Friday, March 13, 2009

Second Last House

My local moviehouse had more faith in the Last House on the Left remake than I did.

They opened it on two screens simultaneously in their complex and scheduled 10 sessions a day.

You can't accuse the distributor, Rogue (a division of Universal), of dumping the movie.

The '72 original is what it is. A hardcore, technically awful horror flick with a couple of killer performances -- David Hess, in particular. It broke taboos and showed enormous courage. It redrew the boundaries for screen violence. Its default documentary style worked in its favor, giving the film its power.

Its flaws are well known if you're a genre buff, so I won't repeat them here.

The 2009 Last House on the Left is best measured in an artistic context, not a political one.

Craven claimed the original was some sort of anti-Vietnam diatribe, but I never bought that.

Certainly its proximity to the Vietnam period was undeniable, but that it was making an anti-violence statement seems specious.

Dennis Illadis's Last House on the Left is not too bad at all. And in a weird kind of way, my awareness of the events of the first film increased my anxiety. I knew what lay ahead for the girls, and it kinda bothered me. It bothered me a lot, actually.

Which was the filmmaker's intention.

The set-up is tight and solidly directed. For a refreshing change, we get classic compositions that hold between blinks, and there is some economical character sketching at work.

There are one or two pleasant surprises, too, which I won't divulge, because they're surprises.

It was inevitable that Garrett Dillahunt's Krug would be compared to David Hess's, so it's no big shock that Hess's Krug trumps Dillahunt's. The more recent Chaos (2005), a mostly dreadful Last House rip-off, offered the excellent Kevin Gage ('Waingro' from Heat) in the Krug-meister role, and he inched close to Hess's mantle.

Unfortunately, he was let down by the crappiness of the film itself and the appalling writing. It's not that Dillahunt isn't good. He's just not as memorable as Hess, who was there first.

John Murphy's score is a major plus of this remake. Seesawing between string and synth, he creates a menacing, understated energy that adds important weight to the more troubling scenes.

The rape of Mari Collingwood, nicely played by Sara Paxton, is in real time and and is not visually graphic. It is very impactful, however, and adequately conveys the horror of human defilement. At the same time, Mari's friend Paige (the excellent Martha MacIsaac) is left to bleed to death after being brutally stabbed. This anxious sequence is directed with discipline and clarity.

The revenge of Mari's parents on the rapist killers is bloody and brutal, but it's also where the film faulters. When Mari's mother allows her daughter's rapist to enter a room where the battered girl is lying, I felt like the writers were milking tension from an illogical development. Most of the revenge stuff has been seen before, so don't expect a revelation . In the 70's, Last House was new and shocking; now it's a genre.

Despite several climactic misgivings, Last House on the Left - 2009 is a quietly harrowing treat.

The Los Angeles Times came at the film from a different angle:

Wes Craven's Last House on the Left has been a favorite of mine for a very long time.

The remake takes Craven's structure (which was taken from Bergman's The Virgin Spring, which was taken from...) and builds a worthy thriller around it that is mostly successful.

Many have complained that the remake lacks the original's nihilism. Yes, of course it does. It's a fucking studio picture for Chrissakes! I knew that going in, so I wasn't expecting shit. No studio ever produced something as grimy as the original Last House. And they never will. Deal with it.

The thing is, you don't go to church to bang a dirty whore, although you might get to look at one in nun's clothing.


  1. The original 'technically awful', Phantom?

    Here we part ways, son; for mine, it was no more technically inept than, say, 'Silence of the Lambs; which I have always maintained, and will continue to do so to my dying day, was a dreadfully directed film. Repeated viewings only re-affirm this. There was really no excuse. YOU could have shot that film better for a fraction of the budget, Phantom. The perfomances and the production design saved it.

    Or perhaps it is a question of taste.


    I digress; I have the same reservations about the pseudo 'verite doco style artistic choices' of the original as you do about the 'vietnam bullshit' (which I agree with). It is sheer revisionism. Craven merely ground pulp (which is fine and no shame) and spent the rest of his career justifying the style, the politics and the mythology of 'Last House' with his Johns Hopkins mouth.

    The bottom line is he and Seany went from porn to grindhouse, (still fine) did his best with next to no dough and produced something for shock value. And it's pretty fucking good. The rest is bogus rationalisation, and we all know most humans can go days without water and weeks without food, but not one day without a healthy rationalisation.

    Watching Craven in the accompanying doco trying to play this shit with a straight face was like watching an orangutan high on mescal trying to jam a square block into a round hole. Sad because you like the poor brute, but still sad.

    Anyway, thanks for the remake review. I will now give it a try on the strength of your estimation.

    I liked the 'Hills' remake- given the constraints; I like 'Chainsaw' remake- given the constraints. I will go into 'Last House' the same way. With an open mind.

    Oh, and my church, you do!

  2. mandingo -- I wasn't referring to the direction of the original, just the fact that it is often out of focus, badly recorded, and not at all well lit. I do think these inadequacies worked in its favor.

    These days, I prefer "Hannibal" to "Silence".

    Yeah, the "bogus rationalization" is akin to John Woo, in interviews, denying that his films are violent.

    At least Tarantino owns up to his passions.

  3. Chaos was pure shit. Somehow I ended up liking the damn thing. Maybe it was Gage's over-the-top performance, maybe it was the fact that I just love bad, sleazy ripoffs of classic films. These Last House ripoffs are a genre unto themselves, of course--it's a phenomenon sort of like how the original "Louie, Louie" is largely unknown while every garage and punk band in the world has knocked off the seminal Kingsmen version. The ends vary wildly.

