Monica Potter - Emma Collingwood
Tony Goldwyn - John Collingwood
Sara Paxton - Mari Collingwood
Garret Dillahunt - Krug
Aaron Paul - Francis
Riki Lindhome - Sadie
Spencer Treat Clark - Justin
Martha MacIssac - Paige
Genre - Horror/Revenge
Running Time - 114 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
I can pretty much say at this point that while I can accept and tolerate them, I still dislike the recent remake trend that's going on in Hollywood. I mean, I get it. Filmmakers and the studios they work for want to update classic horror films for a newer generation who may not appreciate the older stuff because they're "ancient" or because they can't relate with the eras that they're from. Of course, there's the busine$$ aspect of the whole thing that you can't ignore. But when I see films I love like FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN [really HALLOWEEN II], DAY OF THE DEAD, THE HITCHER, and countless others being turned into crap because of modern Hollywood, I begin to get annoyed by the trend.
However, there are some horror films that don't really bother me when they're remade. Honestly, I think some of these movies could use a reimagining and a new vision for a modern era because they're either really dated or because they have flaws that could be improved on with a remake. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, 1972's directorial debut by Wes Craven, is one of these films for me. I like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and its effectiveness with its brutality and a classic performance by David Hess, which can't be matched. But those deputy characters and the revenge by the parents in the film are more comical today than they should be, leading me to believe that the film hasn't dated all that well. Times change and how we perceive things evolve because of it. The original still holds a place as classic horror and exploitation, but the idea of the remake earlier this year didn't disturb me because I knew at the right hands, it could be made into a more serious film. And after watching it last week, I have to say that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT surprised me and I believe it's one of the better remakes that Hollywood has released in the past few years.
The remake's story is pretty much similar to the original's. The Collingwood family - father and doctor John (Tony Goldwyn), mom Emma (Monica Potter), and teenage daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) - head into the country for a family trip that ends up being bittersweet since teenage son Ben has passed away and it's the Collingwoods' first trip without him. Unfortunately, the Collingwoods have no idea that a group of killers is on the loose. Leader Krug (Garret Dillahunt) has escaped from police custody with the help of his sadistic and perverted brother Francis (Aaron Paul) and Krug's girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome). Through Krug's teenage son Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), the group meets up with Mari and her friend Paige (Martha MacIssac), who hang with Justin for some sweet pot although Mari is hesitant about the whole deal. Just as the girls get ready to leave, Krug and the others take them as hostages. When they don't cooperate like good hostages, the group murders Paige, rape Mari, and then leave Mari to die in a lake during a thunderstorm.
Needing a place to stay for the night, Krug's group make it to the Collingwoods country home, not knowing who each other are. When the truth is revealed, the Collingwood parents take justice in their own hands, making sure Krug and his family never forget about the last house on the left.
This remake really surprised the hell out of me. The previews made this film look so generic. Plus the reputation of horror remakes these days tend to lean more on the negative side, so I really wasn't expecting a remake to an exploitation film like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to really meet my low expectations. But not only was this remake better than the previews had led me to believe, but it's also one of the better horror remakes that Hollywood has made since the trend started.
The story/narrative is pretty much the same as the original. However the way the same story is told in each version is very different. In the 1972 version, the story was a product of social commentary at the time relating to feminism, Vietnam, and the disillusion of the government. It truly reflected each of these issues, creating a story that was not only gritty, but effectively brutal. In the 2009 version, these issues don't exist anymore. Instead, the screenwriters went for a simple revenge flick formula where the parents get revenge on those who have raped and almost murdered their daughter. Yes, we've seen films like this quite frequently. But when they're written well and do enough to make you feel for the protagonists to the point where you want them to get revenge on these evil people, then why would anyone want to complain? Unlike the original, you never really question if the parents were justified in what they do to Krug and his gang. You know it's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It works and you're captivated from beginning to end.
I do think the characterization of the villains could have been stronger. While Krug, Sadie, and Francis are horrible, dispicable people, they don't seem as sadistic as they should be. In the original, the villains were really the scum of the earth and you really got a sense that these people were horrible and had no sense of morality at all. In this remake, they seem very generic. Krug's character could be interchangable with many other similar villains in any revenge film. Plus Sadie, who was a really dispicable bitch in the original, seems to be more sorry and almost questions her actions judging by her body language and facial expressions. Only Francis seems to really be similar to his original counterpart, Weasel, not hiding the fact that he's a pervert and doesn't mind getting his hands dirty to get what he wants. While I like the protagonist characters in the remake more, the villains in the original are still tops for me.
I also thought some sub-plots weren't really necessary. Obviously the main one was the teasing of the Collingwood's disinegrating marriage. You can tell there was more to it than what the narrative or the film allows, but nothing really comes from it. So really, it could have been left out. Also Sadie's lesbian tendencies are displayed quite frequently and she seems like a sexual deviant. But that part of her personality quickly disappears. And then there's the final scene involving a microwave. Yeah. The less said about that, the better.
The gore and brutality in the remake isn't as much as the original. We do get some stabbings and bullets hitting flesh. Plus there's that surgery scene and a head blowing up. Let's not forget the hand in the garbage disposal. And the rape sequence went further than I thought it would, especially in more PC times. Nothing to really write home about but it does it job.
The direction by Dennis Iliadis is really good. I thought the composition shots and cinematography was absolutely beautiful. Iliadis really made the silence in the film more deafening than the louder moments, making the more brutal moments in the film more so. And there was definitely a nice use of creating momentum and tension. The visuals were very pleasant and I have no complaints at all about the directorial work.
The acting was quite good too. Monica Potter played the part of overprotective and vulnerable wife and mother really well. I sympathetized with the character and found her reactions to what was going on really believable. Nice job. Tony Goldwyn held his own too as the husband and father. But I don't think the role was beefy enough to really mean much. His action scenes with the killers were cool but there wasn't really all that much to the character. Sara Paxton played the "nice girl" role perfectly. Aaron Paul was great as the perverted Francis. He totally convinced me in the way he used his body and his face. Riki Lindhome did okay as Sadie, but her character should have been given more to do. Spencer Treat Clark played the kid who was caught up in a messed up situation really well. And Garret Dillahunt is no David Hess, but he was alright as Krug. It was more subtle than I was expecting and I honestly can't picture anyone but Hess in the role. But his performance was good.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE NEVER GOING UP TO MY COUNTRY HOUSE ON THE LEFT
- Never refuse a criminal his right to pee. It's better to be pissed on than to piss him off. Your life depends on it.
- Don't get too excited when two hot girls give you a makeover if you're a dude. They're not trying to get with you. You've just become their new gay friend. Congrats.
- "Memories are important." I agree. Like the time me and my frat buddy had too much to drink and we both woke up with our asses in unexplainable pain.
...Correction - Memories are overrated. Screw 'em!
- It's good to have a doctor for a dad. He'll stitch your broken nose. He'll stop the bleeding and put a tube inside so you can breathe. And he's a pro with the anal thermometer. No wonder every woman wants to marry a doctor.
- Don't go after a married woman. You'll receive a sharp pain in your chest after she rejects you. Or after she stabs you with a large butcher knife. Whichever comes first.
- Emma shot Sadie right in the eye, killing her. Damn, she wouldn't last long in the porn industry, would she?
THE FINAL HOWL
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is a surprisingly good remake that kept me entertained from beginning to end. It's not as brutal or as memorable as the original, but it takes the story a bit more seriously and I thought the revenge motif came off better here than it did in the original. So I think they both balance each other out and are both worth watching for different reasons. All in all, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT '09 is a highlight of a lackluster year and will probably be on my Best Of '09 list by the end of December.