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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Last House on the Left 2009: Rebuilt With Different Tools

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*Spoiler Warning* If you aren't familiar with the story of The Last House on the Left, then there are spoilers in this review. However, everything I have written here is shown in the trailer, but I feel a warning is still worthy. -Me 

Not all remakes are created equal and while this is a time when remakes are one of the biggest downfalls, complaint inciters and problems with the movie industry, it isn't so much remakes that are the problem, it's the people behind them. Shitty movies are always abound, it's not just remakes of films that we horror fans hold near and dear to our heart that muck up the cinemas. However, they do encapsulate the many issues Hollywood has, namely the lack of creativity and respect for the art of film. Taking what once was great, only to churn out a lesser version for the sake of a quick buck.

thelasthouseontheleft2009As is the case with all cinema, there's the good, there's the bad, and occasionally we are graced with a remake that is done properly. This would be the case with 2009's reboot of thelasthouseontheleft20092the Wes Craven/Sean Cunningham exploitation classic, The Last House on the Left. The story remains similar enough to what was done back in 1972, focusing on two teenage girls, Mari and Paige (Sara Paxton and Martha MacIssac), that are abducted by a demented family of criminals led by an escaped convict named Krug (Garret Dillahunt). After Paige is murdered, and Mari brutally raped, the gang unknowingly take refuge in the summer home belonging to Mari's parents. Woops.

As was the case with the last Last House, this version is simply a modern retelling of The Virgin Spring, putting a set of parents in the position to face the people that would bring harm to the child that they brought into the world. One of the big differences between both this take and the previous versions of the story is that their daughter survives and (barley) makes it home, which is partly how the parents become aware that it was their houseguests that did this to her. While it seems like it may have been a commercially acceptable attempt to take away from the shock of having both girls murdered, it actually works on a different emotional level, as the father knows that one of the men, staying in his home, raped his own daughter.

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What works about the film in comparison to the original, is the fact that it is a glossy and well-crafted update. One of the many complaints for a remake of a gritty film from our past is that the new one will be an overly pretty-fied version that will have no chance of capturing what was done in the original. However, that is what actually works for this incarnation. I've already seen a grimy and grungy version of The Last House on the Left, so seeing the story with a different pallet actually gives the film its own identity. To be a successful remake, there needs to be a separation form the source material and to go with a stylistic and well-crafted version is a major departure from 72's Last House.

thelasthouseontheleft20094 Another major piece of the successful remake puzzle is being able to somewhat improve upon what was done with the original film. While I love Craven's Last House, and consider it an thelasthouseontheleft20095exploitation classic, it is certainly not without its problems. Two that immediately come to mind are some of the dialogue scenes between the parents as well as everything involving the two police officers. Overall, in this update, the dialogue is solid and mostly natural for all the characters, including the teenage girls, the rents and the gang of psychos. And of course, there is not a cop in sight, but it would be hard to not improve upon the police scenes that were found in the '72 Last House. Even if one of the cops was the leader of the Cobra Kai.

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With Last House being a rape revenge film, it is that aspect that works as the film's vengeful drive. While this update is not nearly as brutal as its predecessor, it definitely has its moments and the rape scene itself is a tough watch, as it should be. However, there is an emotional additive that was not found in the Craven film, and after the rape there is an intense and uncomfortable quietness between a few of the characters, namely the female of the group, Sadie (as played by Riki Lindhome), that spoke volumes as to how heinous an act it was, even to a couple of seemingly heartless murderous thugs. No matter how bad of a person she is, Sadie is still a woman, and rape is one of the worst things that can ever happen to one, so this was a nice touch of humanity to see her slight but important reaction to the events.

thelasthouseontheleft20099Now, I'm giving this film a lot of credit, and while it is mostly deserving, it is not without its own faults. While the cast is actually quite impressive all around - with a group of actors that thelasthouseontheleft20097have collectively seen a fair share of genre  work - they all sure are purdy. I'm fine with the parents and teenage girls being attractive – they are the seemingly perfect people  thelasthouseontheleft20098that are having their lives thrown into chaos, so they should fit that mold. But why can't Krug's gang be at least a little bit ugly? Not a one of them is nothing short of attractive, and no amount of creepy facial hair and snarling can take that away from their looks. It truly speaks volumes as to the difference between 70's cinema and the cinema of today. Ugly people were put in film for that reason and David Hess is an ugly dude and so isn't the entire gang in 72's Last House, and they are a whole lot more intimidating than the '09 crew because of it.

There are other minor faults (some would state the film's final moment as one, which I somewhat liked in a throwback to outrageous 80's horror sort of way) and this movie is far from perfect, but director Dennis Iliadis made a film (with the help of both Craven and Cunningham) that takes from the original what was necessary and crafted a movie that can stand on its own two feet…even if the house isn't actually the last one on the left or not.

17 comments:

  1. I like the points you raise, and you make a good argument, but I'm afraid I'm in the anti-Last House '09 camp.

    Y'see, with the original, I liked the cops scenes. No idea why, but their bumbling ineptitude humours my simple mind. And the soundtrack.... holy hell, the soundtrack is just sublime.

