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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Last House on the Left + remake

I happened upon the synopsis of Wes Craven's 1972 film The Last House on the Left in John Kenneth Muir's Horror Films of the 1970s, and was intrigued by how such cruelty, which seemed unfilmable as written, could have been filmed. So I found out.

I have a lot of ethical problems with Last House. A little background: Craven made the film under the financing of a drive-in theater owner, to be shown in double features. Craven has admitted that he was on drugs during much of the writing and filming. This doesn't leave a lot of room for artistic integrity. Additionally, this film is a direct copy of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, which itself is an adaptation of an old European story of revenge. The best that can be said for Craven's film is that it is a secular reboot of Bergman's film, which concludes with a religious resolution. I ask, is there a point to presenting that which has already been done? I don't think it's necessary to keep repeating an ugly story if the moral is already established.

It should be noted that this film is about rape, murder, and other torturous abuses. At one point in the film where one victim cries as the other consoles her, it's real. The girl did not want to continue shooting. That's kind of sick.

For years I considered Last House to be among the most offensively distasteful films I've seen (coupled with Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension [High Tension]). Then the remake came out in 2009, and warped my whole perspective.

The remake of The Last House on the Left is the same story as told before. But there is one key difference. In the original film, when the parents take their bloody revenge in a bout of passionate rage, they are left feeling empty and sick, shocked at what they have committed. But in the remake, the revenge is portrayed completely as a heroic effort. It's not even done in the heat of the moment. Instead, as two characters make their escape, the father remains behind to perform a torturous execution on the villain, who has been kept as a captive.

So where I cast aspersions on the original for making half-assed and possibly irresponsible moralizations about ethics and guilt, the remake does less than that. This shows that the moral question is essential to the story, and the remake completely disrespects the legacy of its predecessor and cops out to the model of summer movie mindlessness.

PREDICTION: I predicted when this film came out in 2009 that with the incoming Obama administration, the Last House remake would be among the last horror films to center on revenge. I find the total lack of moral questioning in this film and the justification of the most brutal brand of revenge to be complicit with American jingoism and the libertarian bent of mainstream conservative politics. My hope is that with President Obama as the new face of American culture, our cultural output will lose that Toby Keith, boot-in-your-ass, individualistic, revenge-justifying quality that leads to films like this.