The Last House on the Left (review)

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Worst. Housecall. Ever.

“About time,” the guy sitting behind me says about 20 minutes into The Last House on the Left, when the movie is finally getting around to its raison d’etre: turning cinematic violence into something a dude can get turned on by. The guy was there, you see, because apparently this was an easier turnon than, say, renting the 1972 Wes Craven film upon which this is based (though this remake is much more pornographic) or, indeed, renting any of the other 1,843,439 other “horror” flicks of recent vintage that assume that the audience is a vicarious sexual sadist.

Though there is something ickily more disturbing about this example than any other movie I can remember from recent years.
What happens, you see, is that pretty and nearly naked teenaged girls Mari (Sara Paxton: Sleepover, Soldier) and Paige (Martha MacIsaac: Superbad) decide to go off from the safety of public view with creepy Justin (Spencer Treat Clark: Mystic River, Unbreakable) because he promises them some really good pot. Wouldn’t ya know it, but Justin turns out to be the son of a recently escaped homicidal maniac known as Krug (Garret Dillahunt: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men), whose girlfriend, Sadie (Riki Lindhome: Changeling, Million Dollar Baby) — short for “sadist,” it seems — is a certifiable loon, and whose little brother, Francis (Aaron Paul), idolizes him. They’re like the Three Stooges, if the Three Stooges made torture porn. And man o man, do they love them some terrorizing of half-naked teenage girls!

The moral of the story, obviously, is: “Don’t smoke pot — it’ll kill ya. But it’ll take a long time to do it, and along the way, anyone watching will get their own kind of high… assuming they’re wired in a way that gets pleasure from other people’s pain.”

There’s lots of slow, gruesome psychological torture as Krug and his homies menace Mari and Paige, implicitly promising all manner of nastiness and brutality until director Dennis Iliadis finally stops pretending he’s doing anything other than sexualizing the menace — Iliadis appears to be getting as much satisfaction out of the wringing of dread out of the girls as Krug and Co. are, and hopes you are, too. The movie stops pretending when — spoiler alert! — Krug stabs Paige in the gut, slowly and lingeringly, in a disgusting parody of rape, and then stops bothering with parody and just rapes Mari.

I kid with the spoiling, cuz it’s nothing to what the movie thinks its big play is, and bizarrely revels in spoiling itself by revealing it in its ads, trailers, and presumably in its letters home to mom. I was just about ready to get up and leave the movie after the rape scene, but good thing I didn’t, because then I’d have missed how preposterously House plays its big, not at all clever twist, the one that it had been telegraphing miles out in case I had missed any of those spoiling ads and trailers: Krug and Co. show up at the remote, desolate house-in-the-woods of Mari’s Mom and Dad (Monica Potter [Saw, Head Over Heels] and Tony Goldwyn [American Gun, The Last Samurai], the latter of whom I almost feel sorry for, he so deserves better than this).

“What are the odds, man?” Krug marvels when everyone discovers who everyone else is, but nope, that don’t cut it as a way to defuse the absurdity of it. Of course, the film’s tagline — something about asking how far you would go to hurt the people who hurt someone you love — becomes laughable when you realize the answer is “Not far at all: they’ll come to you,” but then, by the time these mild-mannered parents start behaving like sociopaths themselves — it’s all in the name of avenging their daughter — the whole endeavor becomes a parody of a horror movie.

It’s an unintentional parody, however, and a vilely unfunny one, too, that eroticizes cruel violence so thoughtlessly that even the parental vengeance becomes sexualized. It’s a kindness to call The Last House on the Left pointless, and more pointed to call it revolting.

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Fri, Mar 13, 2009 12:55am

“About time,”

Yeah, for castration. And I don’t throw that word around lightly.

For fuck’s sake, the existence of this movie pisses me off.

Accounting Ninja
Accounting Ninja
Fri, Mar 13, 2009 10:17am

Seriously, what is WITH this rash of daughter/wife kidnap/rape/murder revenge shit? Taken, Last House and now that other one (the name escapes me: the one about the killer whose wife was accidentally killed by the hero so he kidnaps the hero’s wife and said hero must save her oh noes!).

