Sweetened Sludge

The remake of 'The Last House on the Left' is horrifying--and not necessarily in a good way

Wes Craven's 1972 The Last House on the Left is revered by many as some sort of masterpiece, a barebones horror film that channeled fears brought on by the murderous Manson family in the late '60s. In the film, Mari Collingwood and her friend went searching for pot and wound up in the woods being victimized by unspeakable horrors. These horrors would be avenged in a ridiculous finale by some none-too-pleased parents wielding chainsaws, biting genitals and whatnot.

I never liked that movie, and I'm not too fond of this remake. It was made with a bigger budget and bigger stars, and it tries to soften the blow of Craven's original vision. The film, regrettably, contains a re-do of the infamous rape scene from the original, and the Collingwood parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) still get their bloody revenge. But there are some major changes to add a little more sweetness and hope to the proceedings.

The problem: Trying to add sweetness and hope to sludge like this is like pouring a bag of sugar into raw sewage laced with cyanide. It's not going to help.

The Collingwoods, still dealing with the death of their son, bring daughter Mari (Sara Paxton, providing beauty and grace to a thankless role) to the country for a break from the big city. Mother Emma (Potter) wants Mari to stay in and enjoy a nice, home-cooked meal, but Mari wants to go see old friend Paige (Martha Maclsaac, the adorable Becca from Superbad) in town. Dad John (Goldwyn), an overworked doctor, relishes the idea of an evening alone with his wife, and tosses his daughter the keys to the SUV.

It's not long before Mari and Paige have retreated to a sleazy motel with Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), a kid who has deep psychological problems. Justin's convict dad, Krug (a menacing Garret Dillahunt), unexpectedly returns with his sicko brother Francis (Aaron Paul) and psycho girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome). Krug is very unhappy with his kid; as the result of a recent escape from the police, Krug is on newspaper covers, and he fears the two girls will tell. This seals the girls' fates, and they are off in the SUV to receive some cinematic, sadomasochistic torture.

The scenes in the woods are as disgusting as horror-movie scenes get. The girls are kicked, graphically stabbed, shot, raped and left for dead. Thanks to the film's marketing campaign, it's no secret that the near-dead Mari makes it back to her home, where her parents have unknowingly welcomed her attackers as overnight guests. Dr. John, seeing his daughter's state and figuring out who attacked her, starts a murderous rampage that includes fireplace pokers, garbage disposals and malfunctioning microwaves.

One of the more notable changes from the original involves the character of Justin (Junior in the original) and what ultimately happens to him. It's a ploy by the filmmakers to give the movie a slightly happier ending, but considering what has come before, they might as well have stuck with the grotesque outcome of the original.

The Last House on the Left remake wants the best of both horror-movie worlds: realistic, gritty brutality like that of a snuff film, and over-stylized, outrageous kills typical of a modern slasher movie. The two don't fit together well under the direction of Dennis Iliadis. He makes a good-looking movie with fine performances, but the resulting film is ultimately schizophrenic and unnecessary.

One film on this subject was enough. Actually, come to think of it, we didn't need the first one, either. Back in the day, Wes Craven was a sick bastard.

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