FEBRUARY 27, 2009
As I was due to cover the junket for the remake this weekend, I thought I would take another look at the original The Last House On The Left, which I hadn’t seen since I was 14 or 15. And it’s worth noting that at least in terms of story and plot points, I remembered it better than I do half of the movies I watched just last month. Whether you love or hate the movie, it definitely leaves an imprint that doesn’t fade away with time.
Being that it was Wes Craven’s first film and done on a budget around the same as Texas Chain Saw, I can forgive the jarring edits, muddled sound, and other technical snafus. In fact to some extent it’s even sort of the point - they wanted to give the film a documentary presentation, and in several instances they succeed. But not so easily digestable is the cartoonish writing that sounds like it was WRITTEN by someone that was the same age I was when I last watched it. Like when the news is reporting on Krug and his gang, and it’s like ‘They killed two priests and a nun!” Right, because simply killing three people just isn’t EVIL! enough. The scene between the mother and Weasel is another example. She’s not a particularly good actress anyway, but even Meryl Streep probably would have struggled with the “brilliant” plan to get the guy’s arms tied up so she could bite his dick off.
Now, one thing about the remake that purists are likely to bitch and moan about is the rather toned down depravity. No dick eating, no forced urination, etc. But I find that is precisely what makes the newer version (which I can now definitely say I prefer, a true rarity) work so much better. By more or less limiting Mari’s torture to the rape, it makes the scene so much more powerful, and makes you hate Krug all the more. In this film, by the time they rape her she’s practically catatonic. And then she is killed moments later, so the parents never even know about that part of her attack (to the best I can tell). I doubt Gaylord St. James (fakest fake name ever, Richard Towers!) could have possibly sold the “Dad just realizes his baby girl has been brutalized” moment as well as Tony Goldwyn, but the setup doesn’t even allow him to try.
The parents here are also strangely matter of fact about the whole thing. She goes off with Weasel while the dad carries out the first of what would be at least four sequences in a Wes Craven film in which the hero sets a bunch of traps for the antagonist(s) (did he write Home Alone?). I mean, it’s great that he has such a handle on his anger that he’s able to carefully pour water over a rug that is concealing a live wire, and also take the time to determine the absolute best weapon to use against her killers, but it still dampens the impact of the moment (the fact that everything occurs offscreen doesn’t help much either, though I will put that in the “no money so I can’t fault them” category). And it all happens so briefly, it doesn’t really allow for suspense. It’s to Dennis Illiadis’ credit (and Wes’, who produced the new version) that even knowing exactly how it would play out, the 2009 version is still incredibly suspenseful.
The music is also rather questionable. David Hess composed the songs, and they are all of the folky singer-songwriter variety. Some of them work in an ironic juxtaposition kind of way, many do not. The score is the real problem though. When Phyllis is getting stabbed it sounds like someone is playing a game of Simon next to the camera. It’s funny though - everyone is bitching about the folky "Sweet Child O’Mine" cover on the trailer for the remake, as if this style of music has no business in this particularly story. Plus, where the hell have these people been? Do trailer songs EVER appear in the movie? Quick, go cue up the scene where Blur’s "Song #2" plays over Starship Troopers. Oh right, IT DOESN’T. It just proves once again - the remake whiners are among the stupidest people on the entire planet (I won’t even get into the notion of complaining about a remake of a film that itself was a modernized version of a Swedish film that was based on a Scottish ballad).
The DVD has a nice collection of extras. Craven and Sean Cunningham provide a commentary, very jokey and apologetic in tone. They also admit to not having seen the film in a while, so prepare for a lot of gaps. There’s also a great 30 minute retrospective with a surprising number of participants (Martin Kove!), considering how many of the actors and actresses wanted nothing to do with the film then or now (Sandra Cassel is, unsurprisingly, nowhere to be found). Roy Frumkes also put together a compliation of outtakes, though they are presented without sound and aren’t particularly interesting. Then there’s an odd piece called “Forbidden Footage”, which doesn’t concern any MPAA excised stuff, which is what the title would suggest. Instead, it’s Craven and co. discussing three of the film’s more notorious scenes in detail. The film itself is the most complete cut ever officially released (per Craven’s introduction), however it should be noted that some scenes, such as the “forced lesbian” stuff, are nowhere to be found on the disc, or even mentioned as far as I can tell. Since Craven removed those himself, I don’t consider it particularly bothersome (if he didn’t want it in there, I don’t care to see it), but pervs may be disappointed.
But for all its faults, the movie packs a punch few other films have ever managed (I would put Cannibal Holocaust in its company). Part of why I haven’t watched it again is that I simply haven’t wanted to. It’s tough to watch, and the attempts at levity (i.e. the cops and their chicken truck adventures), while appreciated, simply don’t work. The reason I prefer the remake is simple: it’s simply a better (and vastly more suspenseful) execution of the story. Just about every problem with the original has been corrected, and anyone who bitches about changes (Mari surviving being the biggest one) is completely missing the point of the film. Not that I would expect any less from someone who bitches about a movie before they saw it, but - wait, Wes wants to remake Shocker now? What the fuck?!?!? WHY?!?!?!
What say you?