|Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter hunt their daughter's rapist in this remake of Wes Craven's 1972 film. (Lacey Terrell/www.ximage.net)|
The Last House on the Left
Remake makes a bloody mess of 'Last House'
In 1972, a 32-year-old sound editor and college professor named Wes Craven released "The Last House on the Left" about two teenage girls who go looking for pre-concert pot and wind up tortured by a couple of escaped convicts. The cons take refuge at a Connecticut home that happens to be owned by the parents of one of the girls. Mom and Dad put two and two together and exact trippy, grisly revenge.
The movie cost $90,000, though watching it you'd be hard-pressed to explain where the money went. It was terribly made, and yet crudely powerful. The killers were human in some way - sick, weird, and cool on one hand, but insecure in their sadism, too, like they actually wanted to be in a John Cassavetes movie. Craven has said that he was thinking about Ingmar Bergman's classic 1960 film "The Virgin Spring" about a father avenging his murdered daughter.
Craven was no Bergman, but he was onto something interesting. He'd made a movie of his moment, a film that brought together the Manson murders, the random horror of the Vietnam War, women's liberation, and bourgeois ennui. And after 80-something minutes had passed, you felt that you'd witnessed a tragedy. As filmmaking, "Last House," along with George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) and Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," from 1974, ushered in a kind of horror-realism that lasted until each director traded it in for phantasmagoria in the 1980s.
This is all a long way of appraising a remake of "Last House on the Left" that Craven has coproduced and which opens today. It has as much to do with the 1972 original as the original had to do with "The Virgin Spring." Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) is no longer caught between the hormonal rebellion of Flower Power and the self-actualization of women's lib. She's simply the sort of girl you now find in horror movies: prey.
The new movie gives her and her white-collar parents - Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter - a dead sibling-son to mourn. Mari is beaten, raped, and left for dead by the con. ,Mari's girlfriend is stabbed to death. This is awful to sit through. (Why Paxton, or any actor, would take such a thankless part is mysterious. It always makes me wonder whether the simulation is nearly as traumatic.) Eventually, the con and his gang, looking for shelter in a storm, darken the Collingwoods' door, and, inevitably, a gun is fired, a microwave weaponized, and a pickax wielded.
The night of movie excitement produced is dubious. This remake plods to its finale. And the acting, namely that of the baddies, is bad (Garret Dillahunt plays the con). Yet, the Collingwoods' revenge, though preposterous in its thoroughness, makes more emotional sense than it did in 1972. Like the current hit "Taken," "Last House" 2009 packs a vicarious jolt that might feel cathartic to certain moviegoers. During the climax, some people will see a murderer and rapist partway inside a microwave oven. Others will glean a mortgage broker, venal investor, or CEO and say, "Off with his head."