Last House On The Left (2009)

AUGUST 7, 2008

GENRE: RAPE-REVENGE, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (TEST SCREENING)

I love when strange coincidences change the way my day plays out. I had originally intended to see a double feature of David DeFalco’s Chaos and Nick Palumbo’s Murder Set Pieces tonight at the New Bev. While I consider MSP to be among one of the worst movies ever committed to celluloid, I have never seen Chaos. That film was originally a true remake of Last House On The Left, but then David Hess dropped out so the filmmakers pretended it WASN’T a remake, even though by all accounts it’s essentially the exact same movie. Kind of hilarious. But, as luck would have it, I got a pass to a test screening of a REAL remake of Last House On The Left on the same night, and opted for that instead.

(NOTE - I have since seen the final version and it is identical to the version I saw here, save for having the final score. Review remains intact.)

The invite gave no real information about the cast or crew. It claims that Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham were involved, but that’s about it for crew. And the only cast member listed was Sara Paxton, from Aquamarine. This triggered an alarm in my movie-fied brain – if the only cast member worth mentioning is a tween idol, then this movie will probably be pretty weak. Maybe not PG-13, but certainly not as vile and hard to watch as the original. And she would probably live.

(Note - SPOILERS FOLLOW in the next paragraph, but the entire review is based on the idea that you have seen/know the idea of the original, so if you've never seen it, just skip the review entirely.)

Well, she does. But it actually works. In the original, the daughter originally DID survive, but they decided to kill her off during production (I forget why – as if the movie was too light and they needed another kill?), so it’s not a total “Hollywood” decision. I liken it more to the two endings of The Descent – it’s simply the execution of a different idea the original filmmakers had. However, and this is what I found surprising: Paxton is the only one who is raped. Her friend (the cute Melanie Lynskey-ish chick from Superbad) gets off pretty easy, merely stabbed and that’s it. But that is how the movie as a whole is in comparison to the original: the truly sadistic and awful stuff has all been pretty much removed, and in a way it makes the rape seem more brutal (and thus the parents’ actions seem more justified). In the original, EVERYTHING was just so depraved, the rape barely stuck out as anything worse than the other things they endured. Not the case here, and so while some may cry foul that the movie is too toned down, I think it’s a good decision. Later on I was talking to other folks, including horror filmmakers, and they all said the same thing about the 1972 version: it’s not that it’s a bad movie, but it’s a movie you never want to watch a second time. There is little entertainment value (in the traditional sense) to be found in that film, and the ‘light’ moments (chicken truck!) just don’t work in context.

One problem I DID have with this version is the final minute of the film. The gang has been killed and the family, reunited, leaves the house in their boat. All well and good. But then they suddenly cut to a flashback, with the father torturing Krug, the gang leader. Not only is it completely unnecessary, it’s just a really stupid scene to boot. The dad paralyzes Krug, and then sticks his head in a microwave, turning it on. The result (an exploding head) is pretty “awesome”, but it just feels so tacked on and gratuitous, as if the studio felt the audience needed to cheer at the very end of the film. Plus, and I wrote this on the comment card: YOU CAN’T RUN A MICROWAVE WITH THE DOOR OPEN! Earlier in the film, they set up the microwave being broken, but what kind of microwave “breaks” by allowing it to run even if the door isn’t shut? And how would he have noticed this anyway? It’s like the scene exists just to pay off the goddamn broken microwave bit, as if anyone cared. Completely unnecessary, and I hope like hell it’s gone by the time the movie is released.

(END SPOILERS!)

Another, less minor issue is that the Krug and Sadie characters are pretty different than their 1972 counterparts, and thus should have been given different names. Like I’ve said numerous other times, the best thing a remake can do is not give the audience any reason to keep thinking about the original, and thus giving the killers the same name (in a movie that is, structurally speaking, an exact copy of the original) wasn’t the best decision, since they aren’t the same at all. Garret Dillahunt’s Krug is a much more calm and collected killer, a sort of icy criminal mastermind type, not a loose cannon like David Hess’ version. And Sadie is pretty mousy here for the most part; she takes her top off and bitches about rich folks, but that’s about it. The other 2 gang members have different names, so other than simple “iconic” reasons, I don’t see why they couldn’t just go all out and give everyone a new name.

