With so many sites gnashing their collective teeth over the deluge of remakes in horror, I thought it be a fun idea to occasionally examine how an updated version of the movie stacks up against the original. I don't think remakes have to be bad by their nature and will give one that looks intriguing an opportunity. In the case of franchises sometimes the original series simply runs out of steam. In the case of one-off movies I can appreciate a fresh take on the material as long as it does more than retread over familiar ground.
For the initial installment I chose the Last House On The Left because Wes Craven's original film maybe want to shower and scrub myself clean immediately after watching it. It remains a singular most disturbing, unnerving movie experience I've ever had. While I appreciate Craven's artistry, especially given the low budget, I've never felt the need to go back and revisit the movie. It's seemed almost unremakeable from a commercial aspect unless the new creative team severely toned down the proceedings. Craven originally made the last House is a critique on the media and how we consume the violent images of Vietnam. He used Ingrid Bergman's The Virgin Springs ,a film which shares many of the same themes as Last House, as a template of sorts. The remake seemed to be a reaction to the horror subgenre of torture porn that had thrived Post-9/11. Yes there was a commercial grab for cash for a movie to promise to deliver the ultra violence and carried a name that genre fans of the least recognized even if they had never seen the original. The filmmakers also want to set out to see if they could still deliver a film that could shock an audience that had been jaded by films like Hostel in the barrage of Saw Movies.
The first smart decision the studio made was bringing Wes Craven on board as producer and consultant. Craven looked at the reboot is a way to expand on the story of the original with the budget that was simply unavailable to him in the early 1970s. New director Dennis Bill Illadis had been a fan of Craven's work for a long while and it shows in his update. His previous film Hard-Core it caught the attention of the studios for unflinching look at teen prostitution. Illadis wanted to explore what circumstances would push a normal, middle-class family to commit acts of extreme violence. He wanted to see if he could still shocked and disturbed audiences that had become seemingly immune to violence on screen in previous years.
The remake adheres closely to the original. Two teenage girls run afoul of spit escaped convict Krug and his gang: his girlfriend Sadie, his son, and his psychotic sidekick. In both films Krug’s son remains the sole sent a sympathtic member of the gang, seemingly unable to escape a violent path his father has put him on. In both films again systematically tortures, abuses, humiliates the two girls before disposing of them. Both films contain unsettling rape scene. In both movies the unflinching violence and the helplessness of the girls situation make the on-screen action so difficult to witness. Krug and company end up at Marie's parents home and both films and the unwittingly kick the pants off what they've done to the couple's daughter the third act in both movies finds the parents turning the tables on the game exacting revenge in a violent fashion and syncing to levels beneath those of even which Krug is capable of.
While the remake sticks close to the original source it does make significant changes. The most significant of which is Marie's survives her gunshot wounds this time around, it makes her way back to her parents home. In the original Marie stumbles in a haze to the Lakeside after her rate. As she waits into the water we understand that she is resigned to her fate, and perhaps even welcomes the bullets that Krug coldly pumps into her. In a follow-up Mari takes action and attempts to escape by swimming for her safety before she gets shot, seemingly dead.
The tone of the violence is different in each film. The updated version by and large does away with the psychological edge that Craven's original film contained. In the updated work the gang kidnaps the girls after they make them for the escaped convicts. They use violence as a way to do with them and ultimately punish them when the girls tried to escape while it is uncomfortable to watch the friends suffer some vicious beatings the proceedings have more of a modern day action movie feel to them.
In the original Krug & Co. toyed with the girls deriving pleasure from breaking them psychologically rather than physically. The antagonists could have disposed of the girls at any time yet they kept the two around seemingly for their amusement. In one of the film’s most disturbing moments Krueger force is one of the girls pee her pants, humiliating her in front of her friend and the gang. Krug brands Mari by carving his name into her chest before sexually violating her. What makes Craven's original film so hard to watch is the one thinks of depravity crew get his gang will go to torment the two girls just for kicks. Krug displays and exuberant sadistic streak throughout the movie. As Krug, lead actor David Hess, brought a cult leaders intensity and charisma to his portrayal. While the physical violence is disturbing to watch unfold if this mental manipulation that makes Craven's original film so unsettling.
That's not to say after Garrett Delahunt doesn't bring anything to the table is Krug. Delahunt brings a more pragmatic street character. He has a short fuse that sets off a violent streak. The fate of the girls is sealed not because of expediency of violence nor for kicks. Instead they are doomed because they insult him setting off his violent temper. His Krug does not take joy in what he inflicts on. He uses violence as a simple and effective means to keep his control over them.
Allowing Mari to live necessitates another dramatic departure from the original work in the update. In the original film Mari's grieving parents go on the attack against Krug and his gang are what they've done to their daughter. Finding her body in the lake causes something in them to snap. The audience witnesses exactly when a normal middle-class family will reach its breaking point and devolved into acts of mayhem and violence. Parents become the aggressors penis chomping, chainsaw wielding maniacs-capable of horrors normally reserved for mask wearing slashers. In the updated version of parents number one priority is to escape and bring their daughter to the hospital before she dies. They are less concerned with revenge and more concerned with protecting their girl. However as events unfold they are forced to take matters into their own hands as a matter of self-defense. It's really not until you get to the much maligned coda of the film-the infamous microwave scene that you see the parents go out of their way to exact revenge on any of the gang.
That's not to say the updated film lacks brutality. Look no further than the garbage disposal scene when one of the punks has his arm chewed up to the elbow before taking a hammer to the back of the skull. However the remake lets the parents off the hook for their actions as they are simply trying to protect their daughter and escape. At times the violence of the third act closely resembles what you would see in a WWE hard-core match featuring Crash Holly and Mick Foley as Krug and the father do battle by throwing one another into tables, bookshelves, through windows and down stairs while using all manner of household appliances to bash each other around.
One welcome change to the updated film is the lack of comic relief in the form of the bumbling police officers will. Craven's original film featured the pair mucking about the area accompanied by odd out of place banjo music in their scenes were usually interspersed in between the most violent and cruel acts of the film. Illadis wisely disperses of these characters. This is a no-nonsense update on Craven's film lacking any and all comic relief.
If all studios handled updated and remade properties the way group pictures did air update on last House on the left, there would be much less complaining about emakes. Is the update is disturbing is the original? Of course not. The original film paved the way for shocking and disturbing Cinema over the next four decades. Craven's work cinéma vérité look and feel to it all the updated movie looks and feels much slicker. While the production values look great it detracts from the gritty subject matter. However, the updated last House on the left does something so many “torture porn” modern horror movies fail to do. Illadis makes you feel for the plight of these characters. He sets up truly nailbiting moments. He coaxes terrific performances from his cast especially Delahunt is the updated Krug and Sara Paxton as the good girl Mari. By allowing Mari to live he forces the audience to care if she and her family can escape their predicament. This is a marked departure from the latter round of Saw movies along with films like Captivity, The Collector and their ilk. These films essentially provide the movie going equivalent of hitting rotten bags of meat over and over again with a sledgehammer. Although not quite to the level of Craven's original work the updated last House on the left is worth your time to watch.
One thing the original will always have over the remake though is the awesomeness of the trailer. I love the voice over, how it ha that typical grind house mixed with cautionary after school special flair to it. The menace put onto the phrase "good time", like it was synonomous with "penile leporasy" is unmatched by anything before or since.