    But with the remake, my one biggest gripe was the lack of personality in the villains. Krug and co originally are vile, but more because they're so developed and believable than because of the stuff they do. Here, there's not really any personality at all. And i really don't like how Justin is made into a sympathetic character just caught up in the events.

    Also, I hated the ending :P

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  2. I liked this more than the original. It did a better job of building tension and I think it brought out more empathy on the part of the viewer. As a matter of fact, I've already revisited this more than I did the original. A remake that does it right indeed.

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  3. I liked the remake more than the original, too. Overall, it's not my favorite kind of film - the rape/revenge sub-genre has never been appealing to me - but I give the remake credit for being well done. And I'm with you on the ending, Matt - how can you not love a movie that ends on that note? It says something about how far the grindhouse sensibility has crossed over into mainstream culture when a wide release movie with sharp production values and real actors can end with an exploding head.

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  4. Haven't seen either--I only knew the original as the penis-biting movie before they announced a remake.

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  5. I actually reviewed both versions of this film and I gave them the same rating [3 Howls Outta 4] because they each do things well that the other version doesn't do. I think the rape stuff is more brutal in the original. Plus you can't mess with David Hess as Krug. He just owns that role. However, I dislike the cops in the original and the music that accompanies them. Takes me out of the film.

    The remake, for me, has the better revenge sequence with the parents. And obviously, the acting is better in the remake than it is in the original for me. Plus no bumbling cops to ruin it for me. I do think the ending is a bit hokey but it doesn't bother me all that much.

    How I see these two versions is this: the 1972 version is a good exploitation film; the 2009 version is a good revenge film. I think both versions have a place in the horror genre. Definitely a remake done right.

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  6. Well, i'm really surprised to see so much people praising this piece of crap.
    It's just a softer version of the original movie, a exploitation (it wasn't supposed to be about violence and sensacionalism at all ?) remade for the 2000 teenager audience.
    Come on, they added blood splatter but the really frightening factor of the original lies on the moral degradation of the two girls, the evil nature of the villains, not in the "hollywood vilanesque" way, but really disturbing and realistic.
    The "forest scene" is a complete failure, the revenge feels so plastic and romanticized, everyone is clean and "cute", Justin is the "emo" character to profit with audiences.
    It's so wrong, so useless, this, for me, stands like the perfect example of a bad remake.

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  7. I agree with POT and Jeff as far as liking this version better--for me this one has more of a rewatchability factor compared to the original. While I respect the original for being shocking, controversial and pushing boundaries, the movie loses points for some bad acting, dialogue and crappy comic relief; my sister and I had a discussion regarding the two versions and she likes the '72 version over the remake.

    As far as the acting goes I felt that everyone was top notch but I do agree with your point that they were all too attractive, including the villains. I mean, David Hess was/is the kind of guy that you wouldn't want to meet alone in a dark alley, let alone in broad daylight! And yeah I think that back in the day actors weren't necessarily cast because they were hot or because they appealed to a demographic or something, so you had a lot more "real" (or in some cases "ugly") looking people onscreen.

    I've gotta say that the ending was pretty ridiculous, but overall the movie as a whole worked for me.

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  8. Seriously, what was with the microwave?

    I can see why the remake improves on the original a lot, but I also think the griminess and paucity of the original made it work. There's something really ugly about a group of good looking actors (which as you rightly point out makes them a lot less intimidating) raping someone in a glossy film that is clearly setting out to entertain. I think rightly or wrongly the original crossed a boundary. Now we're over that boundary, revisiting it like this just seems exploitative.

    Plus, I missed the David Hess soundtrack - possibly the best horror soundtrack ever.

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  9. Wow, it’s nothing short of awesome that there is such a divide on this one, though, I am not surprised I suppose. Funny enough, it’s always seemed that the ’72 version almost has the same divide with horror fans. It’s pretty interesting to say the least.

    Liam: I don’t mind the cop scenes myself either…I actually find them to be funny, but they do take away from the overall feel of what is a very intense movie. Leaving that aspect from the remake gave it the serious tone that the subject matter deserved. I do love the Hess music, though, it adds a quirky yet creepy aspect to the original.

    POT: The original is a favorite of the rap/revenge genre for me, as well as one of my favorite Exploitation films, but it is a full on Exploitation film, wherein ’09 somewhat transcends that aspect. And I do believe it is the empathy that some of the characters show, as well as what is asked of the viewer that make the remake a very solid one.

    Jeff: Me being a big fan of the genre, seeing a different take on a rap/revenge tale was what made ‘09 a nice change of pace. You don’t go into a Last House remake thinking it will be very well made, so when it is, it’s kind of nice.

    Also, I knew you would appreciate the microwave head death! It truly does hearken back to a time in cinema when anything goes, so it was pretty awesome seeing it in a studio release.

    Simon: You should see the original just because it is a cult classic, but I would love if you watched both and reviewed them together. It would be interesting to see a fresh perspective on the two very different tellings of the same story.

    Fred: I agree completely. You have two films that go at it in very different ways, with both doing so in successfully. It’s nice to have a remake that doesn’t just carbon copy the original, and doesn’t completely go the teen route either.

