Thursday, September 3, 2009
THE LAST HOUSE
ON THE LEFT
Ever since Michael Bay’s brazen culpability in the decision to redo Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre—officially kicking off the 70’s/80’s horror remake wave we’re still in the clammy grip of—I’ve been waiting for that particular remake that would actually stand on its own as a valid piece of modern horror cinema.
I look at Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead, or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead redux; we didn’t particularly need them, but they were excellent updates of their originals nonetheless.
I’ve also yet to see this generation’s The Thing or The Fly, remakes that actually transcend not just the original source material, but also the boundaries of genre cinema as well.
And while Dennis Iliadis’ grimly violent The Last House on the Left—a reworking of Wes Craven’s infamous debut feature—may or may not be in that esteemed league,* it’s certainly a very adult and ballsy piece that effortlessly leapfrogs over its recent remade ilk and is officially the first 70’s/80’s horror remake that I’m actually satisfied with.
As with the original, Iliadis’ Last House follows the ordeal of a family who gets the chance to turn the tables on a bunch of criminals who have just perpetrated a heinous act on one of its own.
Iliadis takes a script by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth (who wrote Disturbia, and previously worked with Craven on the script for Red Eye), and with a pretty solid cast, crafts a tense and disturbing portrait of the strength of filial bonds and the universality of violence.
It’s brutal, this, and Iliadis gets some excellent performances from the likes of young actors Spencer Treat Clark (Bruce Willis’ son in Unbreakable, all lookee-he’s-growed-up-now!) and Sara Paxton (Aquamarine’s mermaid, and soon to be seen on TV’s The Beautiful Life), and more seasoned thespians like Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn (who I still think of as either Tarzan, or the bad dude in Ghost), and Garret Dillahunt, who stole most of the best bits in the second and final season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, playing the ultimate role-playing geek living in his mother’s basement, the awesome John Henry.
With Dillahunt and Goldwyn as the heads of their respective families, Last House presents an unflinching depiction of how far ordinary people are willing to go to avenge a loved one.
This one’s intense, and yes, I’ll say it again—brutal, with some great work by KNB EFX, including a gloriously gory kitchen appliance-assisted Grand Guignol bit. (True, it’s a scene that, arguably, may have been unnecessary, but it’s still a shocking bit of grue!)
Hands down, this wipes the floor with the collective a$$es of all those other recent horror remakes, including those of Craven’s Hills Have Eyes films.
By pairing the onscreen violence with performances that manage to delineate personalities that elicit our sympathies (or our antagonism), Last House quickly proves to be much more than a misguided exercise in reheating cinematic leftovers in the hopes of cashing in on a recognizable brand name.
No, this is a grand, catered affair, whose dishes rework the classic recipe into something very contemporary, and yet, ultimately timeless.
So come on in, if you’ve the stomach for it. Just bring lots of napkins to sop up the mess.
Lots and lots of napkins…
* It would be difficult for me to judge whether Iliadis’ take transcends Craven’s version, as I’ve yet to have the opportunity to see the original…
Parting shot: Aside from Iliadis’ Last House, the only other recent ‘70’s horror remake I actually like is John Moore’s The Omen.
I do still have a bunch of issues with it (and yeah, that was another remake we really didn’t need to begin with), but it does have some great cinematography, courtesy of Jonathan Sela.
(The Last House on the Left OS courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com; images courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com.)