Universal // 2009 // 116 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 18th, 2009
If someone hurt the someone you love, how far would you go to get revenge?
Last House on the Left comes with an excellent pedigree: it's based on the 1972 exploitation classic from horror maestro Wes Craven, which was itself based on a Swedish film from auteur Ingmar Bergman (The Virgin Spring), which goes all the way back to a thirteenth century ballad that explains the history of a famous church. That's quite a history, cinematic and otherwise, but it can't save Last House on the Left (Blu-ray) from being a pointless, tiring remake of a beloved original.
Two young girls get away from their families for a bit of fun. They are captured by a band of crazy criminals on the run. Because they can't leave the girls behind to rat them out, the foursome takes the girls into the woods for a bit of fun. There, they kill one, and rape the other and leave her for dead. They then seek refuge in a house on the lake. Little do they know that the parents of the girl they left behind are staying there, and when they discover their guests' secret, they'll do anything to get revenge.
Let's take a quick moment to examine the reasons for remaking classic films:
* Technological advances. Some films get remade because updated special effects make representing their world easier.
* Increased permissiveness. Whether it's sex or violence, some films are updated to be more extreme than their predecessors.
* Updated social relevance. Some films are remade because they seem newly relevant to the modern situation, like George Clooney's Fail Safe.
* Directorial vision. This usually happens with genre films, where the generic story is fleshed out with the particular strengths of a new director, like John Carpenter's The Thing or Cronenberg's The Fly.
Those might not be all the reasons, but they hit the highlights. Here's how they break out with respect to Last House on the Left:
* Technological advances. The original was a low-budget, 16mm film, and the grit helped meet the exploitation expectations of the audience. For the remake, the original's lackluster production is replaced with the cold sheen of most recent horror remakes, especially Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sure, it looks pretty, but it does very little to help the film except establish a generically foreboding atmosphere. Been there, done that.
* Increased permissiveness. There's no doubt that there has been a certain increase in what can be shown in mainstream cinemas. The fact that a film with a nasty rape and murder as one of its central sequences made it into multiplexes shows how far (or not) we've come as a culture. However, to fans of the original there's nothing particularly brutal or shocking; the increased permissiveness has only allowed for wider dissemination, not more extreme content.
* Updated social relevance. The original film at least tried to make a statement about gender politics in the wake of the women's movement, but there's no such attempt here. I'm not sure what kind of statement could have been made, but surely something has changed since 1972, or if nothing's changed, then maybe that's worth exploring as well.
* Directorial vision. With a director possessed of a singular vision, the desire to explore a single aspect of this terrifying story, something could have been made of Last House on the Left. Instead, Dennis Iliadis demonstrates competence, but little else. He's very good at creating interesting compositions and holding shots for extended periods, but instead of increasing the tension, these moments drag the film down.
* Cash. Last House on the Left made over thirty million dollars in the United States, which is more than Wes Craven's film ever did, so they must have done something right, I guess.
The reality is that Last House on the Left attempts to distinguish itself from its source by toning down instead of turning up. The crew doesn't seem as violent, the revenge is less satisfying, and, although the rape scene is horrifying, that's not a difficult effect to achieve under the circumstances. The new film fails to include the best part of the original, where the wife/mother seduces one of the bad guys and then bites his penis off during fellatio. It was the perfect moment, lurid and ridiculous. I don't expect them to reuse the same gag, but this new film has nothing of that caliber. Also, dumbest ending in a horror film in a long time. I won't spoil it, but it's so lame I don't even want to talk about it.
Because of the seminal status of the original, and Wes Craven's involvement as a producer, there was potential for this to be a Blu-ray set worth picking up. A commentary with Craven and Iliadis, comparison featurette, or anything that connected this film to its predecessor would have been nice. Instead, we get 9 minutes of deleted scenes that are generally just longer takes of scenes already in the film. Also, there's a 3-minute "Look Inside" with a bare minimum of input from Craven and Iliadis, but all it does is tease. There's also a bonus digital copy on Disc Two.
Evidently some people enjoyed this film, and other reviews I've seen generally seem to be giving it a pass. I guess if you're willing to clear all thoughts of other horror films from your mind and take a slow (and I mean slow) journey into revenge then this might be the film for you.
I can't fault this disc on its technical merits. The VC-1 encoded transfer includes a high degree of detail, and the film's muted color scheme is consistent throughout. Some of the darker scenes are a little unclear, but overall this is a strong transfer. The audio isn't quite a good, but the film doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of dynamic audio. Instead, the subtle use of music and effects is rendered decently on the DTS-HD track.
I suspect horror fans are going to watch Last House on the Left no matter what I say about it, and this disc is a great way to do that. However, even fans of the film should probably hold out and rent this disc until somebody decides to put out a true special edition.
Guilty of being unnecessary.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes
* D-Box Enabled