    I do also think the revenge for the parents is a strong aspect of this one, especially because you really feel their pain, something that is very important in a modern film concerning something as brutal as rape.

    Matheus: Sure it is glossy and the cast is attractive, but for a big studio film that was put out in the theaters, it is the real deal as far as the genre goes. It is certainly not nearly as brutal as the original, but to add the emotional element makes the impact even greater.

    It’s two vastly different approaches to bring about what is almost the same impact. One does so with heavy on screen degradation and brutality, while the other puts forth a little more sympathy and investment. The remake is not just about what was taken from the two girls, but also what was taken from the two parents. I also think there is far too much of an edge and mean spiritedness to truly make the remake geared towards average teens.

    Dorian: There is definitely a major difference between the faces on film from back then and now. A great example is the action heroes from the old days. Most of them were very blue collar looking, and only handsome in a worn and weathered way. They seemed believable because they looked gruff and like they have been through life, as opposed to many now where they look like hey spent much of their time in a salon. Faces where interesting and almost told a story of their own.

    Chris: The ’72 Last House certainly, and even through some of the silly moments, crosses the line, and that is really why I enjoy it as much as I do. It was effective because of it. This version just goes about it in a different way, and I honestly do not see any American film going as far as some of the films of the past and making it into theaters. That’s what the French are for!

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  10. The remake stands on its own. It has a little to much style to have the same impact as Cravens but it still manages to be a brutal film (I'm with Jeff-the rape/revenge subgenre of horror isn't my go subgenre)

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  11. I agree with you all about the bad acting in the 72 version, actually i'm not a huge fan of the original, there's a lot of misplaced things like the retarded cops and, sometimes, the soundtrack.
    But, for me, even the revenge didn't reached the same impact as Wes Craven's "classic".
    One of the WTF scenes of the 72 movie is the castration, it's something that is completely irrational, you just think "How far can go this woman to avenge her daughter's death ?". It seems like that regular couple loses the control, their moral values to do what they have to do.
    The remake is more "didatic", feels a lot more like a "two actors" than two parents blinded with rage in a point that they became so "savage" as the killers.
    And the addition of that shameful microwave ending is a complete failure, besides the bad CGI, it's as if Roger Corman added some "gory trick" for drive-thru audiences, completely misplaced in the movie's mood.

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  12. Very smart review, and I almost completely agree. Craven’s original is somewhat groundbreaking, but that doesn’t make it a great movie. It had a wonderfully savage element in its cast, but the film is also hampered by silly comic relief and some awkward pacing. On the other hand, the remake isn’t a masterpiece, but it brings something new to the original. I had no problem with Mary surviving, because why do I need to watch the same film remade down to every plot thread (hello, The Omen)? Yes, the remake lacked the true sleaze factor, but I agree that the violence was believable, the rape appropriately harsh, and the performances strong enough to give the story gravity.

    I haven’t decided how I feel about the final shot. I think I approve of it, since it did indeed kind of throw in a bonus for those who wanted a more ridiculous film.

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  13. Mike: It is overly stylized for the source material, but it is nice to have a change of pace from the original. Should have made it animated!

    Matheus: I cannot deny that the ending is totally misplaced but, being a fan of someone like Roger Corman, it still kind of made me happy in how out there it is.

    I think the big difference between the two films is the original is simply over-the-top in every way, while the remake takes itself very seriously. It certainly reflects on how the revenge aspect is handled.

    Emily: Thanks! And I totally agree about remakes needing to be their own and do something different, while keeping the spirit of the original. People don't want to see their favorites changed, but when an Omen or a Psycho come out, the backlash is just as harsh.

    I like the ending even more so because it is almost tacked on and doesn't need to be there. It is like a little extra FUCK YEAH! moment just for a certain type of horror fan. So I can appreciate that.

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  14. Terrific review Matt! " Even if one of the cops was the leader of the Cobra Kai." That made me laugh really hard.

    I am in total agreement with you about this movie. I especially liked the bit you mentioned about a remake needing to separate itself from the original. I don't see why people would want the same gritty, dirty style from the first film. It's been done, let's see the same compelling story actually shot well!

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  15. Thanks, Becky! Being a practitioner of martial arts, with training from the Cobra Kai, I had to mention it!

    In general, I don't get too heated about remakes like others do, and a big reason why is there is the chance that something fresh can be done with something we already love. If it fails, we don't loss anything from the original, if it works, well, that's just a bonus. Separation is a key element of having an alternate, yet enjoyable take on a film that we all enjoy.

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  16. My major fault with the film is that it is so utterly forgettable, with absolutely no staying power. The balls have been clipped off of this puppy, and no one will remember it in a year. Did it clean up many of the problems with the original? Undoubtedly, but in doing so, it took away from the grimy exploitation charm and horror.

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  17. I will agree that it is not nearly as memorable as the original, especially since I have such a fondness for that film. I'll definitely watch the remake again at some point, but I doubt I will watch it more that a few times in my lifetime. Still, I found it to be an enjoyable watch, even if it was only a one or two-timer.

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