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03.18.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Lacey Terrell/Rogue Pictures
DON'T LOOK BACK: Monica Potter gets a good scare in 'Last House.'

House of Pain

'Last House' remake is a sign of the times.

By Steve Palopoli


The new remake of Last House on the Left has no guts. That's not a put-down, just a statement of fact.

Back in 1972, director Wes Craven packed his debut film with every shock he and producer Sean Cunningham (later of the Friday the 13th films) thought they could get away with: rape, gruesome murders, carved bodies, forced lesbian sex, oral castration and an infamous scene in which the gang of criminals assaulting two teenage girls actually pull the insides of one of them out. This scene was cut from most prints of the film, but released on DVD.

The original is disturbing, to say the least--even Craven himself has quasi-disowned the violence in it. And yet, it endures as a cult classic not just because of its notoriety (although that certainly didn't hurt), but because aside from some unfortunate comic relief scenes, it's actually an excellent film. Based on Bergman's Virgin Spring, it questions whether,when forced into the most extreme circumstances, there is really much difference between the most wretched criminals and the most civilized suburbanites. Eventually, the movie suggests, we all resort to a primal rage.

The new remake of Last House on the Left is not about the same things. It may seem like it from the advertising, especially the ridiculous tag line "If bad people hurt someone you love, how far would you go to hurt them?" Uh, could you repeat the question? It sounds like one of those word problems where a train is leaving Chicago with 5,000 pounds of bluefish.

But this remake is not a shock film, it's not an exploitation flick, it's not even really a horror film. It's just a very 21st-century thriller with some nasty concepts held over from the original. The plot is basically the same: Krug (Garret Dillahunt) and his criminal family kidnap Mari (Sara Paxton) and Paige (Martha MacIsaac); rape, stab and shoot them; then by coincidence end up at the home of Mari's parents looking for a place to spend the night. It's not hard to imagine the shenanigans that ensue.

But this time, everything seems oddly logical. Everyone has a reason for doing what they're doing, even if it's an evil one: the criminals seem like they might let Mari and Paige go, but then Mari tries to escape. The parents don't start taking out the perps for revenge purposes, they do it because they're trying to save someone's life. (Whether they derive pleasure from it is another question.) It's all sort of civilized, really, and even though the attack scenes against the girls are vicious, they're not even remotely on the level of the original.

Strangely, none of this makes the new Last House a bad film, just a very different one. It can't touch the power of Craven's film, and it doesn't have the same subversive subtext, not to mention that it doesn't have the incomparable David Hess, the original Krug. But as a slick Hollywood B-thriller, it's pretty watchable--a quality squeamish viewers would still not ascribe to the original film.


Movie Times THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (R; 100 min.), directed by Dennis Iliads, written by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth, photographed Sharone Meir and starring Garret Dillahunt and Sara Paxton, plays countywide.


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