Otherwise, it’s pretty goddamn solid. Tony Goldwyn is in top form as the dad, and it’s nice to see him again (he’s mainly been directing lately). And Monica Potter (the mom) is always welcome on a big movie screen. The toned down nature means we are not allowed to see her go down on a dude, which is a shame, but on the plus side, we are also spared the painful outcome of that scenario. They also feel like a real couple, and it’s great to see a modern horror movie that depicts a rather normal marriage. 9 times out of 10 the couple is on the brink of divorce, or the mother is in fact a stepmother, or whatever. Not here, they are just a normal family. And the film actually does a better job than the original in displaying the family bonds; when the “Weasel” type character is dispatched, director Dennis Iliadis goes out of his way to show the parents working as a team to kill him. It’s a nice little touch.

Iliadis seems to be trying to show off a bit too often though. Early on there is a shot of Paxton running around a boathouse, and for some goddamn reason he zooms all the way into the side of the building, and then tracks along the wall. The result is simply a pointless, shaky, and blurry shot. There are also far too many cutaways to the house’s exterior, as if we haven’t yet got the idea that this is a “perfect and normal” home. And he likes to cut back and forth in time, something that’s also a bit confusing. At the beginning, when they establish Paxton’s character is a champion swimmer, he keeps cutting between her swimming and her standing still, holding her breath underwater. Since we can’t really see their faces clearly in either “moment”, I actually though it was two different girls. And the stupid ending I mentioned; I actually can’t tell if it was a flashback or if the dad just went back to the house later on. He also keeps cutting to different angles of the same person (usually Krug), something that is supposed to make us feel on edge, but it’s mainly just annoying and calling attention to the fact that it’s only a movie (ß heh), not to mention breaking the tension.

But like I said, on the whole it works. They don’t really change much from the original, but most of the changes are for the better. It’s not necessarily a better film; while the original may not be fun to watch (this veers more toward “crowd-pleasing”, albeit in hard R rated form), the raw feel and up front attitude is a bit missed at times in the remake. The acting is certainly better (Dillahunt is great, in fact), and since we are conditioned to believe a studio film will pull its punches, it’s actually pretty suspenseful and unnerving at times. “He’ll just slap her or something” you think, and then WHAM! The girl’s head is slammed into a sink. And even though you don’t really fear for the parents’ lives at any point, they still manage to generate an ass-ton of suspense. There’s a bit where “Weasel” comes to the house and talks to Potter, who is trying to keep him from seeing a photo of their daughter lest he figure out what she already knows, and it’s a terrific, nail-biting sequence. And even though we know damn well that they’re doomed, the scene where the gang first encounters the two girls is another nerve-wracker. It’s also surprising how much abuse everyone suffers – I think every single character in the film takes a pretty sharp blow to the head at some point or another. And again – since we are spared the real depraved over-the-top stuff of the original (there are no intestines in this film, for starters), it actually makes the violent moments more effective, because they are used more sparingly.

If you’ve never seen the original, I would almost suggest seeing the remake first. Some folks walked out during the obvious moments, which means it’s still a tough film for some, but compared to the original it’s borderline “fun”. And since the two films are so similar, seeing one will “spoil” the surprises and development of the other. So go with the one that is an overall more enjoyable film viewing experience, and if you really dig it, go back and see if you can stomach Craven’s original.

Either way, score another one for Rogue, who also produced The Strangers. Now that Lionsgate has turned soft (and utterly reprehensible), they are probably our best hope for consistently solid studio-based horror.

What say you?

28 comments:

  1. Is there rape in the remake?

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  2. Wait, what? When did this happen?

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  3. Too funny you mention the microwave. I myself had a microwave that would still run even if the door was open. It was odd and we trashed it right away, but it is possible I suppose.
    Maybe I am just a twisted fuck but I found the original one to be almost laughable... I can understand how 80% of the population could see Last House as extremely messed up, but as you pointed out, less can be more.
    I have high hopes for a remake. I want to be disturbed.

