Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #416
Number of Views: One
Release Dates: March 13, 2009
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $45,286,228
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Producer: Wes Craven, Sean S. Cunningham, Marianne Maddalena
Screenplay: Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth
Based on The Last House on the Left by Wes Craven
Special Effects: Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger
Visual Effects: Jamison Scott Goei
Cinematography: Sharone Meir
Score: John Murphy
Editing: Peter McNulty
Studio: Midnight Entertainment, Crystal Lake Entertainment, Scion Films
Distributor: Rogue Pictures
Stars: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt, Aaron Paul, Riki Lindhome, Spencer Treat Clark, Sara Paxton, Martha MacIsaac, Josh Coxx, Michael Bowen
Suggested Audio Candy
 Death In Vegas “Dirge”
 Taken by Trees “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
Before we commence, I have a burning question that has been niggling me for hours now and I wondered whether you would be so kind as to clear it up for me. So here goes. Can you use a domestic microwave without first securing its door shut? I thought I would deal with the white elephant in the room first as there has been much debate since Dennis Iliadis’ remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 exploitation classic, The Last House on The Left, saw the light of day. You see, we’re barely a paragraph in and already Iliadis is courting controversy. To be perfectly frank, I’m not particularly hung up on detail such as this. I wasn’t the guy who spent the duration of The Driller Killer questioning whether or not the cordless handheld drill had even been invented in 1979. No, I was the one desperately searching for the mute button so I could block out Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters’ incessant band practice.
Anyhoots, I’m not here to harp on about household appliances. Okay, you got me. I’m stalling for time as I haven’t particularly relished writing this appraisal since my lunchtime appointment with rape and revenge. I knew beforehand that this would prove troublesome as I wasn’t really that taken with the original, truth be known. I love me a good video nasty and consider myself fairly unshakable, but there’s a world of difference between watching the festering undead force a jagged plank of wood into a beautiful young woman’s eyeball and watching a pair of innocent teenage girls being subjected to unspeakable acts of degradation and violence. It’s not that I choose moral high ground as my vantage point as mine is not to judge. It’s just not a whole barrel of fun in my eyes.
Long before Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible came along and stunned the whole world into submission, Craven’s debut feature was doing the self-same thing. The film was based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring and told the story of Mari Collingwood and her friend Phyllis Stone, two young seventeen-year-olds whose trip to New York to attend an underground concert never quite came about. After running into escaped jail-bird Krug Stillo and his personal entourage, the girls were unceremoniously snuffed out but not before being stripped and tortured. We all know the score by now I’m sure. It was a grubby affair and left a rather sour taste in my mouth which I could never quite shake off, despite any ultimate payback dished out by Mari’s wrathful parents after the convicts unwittingly stumbled into their family home.
There were early flashes of Craven’s wonderful ability but also moments of sheer ineptitude, while two bumbling cops accompanied by jovial banjo licks left me chillier than a penguin’s pecker. So it wouldn’t be unjust to state that The Last House on The Left isn’t my favorite all-time feel-good movie. As for any wrangling over whether or not I considered it immoral, I can cast no real light I’m afraid. If I were a tenth-grade teacher then perhaps I wouldn’t choose it as part of the curriculum but I’m not about to order my two Dobermann to sick balls either. Firstly, I don’t own any dogs. Secondly, I’m all for artistic expression and, if that means watching bad people do bad things to good people, then I’m happy as long as some other good people turn bad and punish the first bad people for being so bad in the first place. Whether good, bad, or ugly as sin; it’s only a movie as the original theatrical poster went to great lengths to point out in advance.
Craven was disinterested in returning to his grassy roots and taking to the directorial hot seat a second time but was intrigued by what could be achieved decades later on less limited funds. He had been forced to disregard certain key scenes which would have seasoned it with a more supernatural flavor because of dwindling finances and I guess there comes a time in any filmmaker’s life when they finally arrive full circle. In 2006, after Rogue Pictures gave the green light for distribution, Adam Alleca began work on the script. Eventually, Carl Ellsworth was drafted in to supply any bells and whistles and, three-years later, it opened to a new generation of cinemagoers. There is no such thing as bad press and over three times the return on the initial outlay attests to this. Was it surrounded by controversy? Not particularly. Have we grown thicker skin over the past thirty years? Undoubtedly, but that’s not the reason why it didn’t create much of a stir.
Around a hundred different directors were considered before Iliadis was given the ominous pleasure. His first full-length feature, Hardcore, had resonated strongly enough to convince of his credentials, but he wasn’t altogether comfortable with the brief. The crassly named torture porn genre was spewing forth all manner of grimy undesirables by that point and the influence of both Saw and Hostel was proving a little too regular for his liking. Thus, he decided against delving deeper into the original’s darker methodology and, instead, chose to take the path less prickly. All this means that The Last House on The Left can no longer be regarded as video nasty, at least, not in its modern iteration. I must say that I find this a somewhat inexplicable decision.
