Some movies - especially horror movies - simply aren’t for everybody. In terms of fright flicks, there’s people who want to have a GOOD time watching some masked or unseen villain cutting a bloody swath through a (preferably high) number of vapid teens, or seeing some monstrous beastie go psycho on some poor unsuspecting population. This is considered to be an enjoyable pastime and is in no way reflective of reality as we know it; therefore the stomach does not cramp and there’s no hyperventilation or almost unbearable tension, for the most part. It’s what everybody says they always expect from a good horror movie: a rollercoaster ride. Kind of like controlled danger in that it may feel like there’s a threat, but any self-respecting adult knows that at the end the lights come up and everyone’s allowed to exit the theater safely into the bright light of day. Yet there are other movies that don’t play that fair. That particular brand of rollercoaster drops you off a steep incline into nothing but blackness and uncertainty, deep into a dark place where you can’t even see your hand in front of your eyes. Somewhere truly, honestly scary where anything could be waiting for you, could get you at any moment, and the discomfort is palpable as you sit in the darkness, helpless and alone.
It’s an understatement to say that The Last House On The Left (the original version written and directed by Wes Craven as well as the recent remake under discussion here) falls firmly into the latter category.
Those of you familiar with the ‘72 flick know the rough outlines: the Collingwood family (parents Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter along with daughter Sara Paxton) are staying at their summer home on the lake. Daughter Mari leaves to go hang out with a girlfriend and the two make the spectacularly bad decision to score some weed from this shy kid they just met, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark). Shortly, Justin’s dad Krug (Garret Dillahunt) shows up, brother (Aaron Paul) and girlfriend in tow (Riki Lindhome), and things go to shit. There’s a bit of violence, kidnapping, then a quick trip to the secluded woods by the lake, followed shortly by more violence, some rape for good measure, and then finally a couple of horrifying murders to finish things off. Or was it really two murders? Anyway -
A storm forces our small group of sociopaths to seek shelter at a nearby home. . .no points for figuring out that it’s A) the last house on the left and B) the Collingwood home. Before long, Mari’s parents figure out exactly who it is they’ve allowed into their home and what these evil sonsofbitches have done to their daughter. This is the point where we get to witness what normal, civilized human beings can do when they’re driven mad with rage, and what lengths they will go to in order to exact revenge on those who’ve harmed their loved ones when given the opportunity.
All told, it’s pretty fucked up.
I find it hard to say that this is a GOOD movie, exactly. Yet it is, if by “good” you mean well directed, written, acted, shot, and so on. It’s just that it’s highly disturbing, sickening, and depraved. And casually so, at that. The movie doesn’t feel particularly exploitative, or that the filmmakers are showing us these horrible things to entertain us in any way we‘re used to. Everything is presented matter-of-factly; these vile events are simply happening in front of us and it ain’t no kind of fun. The violence hurts, and is as ugly and dirty as real-life violence is. The rape sequence specifically is about as hard to watch as anything I’ve ever seen in a flick. This certainly isn’t a kindergarten field trip, is what I’m saying.
But it IS well done, as far as this kind of thing goes. The director, Greek-born Dennis Iliadis (who also helmed a flick about prostitution, Hardcore, that I’m sure is also a laugh riot), tells the story in a straightforward manner, provides some remarkably intense scenes of brutality and carnage along with some strangely beautiful shots and moments (which obviously feel all the more out of place in such a film), and gets all-around excellent performances from the cast. He may not have made the feel-good movie of the year, but dude sure seems to know what he’s doing.
Speaking of the actors, I didn’t find a single weak link in the bunch, which I’m sure is helped immeasurably by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth’s script, as it does a far better job with characterization than Craven’s original did. Paul and Lindhome are thoroughly reprehensible and frightening, as they should be. Monica Potter gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from her (which I don’t think says much, but I liked her here, and - more importantly -believed her). Clark is very good playing the (more or less) little lamb lost among the wolves, trapped and terrified. However, it’s Goldwyn and Dillahunt who stay with you after the movie’s over. Goldwyn’s Everyman character may be intelligent, resourceful and determined, but he’s not superhuman and he certainly doesn’t become an unstoppable force of vengeance as the flick goes on. No, it may be anguish and pain coupled with a murderous rage that drives him forward, but he can hurt and he can bleed, and Goldwyn makes you feel all of it. As Krug, Garret Dillahunt is just. . .well, I honestly don’t know what he is, but he’s goddamned something, that‘s for sure. Scary as hell without twirling a mustache or chewing any scenery, Krug just IS, and you’d better hope he never focuses his gaze on you, cause nothing good can come from it but the purest pain and degradation. It’s a damn fine turn by Dillahunt, who has yet to be less than rock-solid in anything I’ve seen him in.
The DVD from Universal looks and sounds great, even if the package overall doesn’t quite offer any substantial extras - just a few minutes of deleted (mostly extended) scenes and a short behind the scenes look at the flick. Nothing special, really.
Once again, though, the movie itself? It’s really hard to rate it, as it truly comes down to personal preference. If you can handle it and appreciate what it has to offer, I’d imagine you’ll dig it on some level, since it’s about as good as this sort of movie gets. It’s also one of the better remakes that’s been released in the past couple years, and is probably an improvement over the original - even if Craven’s version was more upsetting on a primal level (full disclosure: I’ve only watched that one once because for most of the running time it felt too much like a snuff film for my tastes). 2009’s The Last House On The Left may not be conventionally entertaining, but it’s a true horror film. It may scare and terrify you, it may disgust and repulse you, but it WILL remind you that not all horror flicks are meant to be a good time. Nor should they be.