Thursday, September 3, 2009

Movie Review #45: The Last House on the Left (2009)

Directed by Dennis Iliades / Produced by Wes Craven

The Big Toe Blog presents: the original vs. the remake

When I first saw the magazine ad in Fangoria for The Last House on the Left, I thought to myself "here we go again -- another remake of a genre classic that people will probably hate." Truth is, I never really liked the 1971 original in the first place. I popped it into my DVD player about 10 years ago with high hopes, as a Wes Craven fan well-aware of all the hype surrounding it.
I found myself wishing I was watching I Spit On Your Grave (1978) instead, one of the better rape & revenge films out there, that followed the Last House formula but carried out the same concept with flying blood-red colors. I found the soundtrack to the original to be distracting (i.e. during the rape scenes there is a ballad playing?!) and at times very out of place. Known for its stark contrast to the picture's action, the music is the main source of weakness in the film. Unfortunately, I easily dismissed the original Last House film, feeling rather indifferent towards it, so the unveiling of a remake was actually quite appealing to me because I always felt the story had great potential . . .

In a nutshell, the remake is exactly what the original
could have been, with a bigger budget of course, and had it been created after 30 years of learnings in the genre. At one point, Wes Craven himself (who also produced the remake) mentions in the special features that the remake is what the original film should have been. Rumor has it that the 1971 script was written to be a hardcore, violent horror film, but was scaled back when it went into production. First off, the 2009 version is MUCH gorier and makes full use of modern special effects make-up (obviously) -- after all, it seems you can't sell a movie these days without these 2 things. The power of the film is in the way the viewer actually feels the pain on screen, something that was so obviously missing from the original. The 1971 actors just seemed to be going through the motions, which bored me; within a simple forest backdrop, laced with irrelevant music throughout, much of the genuine emotion that makes a film memorable is completely lost. The intensity of emotion and terrifying possibility of reality is where the remake prevails.

There are a few scenes in the 2009 version where I found myself literally cringing and hanging off the edge of my seat, especially when Uncle Frank (played by Aaron Paul, also a convincing drug addict in
one of my favorite shows, Breaking Bad on AMC) takes a hammer to the head while his arm is being shredded in the kitchen sink's garbage disposal. It is such a brutal scene, during which the parents of the rape victim (young 17-year old Mari Collingwood, played by Sara Paxton) come to terms with their ability to be violent, setting off a night of carnage that blows the original out of the water. You feel the pain of the parents, you sympathize with Mari, you really want revenge for the family, more so than you ever did. It is a perfect revenge film, brilliantly executed with more tension than a 400-pound woman laying in a hammock. However, critic's reviews were less than favorable as usual. As long as you're not watching the film through a microscope and just experiencing it on the surface for what it is, I'm sure any horror fan will enjoy the gratuitous violence and non-stop brutality. And if you still don't want to take my word for it, just skip ahead to the final scene . . . TV dinner anyone?

Lastly (no pun intended), the only thing about the original that I'm still somewhat attached to is the promo poster (pictured below). The words "It rests on 13 acres of earth over the very center of hell . . ." are promising but imply a "haunted house" film of sorts, which is completely misleading. And the slogan "To avoid fainting, keep repeating: it's only a movie, it's only a movie . . . " is sheer movie marketing genius!
The Last House on the Left is a perfect example of why us horror fans should give remakes a chance -- and if you still like the original better, it will always be there for you. I think too many movie-goers (especially horror fanatics) feel like remakes take away from the luster of the original, which couldn't be further from the truth . . .

Original poster for the 1971 film

Would you let this gang of riff-raff into your house on a dark & stormy night?
The "bad guys" of the 2009 Last House remake in one of the most popular shots from the film.

Check out The Last House on the Left 2009 film at:

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