Vern sees LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (remake [not CHAOS])!
Published at: March 10, 2009, 5:37 a.m. CST by quint
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT REMAKE
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT original, VIRGIN SPRING, CHAOS, THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake, and URBAN LEGEND.
Well well well, what do we have here? Looks like a remake of a Wes Craven movie, already unofficially remade as a Demon Dave DeFalco movie, itself based on an Ingmar Bergman movie based on a 13th century ballad based on a legend of why a particular Swedish church was built. I'm not sure the modern moviegoer is concerned with the origin story of the Kärna church, so we gotta wonder what exactly the reason is for this remake. The answer, of course, is that the original movie was first called KRUG AND COMPANY, they didn't call it LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT until it had been traveling around for a while. They made it up after the fact, it didn't really mean anything, so in the movie they never mentioned the location of the house. I saw the trailer for the remake where somebody's driving down a road and says "it's the last house on the left." This is the reason to remake it, you can finally go back and establish that!
Well, actually that line's not in the movie, and come to think of it there are no other houses in the area at all. "Last house on the left" is not an accurate description of this house. It should be called ONLY HOUSE ON THE STREET. So I guess geographical accuracy is not in fact the reason for the remake. The reason is because they're going through IMDb and just remaking every god damn movie that ever existed.
Fine, I'm used to that. But LAST HOUSE is much weirder to remake than FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN, etc. because it's not a fun type of horror movie. It's a movie about a gang of fugitives raping and killing two innocent girls. It shows death as ugly, awkward and slow. Craven was a first time director, a former college professor and pissed off about Vietnam. He didn't want to make a cool horror movie, he wanted to rub our faces in ugliness.
In the original ballad "Töre's daughter in Vänge" (which was not, in my opinion, about Vietnam) two girls coming home from church run into three herdsmen, they refuse to marry them so the herdsmen chop off their heads. Then the herdsmen try to sell the girls' silken robes to their parents, who figure out the deal and kill them instead, and then feel bad about it so they build a church. In Craven's version the parents sure don't build a church. They build booby traps. There is no search for spiritual redemption or sign from God like in THE VIRGIN SPRING. But when the dad is chain sawing these fuckers it's not part of the fun, it's part of the tragedy that decent people have been turned into savages by these sickos who finds girls in the woods and make them piss themselves. In other words it's an angry, filthy movie that pretty much means to make you sick. And (accidentally, I think) it's made even more upsetting by a lame comic relief subplot about wacky cops trying to catch the bad guys.
To be honest I hated it when I first saw it, but I learned to respect it over the years. A remake doesn't offend my purist sensibilities, it just makes me wonder what they're thinking. How do you capture that I-need-to-take-a-shower feel in a multiplex between Coca-Cola slides? It was different when they were showing it in drive-ins under different titles. This one is heavily advertised on TV to the same kids who went to see MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D. Some dudes and their girlfriends want to see a movie together, one of them's already seen Taken so they decide well, what about this horror movie, says it's from the guy who did Nightmare On Elm Street.
Is that really a good idea? I'm not sure, but I'm happy to say that I think this is one of the good remakes. The director is Dennis Iliadis of Greece. His first movie was HARDCORE, an over-the-top but effective movie about two teenage prostitutes. This one has the same respect for its characters and careful eye for visuals but with more stylistic restraint. Instead of trying to fake the grit and grime of the original he approaches it as an art movie, kind of like FUNNY GAMES without the lecture and fingerpointing.
One weapon the movie has is good acting, something most modern remakes as well as the original LAST HOUSE are lacking. In a short amount of time the movie establishes both the parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) and the girls (Sara Paxton and Martha MacIsaac) as believable people and not just horror victim types. And playing Krug is Garret Dillahunt of DEADWOOD, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and TV Terminator fame. He's a genuinely scary lead villain, a maniac, a charismatic leader and a strict father all in one.
But I knew Dillahunt was good. More of a surprise is Spencer Treat Clark as Krug's son Justin. Instead of a conflicted junkie as in the original (or a little kid who Max Von Sydow throws against a shelf as in VIRGIN SPRING) he's more of an innocent caught up in all this because his dad brings him along. Come to think of it this is a theme in Craven remakes. Like in THE HILLS HAVE EYES, the younger, nicer member of the clan is played as more of a real person and less of a cartoon than the first time around.
