Movie News & Reviews

'Last House' loses original essence

Back when I was a wealthy man, I had it all: twenty channels of HBO, asmall, dirty apartment above a bar, all the spaghetti and Winco-brandspaghetti sauce I could force myself to swallow.

Unfortunately, I took the advice of parents and educators everywhereand invested in our future: the children. What they didn't tell me isthose bright, shiny children depreciate into lazy, worthless adults.Left destitute, I can no longer afford the basic cable that's everyAmerican's birthright. At this point in my story, it's okay to cry.

There's one thing I still have: the priceless memory of all those HBOTV series. Deadwood, Six Feet Under, The Wire, that one showwith the gangsters--I watched them all. Oh, I've got one more thing,too, a crippling addiction to the actors of those shows. Whycrippling? Because now all those brilliant people have found secondcareers in cruddy Hollywood movies (The Reaping, Hitman, etc.).Since I love them all, and because my job makes me, I have no choicebut to go see them. The Last House on the Left might not beawful, but it's one more reminder of how much better life used to be.

While vacationing with her family at their isolated lake house, SaraPaxton goes into town to spend the night with her friend. There, thetwo are kidnapped by Garret Dillahunt (of TV's Deadwood) andhis crew of sociopathic killers. Paxton's effort to escape makes themcrash their car in the woods, but there is no getting away.

Her friend is killed. Paxton is shot and left for dead. Seekingshelter from a storm, Dillahunt and his gang stumble onto Paxton’sparents’ house, where they’re allowed to sleep. But during their stay,Paxton crawls home, prompting her parents to seek a sadistic revenge.

I don't know what to think of the '70s anymore. Today's pop culturetells me they were one long joke, a decade of brambly sideburns anddorks in flammable clothing having coke-fueled dance-seizures to"Stayin' Alive," but if you watch the movies of the era, there was alot of sick, brilliant talent running around. What does it say thatWes Craven's version of The Last House on the Left, shot wayback in the Dark Ages of 1972--they hadn't even played golf on themoon yet!--is more disturbing than its modern remake?

Not to say the new one doesn't try. Fully aware you can't spell"graphic" without the "ick," director Dennis Iliadis puts togethersome of the most brutal sequences of murder and rape in recenthistory. (Remember, parents: movie tickets are still cheaper thanbabysitters.) Gnarly and savage, it's almost enough to make you doubtwhether watching fake people get assaulted and traumatized is meant tobe entertaining.

This was basically the point of the original--the gang does terrible,terrible things, making you hope they receive a vicious andjustifiable comeuppance, but then the parents go so far in revenge itturns them into monsters, too.

That doesn't come across this time. Partly to blame is a case of theoverdirections. It's not a constant thing, but often enough to benoticeable, thunderous musical cues command us to feel scared whilecartoonishly evil performances alert us to the fact the killers arebad people who deserve bad things. As average contrary humans--with mymedia-eroded brain, I can only assume you're as stubborn and petty asI am--our natural instinct is to do the opposite: to be taken out ofthe tension while disbelieving in the gang as credible characters.

So who cares when they're ground up in the sink and flushed down thedrain? They're not real people, no matter how real the violence beingdone to them looks. Their deaths don't end up meaning anything.

That doesn't ruin things (I mean, how can graphic violence beruined?), it just makes The Last House on the Left a fairlylong, generally tolerable piece of torture-porn that doesn't do muchmore than generate a couple visceral thrills before coming to a close.If that's not your thing, it's eminently skippable.

Grade: C+