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Searching for Quality Horror? Look No Further than The Last House on the Left

Written by: Melissa Muenz, Special to CC2K

ImageHorror movies can be frustrating, especially if you try and hold them to the same standards that most movies are held to. They often feature unknown actors, which typically means the producers didn’t deem it necessary to spend money on good acting. The premise is often implausible. It’s generally understood that the audience is only paying to see some violence and nudity, which is fine, if that’s all you want from a movie. The movies that do make an effort to rise to general Hollywood standards are typically rated PG-13: You’re trading in your gore and scare factors for familiar faces and extra effort from the writers. So while the quality may be good, you’re in for 90 minutes of loud bangs and shifty shadows.

It’s hard for a movie to be decent AND scary in the brutal way that most horror fans look for. So it’s nice when a movie in this genre takes itself seriously, gore-wise. Which is why I was surprised during the excruciatingly uncomfortable rape scene in Last House on the Left, when I found myself asking, “Dear God. Could this be crossing the line?” There’s frightfulness, and then there’s just being mean, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the remake of 1972’s controversial Wes Craven flick seemed to toe that line.

The updated Last House on the Left comes at a time when sequels, beginnings, remakes and franchise flicks are common. Sometimes it’s to give the story a deeper background. Sometimes it’s to add more, modernized violence. Sometimes it’s just to rehash an old story in an attempt to make more money. Fortunately, the 2009 version of Last House on the Left doesn’t seem to clearly fit into any of these reasons – even if that’s only because the original film was notoriously graphic.

Last House on the Left follows Mari and Paige, played by Sara Paxton (an unknown version of Alexis Bledel) and Martha MacIssac (an unknown version of Jena Malone). The girls are kidnapped by three convicts after unwittingly connecting with the gang’s son. After taunting, harming, chasing, raping and shooting the girls, the four (also unwittingly) seek shelter in the secluded summer home of Mari’s parents. Upon finding Mari and realizing the (highly unlikely) situation, Mari’s parents extract their revenge.

The kidnapping/torture/rape of the teens takes up about half of the movie, with the rape scene being tense in a way that’s brutal rather than spirited. However, the second half of the film seems to justify the first. After watching unsettling violence that’s mostly just unpleasant, seeing Mari’s parents graphically go to town on our villains is the most satisfying kind of horror movie catharsis. Wes Craven acted as producer on this remake, so the film retains its original theme of revenge. To make it work as powerfully as they want, the brutality and horrifying explicit nature almost seems necessary. Scenes that would otherwise come off as exploitative are played as necessary to the payoff. In the screening I watched, audience members clapped as bad guys were taken out.

Finally, while the remake didn’t feature every disturbing or controversial element of the original, the final scene of violence was unexpected and felt arbitrary to a movie that had otherwise been concluded. The last act of Mari’s father shows him going out of his way to make an extreme and unrealistic move of revenge, and as a tacked on last jab, the ending goes over the top. In a violent film that had otherwise justified itself, this last bit kind of ruins a movie that otherwise would have met my horror movie standards.

Last House on the Left is not for the weak of heart or stomach. But it may be for the fan who is tired of the repeated horror movie mistakes. By no means perfect, this remake takes things a bit far. But in a genre where so many other missteps are made so often, it might be worth the gross, tense moments.