Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 22: Last House On The Left

My position on Horror remakes has been fairly well established at this point. As a general rule the most I hope for is for indifference, at worst I break out into hives.

But The Last House On The Left was singled out by Stephen King as one of the best horror films of the last decade and though King’s opinions do occasionally lead me to believe he is from Rand McNally (where people wear shoes on their head and hamburgers eat people) he has steered me towards more good films than bad. Here’s what he wrote about Last House On The Left,

“(The film) fills us with rage and sorrow, and if there’s an emotion more foreign to a Friday The 13th movie than sorrow, I don’t know what is. Our identification is all with the victim. The villains are bad people, they deserve what’s coming to them. What they do not deserve is a sequel they come back as our buddies.

Roger that in a big fucking way. There is another element at play here, being that the original Last House On The Left is a film that I care for not at all. I’ll let King take this one again…

The original Last House On The Left is so bad it rises to the level of absurdity- call it Abbot And Costello Meet The Rapists.

Too. Fucking. Right.

Unlike most of the other remakes it’s not exactly like this one could be worse.

In the final analysis, if The Last House On The Left is not as good of a film as King says it is, it at least tries to be as good of a movie as King said it is. The key phrase here is Victim identification. I haven’t seen a movie so unabashedly take the side of the victim in a long time.

Even in the original Last House On The Left there was the nasty subtext that by leaving the safety of home and going to the big bad city in search of drugs and rock n’ roll, that the girls got what they paid for, however inadvertently. Here they didn’t sign up for this, by any stretch of the imagination. The girls don’t go “looking for trouble” even the girl who drags along her friend in search of weed is just being irresponsible rather than self destructive. Hell if you look at it closely, trouble wasn’t even really looking for them. They weren’t being set up, it was just bad timing. A ghastly consequences of a terrible series of coincidences.

There is another crucial shift in the film’s narrative that has been more controversial. In this version of the story the girl survives the attack. Changing the situation from the parents merely getting gruesome revenge to the parents attempting to protect their wounded daughter (the fact that they have already lost a son in unrelated circumstances also a smart choice, making their resolve all the stronger and making the lengths they are willing to go to more understandable). As a narrative decision it’s gangbusters, adding a whole other of tension to the story.

Many have argued that by having the girl be alive the film has wussed out by giving the parents a much clearer moral imperative than they did in the original film. But let’s call a spade a spade here, if you’re watching a film primarily because you’re interested in the moral quandaries it poses, then you’re not watching The Last House On The Left 1972, unless it’s by some grievous error. You’re watching The Virgin Spring.

Director Iliadas directs with more flair and tension than Wes Craven has displayed in his entire career, comparing it to the porn production values of the first doesn’t even seem fair. The Cathedral woods are menacing, and the way he slowly but thoroughly desecrates the house is chillingly effective. If there’s a complaint to be had it’s the fact that you can see the Rob Zombie influence stamped clearly across the film (why wear grotesque art directed masks, if you’re going to A) Take them off after a few moments B) Kill all witnesses.) Particularly in the bizarre final fifteen seconds of the film which literally look as though they were tacked on from another film.

On the whole though, The Last House On The Left is a film of ambition and intense suspense. It might not be a great horror movie, but damned if it only misses that distinction by inches.


Anthony R. said...

Have you seen Haneke's Funny Games? I've been meaning to watch that and this back-to-back, since they share a similar premise, and see which I like better. (I suspect it'll be Funny Games.)

Budd said...

It might not of been a horror movie. It may have been a thriller. That doesn't mean it wasn't scary. Really good movie.