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Movie Review: The Last House on the Left (2009)

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Twentieth Century Fox just recently announced that its four-year-old The Fantastic Four film franchise is getting a “reboot,” which will start it from scratch. Similar plans are apparently on the table for the six-year-old Daredevil and its eight-year-old Planet of the Apes film. This, of course, comes after a summer in which The Incredible Hulk had been “re-imagined” after a mere five years.

In the horror genre, things are no different, as studios are busy rummaging through the vaults in attempts to polish titles from their back catalogs. This year alone we've seen remakes of My Bloody Valentine, Friday the 13th, and the most recent release The Last House on the Left, with Hellraiser, another Halloween, Night of the Demons, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Wolf Man, and The Stepfather in the pipeline (this isn't even taking into consideration the foreign-made films that go in for an American makeover).

It's certainly no surprise that horror films are quick to undergo a facelift, as they are often made on the cheap and can make back their budget after the DVD release is taken into account, have a devoted base of horror-hungry fans, and now act as the springboard for many young television actors (usually from the CW, or whatever it's called this week) to break into film.

Admittedly, films such as My Bloody Valentine are often not held in high enough regard to warrant a “hands-off” status from the masses, and can certainly benefit from a polish in the right hands. But films like Last House succeed perhaps because of their rather low-budget approach.

Hardly the high-water-mark of horror, Last House was Wes Craven's debut film in 1972 that suffered from wildly uneven elements (the comedic cops), but its sandpaper-like effect on audiences was intensified by its ultra-low budget. It lets the mind wonder — just how rough did things have to get when they could not afford to digitize the blood and beatings?

Not only that, but the cast of the original actually looked the part of dangerous delinquents. Jeramie Rain, who played the sadistic Sadie, looked like she plowed through a pack of unfiltered menthol cigarettes a day, Fred Lincoln, who played the sex-obsessed Weasel, actually went on to star in, produce, and direct porn, and who can forget the sweaty mess David Hess (as ringleader Krug), who has his own line of fragrances, with such inviting names as “Maniac,” “Victim” and “Fear?” Seriously, who really wants to smell like fear?

Each of the actors looked like a sketchy neighbor, an unsavory barfly, or a cashier at an adult video store. They looked creepy in the very real sense of the word. Just as the recent updating of Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, or Michael Meyers in Rob Zombie's Halloween looked like WWE rejects, the villains in the new Last House almost look too pretty to be threatening. Sure, Garret Dillahunt is a big fella, but he holds none of the pervy qualities that Hess seemed to breathe under that tangled tuft of a 'fro he sported. Riki Lindhome, the new Sadie, looks as though she got lost from a Fall Out Boy concert, and Aaron Paul could pass for a low-rent Ben (X-Men 3) Foster.

The film's violence is still unsettling, most notably the first-act rape of Mari (played by Sara Paxton). Though it's curious as to just what director Dennis Iliadis was trying to convey when, early on, he lets his lens linger on Mari in a quite lurid fashion, even though she does not exhibit any sexual aggression whatsoever.

As Mari's vengeance-fueled father, Tony Goldwyn returns from behind the camera, and is always a solid addition. It's too bad the same cannot be said for his on-screen wife Monica Potter, who fails to register either the proper terror or rage her character is supposed to summon.

Fans of horror (which is ironic, for the film is more of a revenge thriller than a horror) often debate the merits of the original, as to Craven's social commentary within the film. And while arguments can be made of its statement on the Vietnam conflict and/or violence within certain societies, this remake seems to have nothing more in its vapid head than to crank up the volume.

And sadly remakes' sonic blasts will continue to be heard for the foreseeable future, quieted only by the silence of box office cash registers.

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