After all the SAWs and HOSTELs you might think they'd up the ante of violence to make it disturbing. Actually I think there's less screen time and sadistic imagination dedicated to the torment of the girls than in the original (or especially CHAOS). Nobody has to wet their pants in this one, but Iliadis isn't fuckin around either. The difference is that he has established the characters as real, and the violence as ugly. There are no fake jolts on the soundtrack to make you jump. But you do have to see a very young looking actress being degraded and raped in an I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE-like manner. It's not a good time at the movies. I don't recommend popcorn or nachos for this one. Also I'm no matchmaker or nothing but, uh, not a good choice for a first date in my opinion.
In my review of HARDCORE I said that since Iliadis obviously related to his victimized female characters he should make one of the girls survive, barely make it back to the house and participate in the revenge, to make it more personal. He did part of that but instead of making her an avenger she's dying on a table and this makes the story much more intense because the parents have to defend her. Now it's not about them taking an eye for an eye, it's about them being willing to beat a man with a fire poker if that's what it takes to protect their daughter.
By the time the gang are staying at the Collingwood house (on the left, can't miss it) all the pieces of the game are set up. We know the players, we know the geography (main house here, guest house there, tool shed out there, car crashed in the woods) and the rules (no head chopping or kung fu, just lots of painful bashing and stabbing). It becomes a hell of a thriller, a tense cat and mouse sort of deal except you're not always sure which ones are cats and which ones are mice.
At the end of URBAN LEGEND it turns out the killer is Rebecca Gayheart, because they killed her boyfriend so she was getting revenge. They thought they killed her but they never found the body and then the story of her murder spree becomes an urban legend in its own right. Ain't that a bitch? Crazy shit in these movies.
Anyway I'm not sure who exactly I'm recommending LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT REMAKE to. This is more on the WOLF CREEK side of horror where people might hate it for being effective. If there's eyeballs and intestines popping out it's silly and you can laugh but there's less to defend you from this one. So it's only for certain tastes and then alot of those people are not gonna want to see it because they don't want to see a stupid remake. But just take my word for it this is one of the smarter ones.
Here's a question for you: what (if anything) is the best of the modern wave of horror remakes? I think most people would say DAWN OF THE DEAD (from the visionary director of 300), and they might be right. It might be the most entertaining. I like that movie but I do have to hold it accountable for abandoning all the themes of the original. It's a fun movie but for me the original is even more fun while also making more of a point and having more of an emotional effect on me.
So I lean toward a much less popular choice, THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Like this one it's a Wes Craven production. In both cases he was hands on, helped choose the European directors and had a hand in the development of the scripts. I thought Aja's version of HILLS was great because it elaborated on the original's mutant mayhem but stayed true to its class warfare subtext, its mythic depiction of an All-American family clashing with mutant savages and becoming just like them. You can never match Michael Berryman but you can definitely improve on some of the sloppy filmatism in the original HILLS, and I think in many ways Aja did.
But then there's this one god damn scene I hate, where the character "Big Brain" has to make a big speech EXPLAINING to us why the mutated residents of this bombed out mining town resent the rest of the world. Come on dude, our brains might be smaller than yours but we're not morons. We get it. And we liked it so much better before you started blabbing about it. Thanks alot asshole.
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT REMAKE doesn't have a scene like that. It's more consistent than HILLS, and actually more consistent in tone than the original since it ditches the cop characters and sticks with the one story. I was surprised to find myself wondering if it actually is better than the original.
But then the movie ended. And I'm sure most people would prefer this ending to the sort of thing I think it should have. It's a real crowdpleaser, a show-offy kill you gotta give credit for even if they were assholes to give it away in the trailer. I admire its ingenuity and what not but in my opinion this is a killer ending for some other movie that is the opposite of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. They have just spent the entire movie treating the subject matter very seriously, giving the characters intelligence and avoiding cheap thrills. They ditched the idea of revenge dehumanizing you, but they did have a sense of morality. They're going nuts in defense of their child but they're not indiscriminately killing. Until this last scene where, if I understand correctly, the doctor has brought his maimed daughter for medical care, then returned to his house without contacting any authorities so that he can then perform a sadistic and elaborate Dr. Phibes style murder on the guy.
So 99.9% of the movie stays true to Craven's "violence is horrible" philosophy, then the end is "ha ha ha, lookit the head blow up." DeFalco's CHAOS dumped the meaning of the original in favor of a "WHOAH, THAT SHIT IS FUUUUUCKED UP" type ending. This scene is less pretentious but as much of a betrayal of the original. It didn't feel right seeing everybody laughing and walking out of this movie with smiles on their faces. Nobody looked like they needed a reminder that it was only a movie only a movie only a movie.
Oh well, it was unfun while it lasted I guess. And still one of the better remakes.