It’s vacation time for the Collingwood family as hard-working doctor Tony Goldwyn takes wife Monica Potter and their daughter Sara Paxton down to their lakeside holiday home. But Paxton isn’t a little girl anymore and, much as she loves them, she’s straining at the leash at the thought of a protracted spell in parent-land. Pretty soon she’s inveigled the family car out of them and gone visiting a friend in the area (Martha MacIsaac).
At McIsaac’s store, the pair befriend lonely-looking youth Spencer Treat Clark, who has heard them talking about smoking pot and offers them to come back to his motel room to try out some good stuff that he happens to have.
Trouble is that Clark is the son of escaped psychopath Garret Dillahunt, who returns early to the motel with his crazy bi-sexual squeeze Riki Lindhome and equally nasty brother Aaron Paul. The visiting girls now know too much, and besides, there may be some fun to be had here…
If you can stand the original 1972 Wes Craven outing, you can stand Dennis Iliadis’s extraordinarily faithful remake. Yes, the rape scene is hard to watch and very cruel, but cruelty is what Last House was always about, back when cruelty was relatively new on the American cinema circuit, and the original rape scene is hard to watch too. The sound effects in the new rape are extremely graphic, however, and this is arguably the most intense scene of its type since Monica Bellucci’s demise in Irreversible.
If I sound impassive, it’s because I am numb by now: every week more discs and screenings arrive at Den Of Geek offering misogyny, rape and torture as entertainment, to the point where it’s no longer a ‘niche’ interest. I believe a better spirit will rise in horror movies one day, and I can’t do much else but wait it out.
If I fail to connect with the characters in Last House On The Left, it implies no criticism of any of the actors involved, who are all superb (the same can be said of last year’s equally contemptible Funny Games). In fact, the film is extremely well-made, with excellent script, cinematography and pacing. It isn’t a minute shorter or longer than it needs to be and the closing scenes of parental revenge prove that Iliadis is a potential master of tension.
In terms of gore, the ‘stomach gag’ of the original has been played down in the remake, at least in the cut that I saw. But there’s enough grue to keep gore-hounds ticking over until…my God, until the thing with the microwave oven…
Tony Goldwyn, such a convincingly sociopathic villain in The Sixth Day (1999), is excellent as the father out for revenge, while Garret Dillahunt is a worthy successor to David A. Hess in the notorious role of high-IQ psychopath Krug. Neither can Sara Paxton be faulted as the long-suffering victim of the gang. Last House rises above nearly all other modern horror movies in at least one capacity: none of these people are idiots. The characters generate empathy and the villains are shockingly credible too.
Of course, the girls have it coming because they smoked a little pot, but this puritan device was in the original as well, and in pretty much every putative successor that it has spawned in the ensuing 37 years.
I’ve already mentioned the fidelity of this version to the 1972 release, but it does lack the bloody awful song that accompanies the villains’ first outing (thank God), and there is one major change in the plot that takes the movie out of the Psycho (1998) ‘clone’ category, so that Last House will still be of interest to fans of Craven’s original.
But ultimately, remaking Last House as a ‘proper’ horror movie is like re-staging ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ with the London Symphony Orchestra. The 1972 film was hard-edged trash-exploitation made by a film-maker of commendable talent and potential. It was a genuinely shocking cinematic precursor to punk rock, and one of the seminal movies that shaped 1970s horror.
This version can only sit as an above-average example among the several hundred derivative movies that Craven’s shocker spawned. You may not have seen rape-revenge done quite this well before, but there’s nothing else new here besides the production values.