For my second go ’round on this “Remake Week” thing we’re doing, I’m going to lean into a modern re-do of one of the most controversial films of our beloved genre, The Last House On The Left. When it first hit the bricks in 1972, this meeting of the minds of young auteurs Sean Cunningham and Wes Craven was widely criticized for its graphic depiction of both physical and sexual violence, and its overall themes of sociopathy and merciless revenge. Despite its low budget and some slip-ups (not to mention a couple of outright bad decisions), the movie nonetheless had a very gritty, cinema veritas feel, predating The Texas Chain Saw Massacre by two years with this realistic approach to horror filmmaking, and that down-and-dirty nature pushed a lot of people out of their comfort zones. When I’d first heard about the remake, I was doubtful that it would have the same kind of impact, for several reasons…but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Two cops are traveling along a dark back road, transporting a criminal, presumably to prison, but it’s destined to be a short trip; the crook, whose name is Krug, has his brother Frank and girlfriend Sadie smash into the police vehicle and spring him from custody, brutally killing the two police officers (one is slowly strangled by Krug himself as while being forced to stare at pictures of his children, “something he’ll never see again“…just to establish what a lowlife bastard Krug is). The next morning, our perspective shifts to the Collingwood family, heading out to their summer home for a vacation from the rat race; John, a physician, his wife Emma, and their seventeen-year-old daughter, Mary. Once they get settled in, Mary borrows the family vehicle to go into town and visit a local friend of hers, Paige. Now, Paige isn’t the best influence, and soon after Mary meets up with her, she has them visiting the local motel where Justin, a guy she’s just met trying to boost some Slim-Jims from the store she works at, is going to trade her some high-end weed for his “purchases”. Pressured into partaking by Paige and her new pal, Mary actually starts to have a pretty good time…until Justin’s father, father’s girlfriend, and uncle show back up. You guessed it; Justin’s dad is Krug, and the three hardcore criminals find Paige and Mary to be just too big of loose ends to leave lying around. They set off in Mary’s vehicle, taking the two girls along until they decide what to do with them. After Mary causes them to crash the car during a daring escape attempt in the forest near her summer home, the trio of criminals first brutally murder Sadie, then viciously rape Mary; the girl escapes to the lake after her torment, but is shot by Krug as she swims away.
Now finding themselves needing transportation, the three baddies head down the road to find the nearest house…you guessed it again! It’s the Collingwood residence! As Krug himself says later, what are the odds? Of course, you Fellow Fans know what comes next, and even those of you that may not be familiar with either this film or the original can guess pretty accurately what ensues; the parents find out what’s happened, and the story becomes a tale of revenge and brutality as the “normal” folks find the killer animals inside themselves to deal with the primal nature of the “bad guys”.
I’m not wanting to spoil either film, but I will say that the original was something that, at the time of its release, was the likes of which had never been seen before. It came during the death rattle of the “Love Generation”, and reflected a fearful mirror on just what the youth might face when out “having a good time”. That said, for the remake to have the same effect on our less innocent and far more jaded sensibilities in the 21st century would be impossible, and thus I didn’t really expect that. There was one important element that happened in the first film that, for whatever reason, was omitted from this revisit, that I feel both lessened the impact of the film overall and served to create more of a question of how narrow the line between “good” and “bad” people is, but that may very well have been intentional. That aside, I actually enjoyed this film (OK, you can now all collectively GASP!). I didn’t love it, but I found it to be an effective thriller, with nice camera work, a good story that borrowed from the original without copying it, able to stand largely on it’s own. The performances were very good across the board (with a special shout out to Michael Bowen as Krug and Sara Paxton as Mary…opposite sides of the coin played with harrowing believability on both sides), and the effects, though used sparingly, were visceral and appropriate, including one of the most clever and satisfying executions I’ve witnessed in these type of flicks; a lot of folks didn’t like it, and I’ll admit it does seem kinda tacked on there, but…what can I say? It brought a big ol’ smile to my face. 🙂
This film avoided some of the mistakes that the young Craven and Cunningham made in their own film (most notably the slapstick police officers and carnival music), but still didn’t have quite the amount of raw, gut-level audacity of that original; the tagline in 1972 was “keep telling yourself…it’s only a movie“, but with this remake, that’s never in any doubt. In some ways, both good and bad, it’s easier to watch than it’s predecessor, but pushing you out of your bubble and making you uncomfortable was the 1972 version’s hallmark. Still, this remake is a very well-done, very watchable film, done with some reverence and quality.
Best one-sentence critique from this Mouse?
Though I still prefer the original, I will watch this one again.
That’s my bit.
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