    Oh and even though Lionsgate is crap now at least Dimension Extreme is trying to fill it's shoes somewhat.

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  4. Aww, 2009?

    Suck.

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  5. a friend of mine also had a microwave that would run while the door was open. it wasn't broken i don't think, that's just the way it was made. everyone was kind of afraid of it though

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  6. There was a possibly even more retarded "death by microwave" in Evil Laugh. You can check out one of my early reviews of it here, if anyone is interested: http://www.geocities.com/tombofanubis/Nix/EvilLaugh.html

    Anyway, I'm willing to give this a shot, now. Thanks to your (p)review.

    Nix

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  7. I found the Original, Boring and extremely overrated, maybe if I had seen it in it's time it would have been more shocking to me (but if you take in mind I saw the Exorcist Two time at10, and found it boring...)
    it's good to see that finally there's a remake worth it´s salt on these days , it´s been a while since Dawn Of the Dead and Hill Have Eyes...

    Hey, how can I score some tickets for test screenings or something, I wonder???

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  8. If ever there was a movie that didn't need to be remade...

    Well, it's probably "I Spit on Your Grave" but Last House on the Left is probably up in the top 5.

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  9. I agree with digital lofi, " I Spit On Your Grave" shouldn't be remade EVER, it was perfect as it is (now that´s a Kick Ass Movie)but seeing the Hollywood trend this days....

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  10. i could watch the original over and over, but then, i love the bad guys-- well, the bad girl specifically-- and im a weirdo to boot.

    i'll watch this, but im none too happy about it.

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  11. Ya, I spit On does not need a remake. Would seem sort of out of place and a little heavy with todays films being as politically correct as they are. Maybe the french could it some justice... But I agree it is best to leave things as they are.

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  12. Americans CAN'T make good, original movies anymore. How many cocksucker motherfucker remakes do we need anyway? we need to all boycott SAW V, this remake, and we need to get everyone to start a riot against the Suspiria remake. It's a shocker Lucio Fulci's film haven't been remade once... they better not remake ZOMBIE--that shit is perfect.

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  13. The original was shocking in it's time, and even though I saw it in the mid 80's it was tough to take.

    Since times are different, I don't see the point of remaking it because it's just not shocking anymore....and then to leave stuff seems even less of a reason. Just make an original story at that point.

    I too hope they take out the microwave bit.

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  14. Are you able to read 'anonymous'? (first comment)

    Do pay attention. It says above: "Paxton is the only one who is raped" which clearly suggests that there IS a rape in this movie.

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  15. A tame version of Last House on the Left would be more 'enjoyable' than the original? I think you're missing the point of the original film. It's about the invasion of graphic violence in the home (images from the Vietnam war being broadcast on television) and the reason the violence in the film is so disgusting is because Craven and Cunningham were disappointed in the studio films' refusal to acknowledge the violence people were witnessing every day on the news. A tame version is doing everything Craven and Cunningham resisted for a whole new generation witnessing war. Another remake that decides that the 'low-budget' aesthetic and graphic violence are things that need to be improved in a classic slasher film. Sigh.

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  16. I have to give kudos to Sara Paxton for choosing such a role. I just hope this movie is really worth the ticket. I'm growing sick of remakes.

    B.B.

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  17. sounds like the guy who saw this probley liked the halloween remake too, this sounds like shit and not killing off the main girl is very hollywood, and a horrible decision but of course anybody under the age of 18 well probley love this shit and the orignal is a classic.

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  18. You know, I usually don't comment on reader stupidity, but that ^ comment has to be the dumbest thing anyone's ever posted on this site. A. You haven't seen the movie, so making a snap judgment is sort of idiotic. B. You judge my intelligence when you can't spell simple words like "probably", and C. It would take all of 7 seconds to know how I feel about the Halloween remake, seeing as I somehow find a way to slam it in just about every 3rd review I write.

