Wes Craven’s 1972 original The Last House on the Left< is often revered as some sort of masterpiece, a barebones horror film that channeled fears brought on by the murderous Manson family in the late 1960s. In the film, innocent Mari Collingwood and her friend went searching for pot and wound up in the woods, victimized by unspeakable horrors. These horrors would be avenged in a ridiculous finale by some none-too-pleased parents wielding chainsaws and biting genitals and whatnot.
I never liked that movie, and I’m not too fond of this remake. It’s made with a bigger budget and bigger stars, and it tries to soften the blow of Craven’s original, totally nasty vision. The film, regrettably, contains a redo of the infamous rape scene from the original, and the Collingwood parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) still get their bloody revenge. But there are some major changes with a few of the characters to add a little more sweetness and hope to the proceedings.
Trying to add sweetness and hope to sludge like this is like pouring a bag of sugar into raw sewage laced with cyanide. It’s not going to help.
The Collingwoods, still dealing with the death of their son, bring daughter Mari (Sara Paxton, providing beauty and grace to a thankless role) out to the country for a break from the big city. Mother Emma (Potter) wants Mari to stay in and enjoy a nice home-cooked meal, but Mari wants to go see old friend Paige (Martha Maclsaac, the adorable Becca from Superbad) in town. Dad John (Goldwyn), an overworked doctor, relishes the idea of an evening alone with his wife, and tosses his daughter the keys to the SUV.
It’s not long before Mari and Paige have retreated to a sleazy motel with Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), a kid who obviously has deep psychological problems. Justin’s convict dad, Krug (a menacing Garret Dillahunt) unexpectedly returns with his sicko brother Francis (Aaron Paul) and psycho wife, Sadie (Riki Lindhome). Krug is very unhappy with his kid. As the result of a recent escape from the police, Krug is on newspaper covers, and he fears the two girls will tell. This seals the girls’ fates, and they are off in the SUV for some cinematic, sadomasochistic tortures.
The scenes in the woods are as disgusting as a horror movie can get. The girls are kicked, graphically stabbed, shot, raped and left for dead. Thanks to the film’s marketing campaign, it’s no secret that the near-dead Mari makes it back to her home, where her parents have unknowingly welcomed her attackers as overnight guests. Dr. John, seeing his daughter’s state and figuring out who attacked her, starts a murderous rampage that includes fireplace pokers, garbage disposals and malfunctioning microwaves.
One of the more notable changes from the original involves the character of Justin (Junior in the original) and what ultimately happens to him. It’s just a ploy by the filmmakers to give the movie a slightly happier ending but, considering what has come before, they might as well have just stuck with the grotesque outcome of the original. No point in trying to put even partial smiles on our faces. That would be like laughing it up graveside at a funeral.
The Last House on the Left remake wants the best of both horror worlds: realistic, gritty brutality that feels like a snuff film, and over-stylized, outrageous kills likened to your average modern slasher movie. The two don’t fit together well under the direction of Dennis Iliadis. He makes a good-looking movie with good performances, but it’s a film that is ultimately schizophrenic and unnecessary.
One film on this subject was enough. Actually, come to think of it, we didn’t need the first one, either. Back in the day, Wes Craven was sort of a sick bastard.