I saw the remake of Last House on the Left today and now that I’m back in the relative safety of my own home, I feel comfortable enough to talk about it. My usual method for watching horror movies in theaters is thus: 1. Never go to opening night or sneak previews. 2. Attend the earliest possible showing. I do not feed off the energy of a packed house and I sure as hell don’t like listening to other people talking or heckling unless the film is embarrassingly awful. Catching a piece of shit on the big screen is rare for me nowadays as I rarely ever crawl out from under my rock. Anyway…
First of all, fans of the original: do not rejoice. I like the 1972 classic (itself a remake of The Virgin Spring) but I am by no means a fan. Wes Craven’s original is a powerful film; a visceral and unique experience but holy shit, it is flawed. Last House on the Left has crippling shifts in tone, the worst of which is the “comedy relief” provided by two bumbling police officers. I don’t know what those two knucklehead hippies, Sean Cunningham (producer and co-writer) and Craven, were thinking when they put that unfunny crap in their movie but it is really fucking terrible. These cops even get their own goofy little theme music.
This spoiler I’m about to drop is pretty minor but it gives me so much pleasure that I cannot help but blab about it. In the new Last House on the Left, Greek director Dennis Iliadis takes the funny cops out of the picture first thing, having Krug and company kill them horribly and sadistically. There you go. The police presence and all potential unfunny funniness are eliminated. Now we can get down to business.
The first things I noticed about the remake are the haunting soundtrack and the gorgeous camerawork. Cinematographer Sharone Meir is very versatile and the new Last House on the Left is both beautiful when it needs to be and frightfully claustrophobic when the shit hits the fan. The shadows and all the grimy details are all there, captured quite elegantly.
Though the remake tones down some of the gore, it still packs quite a punch. In the 2009 version, the rape and murder of the two girls is a grotesque and harrowing scene and it makes the graphic deaths of the evildoers all the more satisfying. Seeing the new Mr. Collingwood trade in a chainsaw (so effective in the original) for a microwave and I just about danced in the aisle.
By the way, the message of Wes Craven’s original film, revenge is bad and all that, has been totally wiped out. The demoralizing effect that the family has in exacting their brutal vengeance upon Krug (played brilliantly in 1972 by David Hess) and company is nowhere to be found here. This new film, produced by the creators of the original, subverts the theme of the hopelessness of revenge and gives the audience a pointless cathartic exercise.
I’m supposed to be criticizing but I’m not. Mainly because showing the parents feeling all squirmy inside about killing Krug, Sadie, and Weasel doesn’t necessarily mean that the audience will feel that way too. Despite what Craven’s original message was, I still felt totally satisfied, joyful even, when Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood dispatched those fucking scumbags in such a grandiose manner.
After I got back from the theater, there was a movie I’d set to record sitting on my DVR that seemed interesting. Turner Classic Movies had played something called Nightmare Honeymoon the night before and I couldn’t find a scrap of info about it in any of my horror movie references. What’s the connection? The original poster for Nightmare Honeymoon imitates that of the original Last House on the Left with the whole “It’s only a movie” bit. Very clever, TCM.
In it, Dack Rambo and Rebecca Dianna Smith play David and Jill, a newlywed couple who witness a murder on the night of their honeymoon. After his new wife is raped and he is nearly done in by the killers, David goes after the men responsible. Careful, I’m about to spoil this one. When he catches up with the psycho and his dumpy buddy, our hero kills the son of a bitch. The interesting thing is that Jill, who has been trying to stop her husband from taking revenge this whole time, sees how easily he dispatches their tormentor, she snaps. She begins kicking the dead body (of the man who raped and humiliated her) screaming, “It’s not enough!” over and over again. And by God, I agree with her.
The new Last House on the Left is totally irresponsible entertainment. It plumbs the depths of horrible human behavior and shows it being punished severely. The lack of a message will be sending critics and fans of the original right through the roof. But I paid to see this remake and I really enjoyed the film so I guess I’m part of the problem. Every review I read seems to say that the remake is devoid of heart. Oh no! How could Wes Craven have let this happened?
I can’t help but be reminded of Funny Games and how when I watched it, I could almost see the director of that film was wagging his finger and chastising me for “enjoying” his violent spectacle. Sorry Mr. Haneke, but at least Dennis Iliadis stays out of my dang face! Passing judgment on your audience by making a relentlessly depressing and sadistic film? The fuck is that about? Watching the Last House on the Left remake will not make me lose any sleep tonight, I promise. The fact is, I’d rather watch something with a cheesy séance sequence and a spooky atmosphere but here I am just the same.
Look, either one digs watching violent films or one doesn’t. Hiding behind a gory and bloody film’s message (if it even has one) doesn’t make a person a more responsible viewer than the next. The point of horror is to invoke revulsion and fear and the point (intentional or not) of these rape-revenge deals is to disturb us and then reward us at the end when evil is punished. Do you ever feel guilty after riding a roller coaster?