Let me preface this review by declaring my sheer utter hatred for Wes Craven’s original “The Last House on the Left.” I don’t care how influential it is or has become, since watching it about four years ago I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here within this seventies grindhouse flick was a truly nihilistic gem hidden beneath an utterly ridiculous sub-plot involving two of the dumbest cops I’ve ever seen. “The Last House on the Left” in spite of its impact on cult filmmaking is one of the worst movies I’ve ever laid eyes on. So with that did I support a remake of it? No. Why? Because for one thing, Craven ripped off “The Virgin Spring” with his film, so it was a remake already, and two this could have been its own film without the tag. Nevertheless with its great cast and atmosphere I approached this with an open mind and guess what? I loved it.
It’s better than the original because it drops all the comedic undertones and just gets to the meat and bones of the story that centers on horrific crimes and the wrath of vengeful parents. Sara Paxton (once a prominent Disney actress) plays against type as the virginal Mari, a blond statuesque girl going on vacation with her parents in a cabin in the woods. While there she meets with her friend Paige (Martha McIsaacs as gorgeous as ever since “Superbad”) a loose cannon who comes across one of a brood of a psychotic clan Justin on the run after murder in a convenience store, and they go back to his hotel room to smoke pot. All of the “word to the wise” social commentary of the seventies is unfortunately lost as was once a story about girls paying for their drug habits now becomes about being at the wrong place at the wrong time when the family of Justin happens in on their party and decides they can’t allow these girls to rat them out.
While I did love this movie, it doesn’t have the same social relevance it did when it was first conceived by Craven. The demonized hippie murderers are now just random calculating psychos with incestuous relationships. Thankfully though that’s undercut by the more cohesive storyline. In the original the psychos happened upon the house by just Craven anxious to move the story along, but here Mari, displaying her ever cool headedness leads the killers to the trail to her house hoping for a quick getaway. After a rather disturbing torture sequence involving the girls in the woods that features a disgusting sodomizing, the killers get away just fine with a few bumps and bruises as Mari and her friend lay about to die. And wouldn’t you know it? They end up at Mari’s parents house. Convenient? Sure, but that’s horror for you.
What Iliadis’s remake does with the material is much more of what I wanted to see with Craven’s original. Rather than spend an hour on torture and then twenty minutes on our parents in what was an abrupt climax, we instead spend much more time on the parents’ wrath and the vicious revenge they submit these murderers to when the shit hits the fan by way of a guilty conscience from Justin. The weight of the movie is placed in great fashion on actors Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter, two very underrated character actors who give remarkable performances as these mild-mannered people who take it upon themselves to dehumanize these monsters after they witness the pain inflicted on Mari, who miraculously crawls back home for help after swimming away with a lethal gunshot wound.
The looks of disbelief and sheer disgust on their eyes is mind-blowing, especially on Potter whose character is just pushed over the edge when she sees the wounds young Mari has suffered. Their emotional torment is quick but thoroughly focused on when Goldwyn’s surgeon character John tries to save his daughter with little resources and keep his cool for the sake of his quickly crumbling wife Emma who looks on helplessly. Once they figure out the killers are the folks who sought out to make Mari suffer, they decide once and for all to trap them and torture them as best as they can. Thankfully they don’t become superheroes who are smarter than an average protagonist. They make mistakes and slip up and that’s what makes the second half of the film so exciting and intense, because we root for them and hope they make it out just fine and when Emma and John find themselves gaining leverage gradually their sanity deteriorates and their punishments become all the more gory and sadistic (read: the closing scene).
Iliadis never shuns the grit from the original completely as he relies on tones of blues and grays to accentuate the havoc wrought by these people while we witness this blood soaked carnage before our eyes. Perhaps it’s because I hate the original so greatly, but this remake exceeded my expectations immensely and I’m glad a great story was given proper treatment on-screen. The remake loses most of its social commentary, and waters down the violence from the original considerably, but gore and guts does not an automatic masterpiece make. Iliad’s remake is a great argument for the continuing trend of recycling old films, taking an overblown horribly flawed cult classic and turning it in to an utterly stellar revenge picture.