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DVD Review: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT



Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Year: 2009
Cast: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt, Spencer Treat Clark, Martha MacIsaac, Sarah Paxton
Director: Dennis Iliads
Release Date: August 18, 2009
Rating: Not Rated for sadistic brutal violence, rape, disturbing images, language, nudity and drug use
Run Time: 01h:53m:11s
Genre(s): horror, rape/revenge

"No. I want to hear you beg for your fucking life." - John Collingwood (Tony Goldwyn)

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT

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A pointless remake can still turn out to be a quality film. Is this one of them?

Movie Grade: B+

DVD Grade: B-

The 1970ís, home to Wes Cravenís brutal and repulsive exploitation flick, Last House on the Left, have earned their reputation in cinematic history for being an era of unflinching realism and blazing originality. Reflective of a then unstable social climate, when the peace and love generation gave way to a society of civil unrest and disillusionment, many films were understandably cynical and angry. Three decades later, we have a new version of Last House that is wholly representative of a society that makes Paris Hilton a star and gives Octomom a reality TV show. If the 1970s are regarded as being revolutionary, thereís no doubt in my mind that weíll look back on the 2000s as the most creatively bankrupt and banal of all Hollywood eras.

Thatís not to say I didnít like the latest version of The Last House on the Left. For my money, itís one of two remakes this decade that isnít a disservice to the original (The Hills Have Eyes, another Craven produced remake, is the other). But the problem with the entire output of horror remakes is that theyíre absolutely banal. Even the good ones. Hollywood has perfected the art of removing all purpose from these films, replacing the gritty sheen with a glossy look and slicker production values. Itíd be like taking George Romeroís Dawn of the Dead, stripping away the satire and biting social commentary and replacing it with high gloss and special effects, rendering it a fun but brainless action film. Oh waitÖ

So letís talk about the film itself. Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) and her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) are kidnapped by a gang of thugs, headed by escaped psychotic, Krug (Garret Dillahunt). The girls are raped and Paige is brutally killed. The attackers find themselves on the run and seeking shelter at a nearby house when a terrible storm prevents their immediate escape. As luck would have it, the home is that of Mariís parents, John and Emma (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter). When a dazed Mari shows up on their doorstep, the grief-stricken parents carry out vengeance against the sleazy band of killers.

In a thousand years, I never wouldíve figured that theyíd remake Last House on the Left. The subject matter is shocking and exploitative by nature and seeing the film remade and trotted out to the multiplexes for a new generation still surprises me. I saw the film on opening day and several couples got up and left during the rape scene, which leads me to believe that the producers probably shouldnít have bothered. This is still a gruesome, uncomfortable and shocking film centered on a really explicit and nasty rape. Iíve read lots of scathing reviews for this film chiding it for going ìtoo farî but, really, thatís the point. Iím confident in claiming this as the best horror remake of the 2000s because it at least retains the examination of homegrown horror. Rape and murder are staples of the evening news and Last House confronts its viewers with this. Itís scarcely ìfunî, but it packs a punch.

Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworthís script irons out some of the quirks that riddled Wes Cravenís 1972 screenplay. Gone is the lame keystone cops subplot that plagued the original (an attempt at injecting the proceedings with levity), which allows the film to feel tighter despite running thirty minutes longer. The overall story has been refined and punched up, allowing the parental characters to exist and evolve in a more satisfying way. Their decision to resort to homegrown revenge is more convincing and compelling in this version, spurred by a particularly haunting scene where the father (a doctor) slowly realizes that his unconscious daughter has been sexually violated.

In the role of the parents, both Goldwyn and Potter are excellent. Their characters arenít simple exploitation archetypes, rather real people who reluctantly find themselves backed into an option-less corner. Goldwyn in particular has some truly memorable character bits. Regarding the villains, theyíre fine. Dillahunt is an imposing Krug, but ñ and let me be perfectly clear about this ñ he is not, and never will be, David Hess (the originalís Krug). Dillahunt does sleazy well, but it doesnít ooze from every bit of his persona as in the original film.

The Last House on the Left likely wonít have the staying power of the original. Maybe thatís only because itís coming out in a market already oversaturated with blood and sleaze, but it lacks the grimy feel and outrage of the Wes Craven original. Itís still a good film, though, loaded with enough violence and brutality to intrigue those of you who like this sort of thing, and if youíre not a heavily experienced genre fan, this one goes further than most. Iím astonished that Hollywood remade this film, but Iím happy with the fact that now weíve got two solid versions of this story.

VIDEO:
Iím not sure if itís because there are two versions of the film offered on this dual layered disc, but this standard definition version of The Last House on the Left is marred by a muddy transfer. It doesnít look bad, but compression noise is visible in many scenes ñ mostly the nighttime ones. Since this film is largely dark, that doesnít help matters. Colors are fair, occasionally appearing as washed out and bland. Skin tones take on a natural appearance, no waxy orange nonsense here. If you havenít upgraded to Blu-ray yet, you could do a lot worse than this SD, itís just not going to knock anyoneís socks off.

AUDIO:
This Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is a good one. Much of the dialogue is spoken in clipped and hushed tones and itís impressive that the audio transfer handles this with such clarity (especially over the obnoxious hum of my air conditioner). The action cues are loud and effective, cranking out across the rear speakers to startling effect. Sometimes I forget that a really good 5.1 track can occasionally substitute for the uncompressed audio Iíve come to love. This track gets the job done and then some.

EXTRAS:
Very little. Nine deleted scenes and a brisk, 3 minute PKE piece showcasing clips of the film interspersed with interviews with producer Craven and director Dennis Illiadis. Considering the controversial nature of this film, itís a shame Universal couldnít be bothered to drum up some interesting extra features. As it stands, the only nifty thing is the inclusion of both cuts of the film (the unrated runs four minutes longer, offering a little more brutality and character pieces). Itís a good movie, just disappointing that itís so light on the extras.

CONCLUSION:
Wes Craven should produce every remake. As it stands, his rehashes are at least respectable companion pieces to the superior originals. The Last House on the Left is nasty, but satisfying for those who like this sort of stuff. I credit Universal for producing this, although at the end of the day, I have to ask myself why.

Posted by: Matt Serafini - August 20, 2009, 11:28 am - DVD Review
Keywords: last house on the left, horror remake, wes craven, cult classic, the virgin spring




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