The Last House on the Left (2009)

By Adam Lippe

lhotlremake1In 2002, there was a fascinatingly stupid idea given the green light, attempting to create a star vehicle for Madonna. Directed by then-husband Guy Ritchie, Swept Away is as bad as you may have heard, but interesting for a few reasons such as the fact that the movie is so impatient and jittery that it can’t wait to get to the next scene (the DVD must contain at least an hour of fully completed deleted scenes) and that as a remake it was totally pointless, watering down the politics of the Italian original, and it was a political film, mind you, and just leaving the rich snob and raggedy, angry deckhand from the boat they were separated from on a deserted island, left to fight and [eventually] fuck. This is like remaking King Kong but leaving out the parts with the giant gorilla.

Director Dennis Iladis remake of Wes Craven infamous 1972 rape/revenge exploitation film The Last House on the Left has that same strange feel of being a remake in name only. Under producers Craven and Sean S. Cunningham’s aegis, Iladis’ film leaves out a lot of the terrible moments from the original (the goofy and inappropriate scenes with the cops, the trip from the city to the country, this version entirely takes place in the country) but also the notorious brutality and savagery of the original, such as the oral castration, which has been reduced to flirting between the villain and heroine. It is odd to see a movie so focused on being unpleasant, with plenty of gory close-ups, psychotic characters, and entirely appropriate revenge by the parents of a rape victim, portrayed in such a tame and timid fashion. And neutering the story reflects on the intensity of the film itself, which is the only reason to make it in the first place (the rape is without nudity, and mostly implied, but don’t mistake that for subtlety). While the movie is grim and exploitative (long before the rape, there are constant shots from below of the dainty victim’s crotch, and she’s wearing Daisy Dukes on top of that), it is also moralistic, which undercuts any effect it might have.

last-house-on-the-left-remake-2It is disingenuous enough to remake a Grindhouse-style movie with studio money, because it automatically takes away the charming grit and grime of the shoestring original (and the original The Last House on the Left is a very, very bad and dated film, not much to live up to). Perhaps as reaction to that, the actors are mostly listless and distracted, especially Monica Potter as the victim’s mother, who is supposed to progressively get more and more paranoid throughout, but she looks agitated and disturbed from minute one, well before there’s any thought of physical and mental violation. She seems to be terribly unhappy at the family’s country house, maybe there’s a subplot that was cut dealing with her impending divorce from the honest and noble Dr. Husband, played by the only real name in the cast, Tony Goldwyn. Early on, Goldwyn spends time looking at his shoes while speaking, instead of the other actors, and at later points looks put upon and annoyed by his murderous captors, as opposed to either scared or angry. It would only make sense that there was a lot of material cut out, considering the stream of continuity errors skimmed over (a rock to the face apparently causes no bruising or bleeding whatsoever), and yet the movie is nearly 2 hours long, unacceptable for a film of this type.

lasthouseontheleft_paxtonpaul-thumb-550x365Part of what drags the remake out is three different endings, all tonally different, and all appearing to be test marketed to the point of either being a silly cartoon (microwaves don’t work with the door open, there are also a lot of humorously self-aware quips by the villains) or sappy (that two extra characters survive defies all logic and impact) on top of the violent one already in place. The test marketing seems to have extended to the casting, as each of the unknown leads looks exactly and distractingly like a semi-famous B-level star (Timothy Olyphant, Alexis Bledel, Paul Dano) but Craven and Cunningham skimped and went with was replicas instead. Since the structure of the movie is so simplistic, the cheapness of the enterprise is the only disturbing thing about the film. The Last House on the Left is like a 99 cent store version of a remake.

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By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]

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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.