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Remake fairly mainstream for the genre

By Staff | Mar 24, 2009

You won’t have to keep repeating ‘it’s only’ a movie when viewing the re-make of Wes Cravin’s  “Last House on the Left.” While the original exposed and exploited new torture territory, the remake comes after “Saw” and “Hostel” have pretty well delivered unsurpassable gory messes.

When first released in 1972, the political climate bristled with Vietnam protests, the “hippie” movements, free (permissive) sex, and, of course, drugs with rock n’ roll. The premise pushed the limits of torture and gore “introducing” chain saws, dismembering, and degenerative cruelties molded from Charles Manson.

When viewing a DVD of the original, I saw a sordid, nearly “Reefer Madness” campy, morality play cemented by the “Road to Nowhere” musical interlude. Director Wes Craven  (perhaps to reduce an outcry over torture gore) introduced a ‘weekend hippie’ good girls turning trashy element balanced by their prudent, proper suburbia parents and a couple of Mayberry Keystone cops to explain to the parents about rebellious youth.

 As you might predict, the 21st Century gender/political climate means the original’s vivid, revolting sexual torture scenes have been tamed. One can speculate that HIV changed attitudes or that the “girls” in the remake play 17-year-olds, but flagrant toplessness has been banished from the “victims” leaving the exhibitionist conduct to the “bad girl” assisting these escaped fugitives.

Basics remain relatively similar: Mari (Sara Paxton) and Paige (Martha MacIssac), succumb to a handsome face promising greatly cool weed in exchange for overlooking his lack of identification to purchase cigarettes. Jason (Spencer Treat Clark), the son of Krug (Garret Dilahunt), leads them back to the motel and into the hands of escapees, Krug and Francis (Aaron Paul) and the aiding and abetting, flippant, permissive female (Riki Lindhome). 

Coupled to risk taker Paige, both young women are driven to secluded terrain where both their life expectancy and body integrity are equally uninsurable. 

Instead of retaining the lack of political correctness underpinnings, the remake delivers a better dramatic product, while sacrificing the subliminal comments and dousing most of the extreme depravity. When watching the original, viewers knew the bad dudes loved sociopathic Manson-styled serial killing for pure enjoyment.

To retain this same personification of evil, the writer and director would have needed to induce fangs of domestic terrorists and trench-coated, random educational institution massacre mindsets.

The original contained nearly equally divided segments (seduction of the women and parental revenge on their tormentors).  Prolonged threats, abuses and cruelties to the women in the 1972 version bonded viewers with them. You shared their tears, fright and shame. However, in the 21st Century, shock horror has already (over and over) displayed the consequences of chainsaws as weapons. The women fight off knives, blunt objects and bullets.

One additional modification: Where Junior had been an addict luring women into a trap, Jason (ironic considering Sean “Friday the 13th” Cunningham was a producer), appears un-demonized by his father’s criminality. Junior allowed the two girls to “get dressed” when they pleaded, “We’re cold.” This scene, which is cut from the re-make, leaves Jason too on the sidelines as his dad terrorizes the women.

Suffice it to say that the 2009 reinvention reduces suspense, tension and chases in the outlands, but the horrifying and pivotal, lengthy sexual assault remains. It’s  photographed from afar with pleading screams amplified by the latest sound systems. (Editor’s Note: The source material for both “Houses” is Ingmar Bergman’s rape, murder and avenging mandated, “The Virgin Spring”).

With the teens left for dead, their tormenters (courtesy of a wrecked vehicle) wander into the welcoming arms of Mari’s parents, where they readily win use of the upstairs garage guest room. Tampering with who has knowledge of what, the new picture is again robbed of a ticking tension time bomb, which shifts the ‘eye for eye’ vengeance offensive to the parents. Vengeance is mine dilutes an intended suspense avenue. I found dad’s traps and mom’s appropriately eye for an eye conduct more irrational than the remake’s immediate confrontational choices.

Watching the remake, I couldn’t vanquish “Cape Fear” or “Desperate Hours” kidnap and fugitive imagery, which epitomizes director Dennis Iliadis’ decision not to challenge the new limits of the sickening torture genre, which did not exist in 1972.

Do not mistake, however, my diluted comparisons for the new “House on the Left” as offering a relatively safe harbor body count (no body parts like 1972). Cruel, graphically violent and bloody — you betcha.  Semi-nude sensuality, organic and grossing out, for the majority of time — nope. 

That translates to a couple of early walk outs (female) but others left and returned with popcorn. (Trivia Note: “Last House” in 1972 played the Keith Albee; the theatre owner saw a portion of it and closed the theatre on Monday, rather than continuing to run the film).

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com