Thursday, March 19, 2009


The only thing surprising about the new remake of Wes Craven’s landmark horror chiller “Last House on the Left” is that Craven and co-producer Sean S. Cunningham waited so long to do it. A former humanities professor, Craven ranks as one of the maestros of movie mayhem. He launched the Freddie Kruger “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise back in 1984 and then scared up the “Scream” trilogy in 1996. Before those two successful series, he helmed “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977) and “The Hills Have Eyes 2” (1985), and served as producer on both remakes in both in 2006 and 2007. He is known for his 1982 horror comedy creature feature “Swamp Thing.”

Craven’s first film, “Last House on the Left,” marked him for future notoriety. Sean S. Cunningham produced “Last House” for Craven in 1972. Eight years later in 1980, Cunningham made horror movie history himself with “Friday the 13th.” Craven and Cunningham have teamed up to produce Greek director Dennis Iliadis’ “Last House on the Left” remake. Best known for “Hardcore” (2005), a grim drama about prostitution set in Athens, Greece, Iliadis appeared to be the ideal director for this new, updated, R-rated remake starring Sarah Paxton, Monica Potter, and Tony Goldwyn. Comparatively, Iliadis’ “Last House on the Left” (** out of ****) lacks the sadism of both the “Saw” and the “Hostel” movies and the eerie atmosphere of the original. Nevertheless, audiences that crave watching make-believe characters stab, rape, and then shoot other make-believe characters to death may applaud this lackluster remake.

Two teenage girlfriends, Mari Collingwood (Sarah Paxton of “Sydney White”) and Paige (Martha MacIsaac of “Superbad”), get together back when Mari arrives in town with her parents. Dr. John Collingwood (Tony Goldwyn of “Ghost”) and his wife Emma (Monica Potter of “Con-Air”), are taking a vacation in the country where they own a lake-front house. Overachieving swim champ daughter Mari borrows mom and dad’s Chevy Suburban to visit Paige in town. Paige works the cash register at a convenience store. Things take a turn for the worse when a hooded teenager, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark of “Superheroes”), asks for a pack of cigarettes. Paige won’t sell them because Justin appears underage. Justin has been eavesdropping on the gals and knows Paige wants to score some marijuana. Reluctantly, Mari drives Paige and Justin back to Justin’s motel where he rolls up some premium grade-A Columbian. Yes, Paige sold Justin cigarettes because she had to have some weed. Everybody is huffing and puffing on pot when Justin’s Manson-looking dad, Krug (Garrett Dillahunt of HBO’s “Deadwood”), his Uncle Francis (Aaron Paul of “Mission Impossible 3”), and Sadie (Riki Lindhome of “Gilmore Girls”) walk in on them.

Krug is an escaped convict. The police were taking Krug to prison when Sadie and Francis rescued him. They caught two unsuspecting cops off guard at a railroad crossing and T-boned the police cruiser with a big truck. Sadie shot the driver in the head and Krug strangled the detective beside the driver. Since the authorities have launched a manhunt, our evildoers cannot turn Mari and Paige loose. Mari and Paige realize too late that their geese are cooked. Krug commandeers Mari’s Suburban, and they cruise off into the woods to avoid roadblocks. They pass not far from where Mari’s parents live. Mari’s unexplained disappearance has Emma and John upset. Meanwhile, Mari and Paige attempt to escape from their captors by scorching Sadie with a cigarette lighter. In the confusion, Krug crashes the truck into a tree. Enraged by the girls’
defiance, Krug and company torture them.

Although the violence in Iliadis’ “Last House” remake is graphic, Craven’s original--even after almost 40 years--surpasses the remake in terms of its depravity. Iliadis and “Disturbia” scenarist Carl Ellsworth with newcomer Adam Alleca have made many drastic changes that prove the old saying ‘they don’t make movies like they used to.’ Indeed, they have eliminated a great deal about the original “Last House” that made it such a memorable nightmare. Iliadis and his writers have retained the basic premise, but the current crop of torture porn pictures overshadows their remake. The remake’s most talked about moment—if you’ve glimpsed the trailer—is the notorious microwave scene. A man’s head is jammed into a microwave and cooked until it explodes. Several friends have assured me that microwaves don’t work with the door open, but reality rarely dictates what Hollywood presents in movies.

Like its horrific predecessor, the “Last House on the Left” remake depicts poetic justice. The depraved deviants slaughter the innocent in the first half, while the parents turn the tables on the dastards in the second half. Ultimately, the villains suffer more than their innocent victims. This difference is what separates “Last House on the Left” from the “Saw” and “Hostel” movies. When the parents pay back the perpetrators in “Last House on the Left,” you may find yourself howling for blood and that’s what makes the movie so wicked.

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