In 1972, Wes Craven launched his filmmaking career with The Last House on the Left, a film so violent and controversial that it was effectively banned in Britain for more than two decades. Nearly thirty years later, it only makes sense that Hollywood, devoid of new ideas, would decide to remake this "nasty" film for the next generation of horror fans.
Without taking a sidebar to unleash a diatribe about remakes, there is one thing that a remake should strive for: it should be better than the original. That in mind, a remake of The Last House on the Left is particularly challenging, considering that the original is infamous for depicting one of the most violent and sadistic rape scenes in mainstream cinema.
In director Dennis Illiadis' 2009 version of the film, the movie does not, in fact, attempt to up the ante in terms of violence. The film is still brutal, with plenty of gore and a disturbingly realistic rape scene, but other than a glossy, modern-day look and a surprisingly strong set of actors, it essentially is a toned-down version of the original. Whether this is good or bad is up for debate, but it eventually begs the question: what was the point?
This new The Last House on the Left is still well done. The acting is good, with Garret Dillahunt (The Sarah Conner Chronicles) playing Kurg, the head villain; Sara Paxton playing Mari, the central character; and Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn playing her revenge-minded parent. The movie looks great and feels realistic, something that horror movies often struggle to do. The screenplay is good enough, and IIiadis builds and maintains a growing sense of dread throughout. As with the original, this movie isn't for the squeamish.
On its own, it is a perfectly fine film, albeit not an extraordinary one. It struggles, like the original, with a transition from Mari being the main character to her parents, since Mari becomes incapacitated halfway through. Once the parents realize what's going on, the movie doesn't adequately explain their sudden insistence to take matters into their own hands; you can understand their rage, but not once do they stop to ponder the consequences if they fail. The almost-innocent Justin, played by Spencer Treat Clark (known as the main child actor in Gladiator and Unbreakable), decides to turn on his deranged dad, but not until long after the dastardly deed is done; when he can't do it himself, however, he's lucky that his handing over of the gun is all he has to do to convince Mari's parents that he is in fact on their side - even though he's the stupid idiot who was responsible for getting Mari raped and shot in the first place.
Unfortunately, when you think about what happens in the original, The Last House on the Left is a bit watered down. Sure, we don't need the film to be more violent, but if you're remaking a shock film of such an infamous nature, it would make sense to at least match the original. For example, don't expect Monica Potter to get down on her knees, start giving fellatio to one of the villains and then bite off his penis. The killers aren't quite as deranged and the scenes not as violent. So, what's the point?
If you haven't seen the original but like your films absurdly violent and disturbing, The Last House on the Left is a good enough movie. But if you do like those films, then you've probably already watched Craven's version, and this one comes out feeling more like an obligatory remake and less its own picture. In all fairness, though, this 2009 version is entertaining and a step above some of the other crap that comes out year to year. Recommended, but not to the faint of heart.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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