Monday, August 24, 2009

The Last House on the Left: Not A Terrible Remake

the last house on the let,the last house on the left,movie poster

Back in the 1970s, an unknown crazy dude named Wes Craven was like, "Hey, man. I've got some groovy ideas for a movie that will scare the pants off of teenagers. I bet that if I make this movie, I can basically become a household name in horror. Man, that would be cool." And so he did. That first movie was called The Last House on the Left, and it was a slasher, horror, rape-and-revenge movie that completely blew the people smart enough to get it away. It wasn't a critical success, and isn't as well known as his later work (*cough*Nightmare on Elm Street*cough*Scream*cough*), but when I was twenty, I watched it for the first time, and I was like "Whaaaaaat."

So, as Hollywood is wont to do, they waited thirty-seven years (whoa, I just realized that, holy crap) and made a not-quite-as-good-but-not-as-bad-as-the-Texas Chainsaw Massacre-remake film with a lot more useless backstory and character development. It doesn't feel as gritty or real as the original, and not enough time was spent on the actual vengeance, and too much time was spent giving the characters completely useless and rarely referenced histories. For example, we spend several minutes of the film being made aware that Mari, the daughter (played by Sara Paxton) is an avid and quite talented swimmer. Who cares, right? It's barely relevant. Also, the parents (played by Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn) are hinted at having something of a strained marriage (in the very beginning), but it's completely useless and doesn't actually mean anything at all. We also get too much story on the villains, a strange group of criminals (played by Garrett Dillahunt, Joshua Cox, Riki Lindhome, and Aaron Paul), who share a complicated and vaguely (though for the most part literal) family relationship.

tony goldwyn,monica potter,the last house on the left

For those of you who don't know, the general plot is as follows: Too much backstory on the Collingwood family, Emma, John, and Mari. Mari is an overachieving swimmer who was deeply affected by the loss of her older brother (again, doesn't matter). Emma seems to be a teacher of some kind? I think? And John's a doctor. They go on vacation, or for a long weekend, or for no reason to their cabin/lake house/second home, the titular last house on the left. Mari goes to visit her friend Paige that works in the town (played by Martha MacIsaac), and she's pretty much the catalyst of all the crazy stuff that happens. When Paige and Mari are hanging out at the store, the son of a criminal that gets picked up on his way to jail by his brother and his girlfriend shows up to buy/steal stuff, and then invites them back to the hotel room to smoke weed. The criminals show up, kidnap the girls, bad things happen, blah blah blah. After doing the bad things to the girls, the criminals end up going to Mari's house (as it's the only one around after Mari makes the car crash), and eventually Emma and John find out what their temporary houseguests did (when Mari shows up mostly dead on the front porch, because she's such a strong swimmer get it), and then go on a crazy rampage to exact their harsh familial vengeance on them, but it doesn't last long enough for me.

Basically, in my opinion, the original was a lot better. There's far less character development, which works for horror movies. All we really need to know is some basic information, because it's likely that these people will be dead within an hour. We need to know that Emma and John are parents, and that Mari is a teenage girl, and that makes it crazy awful when the bad guys rape and supposedly kill her (and really kill her friend). The original is actually also a remake, of an Ingmar Bergman film released in 1960 titled Jungfrukällan, set in 14th century Sweden, where a farmer and his wife must exact revenge on herders that rape and murder their daughter. I haven't seen Jungfrukällan yet, but I assume it's pretty intense, as Bergman is pretty crazy. The parents are much more disturbing in their revenge acts, which they have time for because they didn't waste half the movie talking about Mari's dead brother and love of swimming, etc. This remake played out more as a thriller with vague horror undertones than a true horror film.

the last house on the left

It seems to me that all these horror remakes are missing some fundamental aspect that was present in their original versions. It's hard to put a finger on, but I've seen a lot of these remakes, and none of them are as good. It's like when they make a movie from a book. Horror films from the 70s and 80s had that little bit of something extra. Maybe it's the lack of computer-generated images (which there isn't much of in Last House...), or a different notion of pacing and suspense. Or maybe they were just ballsier back then, fresh from the carefree days of the 60s, with plenty to say. Nowadays, they just want to make a movie that will sell, going for cheap thrills without any meaning, and trying to dress it up with shaky cameras and vague/poor efforts to develop characters.

This movie is just okay, and not too great. I recommend seeing the original Wes Craven version, and you probably won't be disappointed, and you'll probably be pretty disturbed, which is exactly why you go see horror movies. It's also interesting in the reversal of traditional roles for slasher films. The normal stuff that happens in horror movies like Friday the 13th happens within the first half-hour, and then a whole new type of slasher plot starts forming when the parents find out and exact their over-the-top and bloody revenge. You can probably skip the remake, unless you're happy with semi-poor remakes that lack all the real spirit of the genre. I give it two useless plot points out of five, or two methodically crazy parents out of five.

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