If you are going to stuff a turkey; then you may as well really get your fist in. The bird won’t mind; it gave up having an opinion the moment its neck got snapped. Now, call me demented and I shall tuck my dick between my legs and dance the rumba, but either you’re all-in at the river or you fold before the flop. This leaves me with something of a conundrum as, on its own merits, Idiadis’ remake is a pretty good movie with sound production, some impressive photography, an atmospheric score courtesy of John Murphy of 28 Days Later fame, and decent performances all-round. However, in some respects, it would have benefited from not bearing the same title as its predecessor as any alterations made take us into entirely different territory.
While some names have been changed; the core structure is essentially the same. Mari (Sara Paxton) and Paige (Martha MacIsaac) still take that ill-fated road trip which never truly gets off the ground. Mari’s parents John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma (Monica Potter) still ponder whether or not they should have allowed her to take the family car and generally fret their decision. Krug (Garret Dillahunt) and his nearest and dearest, son Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), brother Francis, (Aaron Paul), and main squeeze Sadie (Riki Lindhome) still do the unthinkable. However, this time, a little more attention goes into fleshing out Mari’s back story and the set-up is far more refined than previously.
Another notable adjustment concerns Krug’s girl Sadie and her reaction to any wrongdoing committed. In the original, Jeramie Rain’s character was far beyond contemptible and, while still no angel here, she is portrayed with a dash more culpability this time around. The added humanity Lindhome exhibits offers further evidence of Iliadis’ kit-gloved approach but I make him right on this count. Rape is an utterly deplorable act which no woman would condone and her displeasure rings more true than her namesake’s lack of contrition. That doesn’t mean she’s off the hook, and we still desire to watch her die gargling for aiding and abetting such atrocities, but it is good to see her inhabit that grey area as opposed to being entirely demonized.
It is time to puff out my chest and speak of “that misdemeanor”. While the scene still makes for far less than comfortable viewing; any cries of misogyny would be well off the mark. Nudity isn’t necessitated and the act itself couldn’t be less titillating if it tried. Having said that, it still wasn’t a picnic for Paxton and took seventeen grueling hours to shoot. But it is as respectful as it can be, given the callous nature of the beast. Again, no complaints here. What does ruffle my feathers some is the ultimate fate of Mari and Paige. Should you not have given this film your time until now then you may want to give the next stanza a wide berth and pick it back up straight afterwards. Spoilers aren’t ordinarily something that interest me, especially when the film in question is relatively fresh off the press, but the next revelation is integral to the experience as a whole so here goes.
Craven’s film offered no respite for our girls and, in turn, her parents’ actions felt far more than justifiable. Here, it can be argued that Iliadis cops out a little, by allowing her to float back to her safe haven, albeit in critical condition. On one hand, it is a typical Hollywood tact and belies the whole feel of the original. On the other, it does provide a different dynamic as John and Emma have something of a ticking time bomb on their hands and need to prioritize their child’s safety over exacting their retribution whilst juggling the two on the fly. The scene where pops thinks on his feet in order to stabilize his daughter’s collapsed lung is simply inspired. However, as mean-spirited as it may sound, I would still rather have seen her sink than swim. An omelette minus the eggs isn’t actually an omelette at all and, while I would expect that shit from a Michael Bay gloss over, this is The Last House on The Left we’re speaking of here. Remember that tagline: To avoid fainting, keep repeating: “It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…”. That really is no longer applicable.
I find this particularly troublesome to score as it is found wanting in some pretty crucial areas. Craven’s film was seventies grindhouse cinema at its most organic, while the remake loses almost all of its raw edge. On the flip-side of the coin, it’s never anything less than a well-crafted thriller which bolts through its 114 minutes with barely a hitch, other than a few gaps in logic and that whole microwave debate. If you are going to take this expedition into murky waters, then I would suggest to think of it as The House Second From The Left. Judged without the added burden of presupposition; it is a surprisingly dignified and solid escapade. My first action after watching Craven’s film was to run a bath, which I then spent the remainder of the evening in scrubbing away the grime. Second time out; I only required a flannel.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: With KNB Effects Group providing the splatter, you know you’re in safe hands. This is one area that it trumps its predecessor and, over thirty years on, that will come as no great thunderbolt. Bullets enter fleshy targets, waste disposal units masticate appendages, hammers fall, and microwaves go ding. However, a couple of well-aimed abdominal blade digs provide the crowning moment with regards to grue. The make-up is first-rate, but then, when do Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger ever bring their B-game? Some things never change and I take significant comfort from that.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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