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  19. I've seen the original "Last House" un-cut version and aside from the "comic relief" scenes with the ignorant cops and a ridiculous song or two on the soundtrack, I found it quite pleasing to my sick, horror-hungry ways. I like the fact that Craven and Cunningham gave us a movie dealing with the most sadistic, repulsive human behavior imaginable; with a climax of cold-blooded revenge. Throughout the violent scenes of rape, murder and entrails, there is an artistic aspect in that of Mari's parents preparing her surprise birthday party while the girls are being raped in the gang's apartment, or the fact that after Krug rapes Mari; Krug, Sadie, and Weazel seem outwardly disgusted with themselves, as the scene moves to them after the rape...covered in blood and questioning themselves, as if they just woke up and realized that they are complete lunatics.

    I haven't seen the remake, but i hope it includes all the forced unrination, mutilation, rape and intestines that the original had to offer. I also hope that it truly shows the pure sociopathic nature of the criminals in the new version. In fact, besides the scenes with the cops and some lame acting here and there, the original, un-cut version is still a film i'd consider to be filled with more raw horror than just about any other film to come out since then...I only hope the remake isn't too much different.

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  20. Just saw it, and it was laughably crap. Good production values and lightened gore do not a good remake, er, make. Everyone was yawning through the first hour or so. Dull and meaningless mess.

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  21. I simply loved it! Amazing in every aspect of the word. What can I say other than it was completely satisfying. To the actors, kills, tension, emotions, settings, camera work, and even the score. WOW! And that ending really blew me away, literally. Will be seeing it again and again. I wrote this comment in another blog and wanted to share it with you. I also wanted to say that I've seen a microwave on even with the door open, so it's possible dammit!. By the end of the movie I knew Krug was still alive and I was anxiously waiting for the microwave scene. BOOM!

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  22. So I saw the movie now and got a chance to read the entirety of your review.

    I'm glad that you mentioned the odd shot selection/editing; it bothered me too, but strangely enough not the swimming scene. It seemed pushed and as though they were trying to make it more artsy and unlike other horror films. Whatever.

    I think they were setting up this sort of style just for the microwave/boat intercutting thing...which was a little weird, but didn't bug me that much. Sort of a bold choice to end with the shot they did and I appreciated it.

    Enjoyed the film, but thought the pacing could have improved. They could have easily shaved off 10 minutes, leaving it with a snappy 90 minutes.

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  23. I thought it was superb! To begin with, the acting was superb by the entire cast, I thought the pacing was excellent. The rape scene was very disturbing and perhaps went on too long and was too graphic. I thought it was a vast improvement over the original. John Murphy's score was excellent as well!

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  24. I have to say...as long as I have wanted to see the original , i have not done so...but I did watch the Remake on Sunday.

    The sink scene was FREAKIN great!
    I loved all about this movie, and I found I was with you on all of your opinions in the movie..you noted its down sides, but noted it was not a problem in the movie..I did expect it to be worse knowing the originals situation.

    I enjoyed it alot and I really had the same feeling about Tony Goldwyn. I think seeing he was in this really made me excited for the movie.

    The sink scene was probably the most "WTF!" awesome scene in it, but that slow motion scene right after the climax rape scene was amazing. I was tearing up at that, without any expectation to do so.

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  25. The wife and I downloaded and watched this movie last night. Thinking we were going to watch the 2009 version, (we did not know there was an earlier version), well, we downloaded the original by accident and we have to say this movie would have been a shoe-in for an MST3000 flik. We could not stop laughing at all the corny scenes and lines. It was so bad we couldn't turn it off. We were having to much fun cracking jokes.

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  26. no "piss your pants scene" a lil disappointed, as im a fan of piss

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  27. I hope people have been steering you away from watching "Chaos." It is indeed a remake of LHOTL but it's so badly made it's unwatchable. It's still terrible if you do it the favor of considering it for what it is: an amateur film (badly) shot on video. I couldn't watch MSP either for the same reasons. Don't waste your time or you FF button skills.

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  28. Well from the very first place I love Sara Paxton since Aquamarine. A friend of mine told me about the movie so I watched it then I was very satisfied It was a very struggle movie but in the end it's still your parents you can count on. Nice movie.

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