    I find Craven to be an ass and am sure he's been that way since the 80s at least. It surprises me to see him called out for his mouth here and now. Careful, fanboys may be reading and ready to strike.

    I will watch this new streamlined Last House soon, mainly because I heard there was a fancy head in a microwave scene.

    I leave you with this fabulous VHS clamshell art:

  4. Great Review Phantom!
    [you already know my thoughts on the film] :-)

  5. d-- thanks for the clamshell.


    theboinebreaker-- Appreciate your comment. Yep, I know your thoughts.

  6. Thanks for your input re Craven, 'd'- I am glad you are brave enough to call him an 'ass', and the fanboy backlash? Let me say I couldn't give a shit about that.

    And neither should you. You have a right, here, the last basion of freedom of expression, a repository for the unfettered assertion of opinion, to say whatever the fuck you like. I agree with you on this occasion, but even if I didn't I wouldn't call bullshit on your opinion if it is truly from your heart. I think Phantom covered that topic in a previous blog about the venom and ire of the self ordained custodians of free speech on the net who can't handle our irrefutable right to have our say.

    Let me just say this; I admire Craven for his early film work. You probably know the ones I am talking about- perhaps we agree on the good ones, and perhaps even the bad. I must say I have a fondness even for the much maliged 'Deadly Friend'.

    The thing is, I want to make it perfectly clear, I call Craven on his 'justifications' for 'Last House'- not his work as such.

    It is easy for me to sit back and criticise a working film maker, when I have only had one film made of a script. Let's agree on one thing- it is fucking hard work making films, even bad ones- and I am very cautious about putting shit on someone's else's work. I admire anyone who gets ANYTHING made, and I give them one star just for 'showing up'; getting off their arse and doing it, rather than talking about it.

    I do, however, reserve the right to call bullshit when I hear it- whether it be Craven, Bush, myself, or anyone. And reading an interview with him in an old issue of 'Total Film' again making the offending comment, I simply feel, as I have said, that Craven's revisionism of the thematic intentions of 'Last House' to be inauthentic, insincere, and not a little cowardly. He should be proud of what he has achieved, and stand by it for what it is rather than trying to justify it according to some very spurious socio cultural or political rationalisations.

    I don't believe Gaspar Noe once held 'Irreversible' up as a critique of American military incursions into Iraq using the metaphor of skull crushing or forced anal rape. At least, it isn't in the disc commentary, and I did not notice it in any of the press. I will readily accept that it could be a comment on the dark side of masculinity, or power and repression over women, just as 'Last House' might similarly be, but I don't for a second buy the contention that they are anti war diatribes, any more than I believe 'Chainsaw' is a critique of urbanisation and the death of the small town America.

    They are horror films. Simple.

    You can say otherwise, and you might have your own reason or agenda for saying it, but there are enough genuine political allegories out there without attaching meaning to every film that comes down the pipe with some higher meaning when they are simple, viseral, even primal entertainment.

    They are what they are, period; and that is all they need be. Leave the politics to the 'politicians', and hope and pray they leave the film making to the sincere and the articulate.

    When Craven, or any film maker makes these rationalisations, he panders to the rank and file who question his work, when I think he would be better served simply telling them to 'fuck off'. He doesn't need to justify his films- he has nothing to justify. He has earned the right to do any film he wants; and when he feels pressured to back pedal and patch up the visceral impact of his films with bogus diatribe, he makes it harder not only for the rest of us in his pandering to the delicate minded pussies, but sets back the cause of freedom of speech by decades.

    Craven was a damn fine film maker, and his early work needs no vaseline before being rammed up our arses. 'House' and 'Hills', in particular, are classic examples of 'fuck you' film making of the first order, and he has the right- same as any of us- to do the viewing public dry and not pull out.

    I suspect his edge has been softened over the years- partly because he has aged, and partly because the stress of the backlash surrounding 'House' must have been murder for him, and who wouldn't be tempted to knock off the sharp edges of their subsequent work.

    He is only human.

    But 'Last House on the Left' stands as a testament to first class classic harcore horror film making; it is unrivalled in it's impact, and if there are those out there with delicate sensibilities who cannot digest it in it's sheer raw simplicity without some post partum sugar coating- a la being assured it is a vietnam allegory hence letting them 'off the hook' for watching such sadism and being a little self conscious of the fact that they might actually like it- then they can fuck right off and take their hypocrisy with them.

    Stand your ground, Wes. 'House' is what it is, without the politcal commentary, and you know it.

    Authorised by "The Society for the Eradication of Bullshit Artistry." (SEBA)

  7. Craven's rationalizations are tantamount to apology. And we all know when you apologize the fuckwits have you bent over.

    Silly me, I always thought the main goal of any film is to entertain. I'm not the type to justify what entertains me because it sickens the next guy. "There's no accounting for taste" says common knowledge... but the arguers think the exact opposite. EVERYTHING is art. Making cheeseburgers is an artform as much as making sushi is. And art should always have a deep meaning. Fuck that, that bullshit quest for meaning is the same drive that causes people to pray to imaginary beings--and if you're a religious person let's just single out Scientologists and Mormons because I think we can all agree they're REALLY nuts. It's a shame that largely artists and critics alike buy into this philosophy that one's intentions must be "valid."

    Deadly Friend--there's a movie that entertains. I wonder what Craven would say about it now--maybe he'd claim there was some Buddhism slant to the whole affair.

  8. Great review. I'll be honest that I'm not a big fan of the original. It was alright, but I've seen other films I enjoyed more. I had made up my mind that I might get the remake when it hits DVD.

  9. All good points well made, 'd'.

    Thanks, Phantom, for a wonderful place frequented by intelligent, articulate visitors whom I can get these things off my chest with.

    Back to you, my friend...