Last House on the Left" was one of the most appalling cinematic experiences I've ever had. Having viewed it at the age of 11, it haunted me for years afterwards. The brutal sexual nature of the crimes committed in it and  the lack of empathy or conscience displayed by the antagonists was hard to stomach. At any age.

Not to mention, despite being heralded by critics as a landmark horror film and a voice of it's time, it's poorly written, shot and acted. Wes Craven's debut film had many things wrong with it on many levels.

Despite all of this, I was curious to see the remake because of it's eye-popping trailer. It played to human emotion and a parentally innate sense of retribution. The basic outline of the plot is the same of both films. Two parents of a single child are in a vacation home in the middle of nowhere. The difference in the remake is the teenage daughter is missing a much adored older brother who died young.

The antagonists are as in the original, the ruthless Krug, played by "Deadwood" psycho Garret Dillahunt, who played the two most unsavory characters in that show's oeuvre, his wackjob bi-sexual playmate Sadie, his warped brother, and an infinitely frightened and confused son, Justin.

Teenage daughter Mari, her friend Paige, and this gang of creeps come together because Justin, seeking the companionship of the two young girls, shares some pot with them. Unfortunately for all, his crazy "family" returns to the reefer-reeking hotel room much earlier than anticipated.

Abduction, rape, and murder follow. Par for the course for the renegade criminal adults, but slowly driving Justin to the brink of insanity, for Justin's dead mother and Mari's lost brother seemed to prove a sweet and sad link between the two. At least before all hell breaks loose.

The violence in the remake retains the brutality of the original, but not thankfully, it's time consumption. There's only so much a psychically healthy viewer can take. It also thankfully does not retain the voyeuristic peeping-tom quality and almost snuff-film like feel. This is a plus. It's intense enough without making you feel like there's something a little too oddly real about it.

Another pleasant shift is the quality of the acting. All involved are excellent, whereas the original seemed amateurish and plagued by ridiculous dialogue. Dillahunt is outstanding, Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter, familiar to many, are awe-striking as the ragged and panicked parents. They invoke true empathy and are believable.

The cinematography is excellent as well. Beautiful shots of Mari swimming invoke a silent beauty and calm in a film when you know catastrophe will strike. The grainy pseudo-documentary feel of the original is replaced by bright and crisp visuals, shot with flattened color and light, which achieves and odd and unsettling effect. Excellent stuntwork aids the violent battles, and a greatly choreographed and shot crash scene feels real and achieves it's effect.

Musically, the score is above average for this fare, truly evoking an uncomfortable vibe. Kicking in at times with a "28 Days" style "fear rock" pulse.

The intensity here, as in the original, is not fun to watch, but it seems to enrage sympathy for the victims more.  This is more powerful than the original's hopeless and disgusted shock value.

And it pleasantly doesn't have that  "victims are as violent as the perpetrators" preachy rhetoric when retribution is attempted. As I've stated in an earlier blog, I've grown tired of that outlook, as I feel it's cynical and off-base. It's all about motivation.

This film, produced by the director of the original, is it's own movie in many ways.  Unlike most of the horror movie remakes, and I have been many, "Last House" is easily the best.

This "Last House" burns down the original.

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