Last House on the Left

Mar 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

The real classics, like hate, rape and torture, always last. Thus the latest excavation from horror's cellar, a glossed-up, pointless exercise in graphic violence, materially different from the original only in higher production values and the sad fact this stuff shocked back in '72. Wes Craven's legendarily depraved little low-budget shocker was an outlier in the now passé torture-porn genre, a gritty slab of brutality that appalled critics and outraged cultural watchdogs, but raked in bundles of box-office dough. Turned on by the then-groundbreaking gore and naughty exploitation thrills, hip Vietnam War-era audiences ate it up while convincing themselves they were seeing a treatise on the wages of violence. At least Craven may have had pretensions of art, but the crew behind the remake's only in it to scare the crap out of you.

In that regard they're fairly successful, milking its elemental home-invasion horror premise for every bit of excitement — no matter how cheap and seedy.

The fun starts soon after the well-heeled Collingwood family checks in at their remote lakeside summer home, and teen daughter Mari promptly takes the car into town and hangs with her saucy pal Paige (Superbad cutie Martha MacIsaac).

Soon enough a cadre of cookie-cutter movie maniacs, with jailbreaks and cop-killings in their wake, capture the girls and hole up in a dingy hotel room. Despite weak protests from his wimpy son (Spencer Treat Clark), savage group leader Krug (Dillahunt) won't release the girls, and for the next, oh, 40 minutes, we're forced to watch them, in deplorable detail, screech and writhe in the dirt, abused, beaten and defiled by these psychos.

When the thugs take refuge from a storm in the Collingwoods' home, the tables turn — the vengeful parents get all medieval on their asses. Tony Goldwyn (as Dad) is steely and intense, and pretty Monica Potter finds herself neck-high in splattered viscera.

The baddies get dispatched with such a colorful array of household items — a ball-peen hammer, a fire poker and a garbage disposal — that a good old gun blast is a letdown.

The loathsome Funny Games mocked the audience's need for catharsis, but Last House revels in it, the more gruesome the act of vengeance, the bigger the reaction.

Sure, the plot shares elements with such highbrow classics as Bergman's The Virgin Spring and Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, but in Dennis Illiadis' hamfists, Last House is pure pulp. The movie is one sustained note of nerve-jangling, stomach-turning tension, not just because of the obvious, looming fates of the characters, but because you feel your own humanity bleed out — even as you're entertained.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].