Christ, it’s the most cliche motivation ever. And I couldn’t help noticing that the victims from all three look very similar (white, thin ie vulnerable-looking, long hair, “innocent” wide-eyed faces, etc.) UGH.

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 11:06am

So, basically, you dislike the genre of rape-revenge horror of which HOUSE is considered one of the classics. This is a really inane review that basically carts out the same tired critiques of horror cinema that have been around for at least thirty years. By the way, since the tag for the web site is flick filosopher, hopefully you realize that these trite notions that horror films exist only for male sexual arousal have actually been challenged by feminist film theorists such as Carol Clover, Linda Williams and Judith Halberstam. But my problem with this review isn’t that it’s predictably conservative; rather, my problem is that it isn’t really a review at all. Having not seen this remake, I was hoping to get an informed overview. I guess I’ll have to look elsewhere.

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 11:39am

Oh, P, do you think all feminists agree with one another?

You got an informed overview: if you get sexual thrills from seeing violence against women eroticized, you’ll love this movie.

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 11:42am

these trite notions that horror films exist only for male sexual arousal

Nice straw man. I suggested no such thing.

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 12:21pm

my problem is that it isn’t really a review at all

While I have questioned MaryAnn for non-reviews (see “The Day the Earth Stood Still”), this one actually seems like a pretty thorough review. In addition to confirming it as a hideous exploitation nightmare, MaryAnn also informs us that it’s dime-a-dozen cash in that relies on wild coincidence and ancient cliches to keep its plot moving along.

So yeah. You won’t be able to pretend that it’s art as you break out the lubricant.

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 1:51pm

Straw man? Don’t you use that same technique in the first paragraph of your review when you use a nameless and faceless moveigoer to represent men being turned on by violence towards women? The problem is not that your review has a negative view of the movie, it’s that you are so snarky in it that it provides no room for real criticism. I’m disgusted by all of these heartfelt, emotional movies that I’m supposed to see because they are supported by the movie making community (Benjamin Button, Slumdog) that are basically just a rehash of the same crap. If I reviewed a movie with the same sort of bias I would be panned, and rightfully so. Try giving a informed review of the movie without trying so hard to be both witty and outraged and above it all at the same time and then maybe it will be easier to take the review seriously.

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 2:26pm

Yeah, stop telling us about your emotional reactions and being so witty! Real reviewers never allow wit or bias to creep into their writing. You need to delete the hundreds of reviews on your site and become a bland robot, devoid of personality, preferably a robot that thinks exactly like me. Be forewarned! If my criticisms go unheeded, I shall be greatly displeased when I next return to your site.

Another humble stranger on the internet

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 2:34pm

If I reviewed a movie with the same sort of bias I would be panned

U R the worst reviewer I’ve ever read, U R BIAST!

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 2:37pm

Yeah, stop telling us about your emotional reactions and being so witty!

And, please — stop using “straw man” correctly. I don’t, and it makes me look bad when you do.

Fri, Mar 13, 2009 8:15pm

I’ll concede that some men, for one reason or another, find rape scenes in (non-pornographic) films entertaining. However, I think it’s safe to say that most don’t. And in all likelihood the guy behind you was just being an ass.

Personally, I was disturbed during the rape scene and didn’t find anything about it erotic, and considering the way the scene was shot and putting it in context with the rest of the film, my best guess is that eroticization was not the goal.

And I just really doubt that during pre-production the director was having meetings with the crew about how to make the rape scene as sexy as possible.

Sat, Mar 14, 2009 4:38pm

First off, I’m sorry if a came off snarky myself, and your position on this film and others like it certainly isn’t exceptional. But, I take fundamental issue with how you’ve framed your review. I certainly realize that not all feminists agree and that there are different schools of feminist film theory. That said, the assumptions your making about gender and viewer identification reflect the most cliche and conservative brand of feminist film scholarship. The issue I take with this scholarship is that it produces very conservative assumptions about sexuality and, at worst, starts sounding very normative and exclusionary.

Take you’re response to me, “if you get sexual thrills from seeing violence against women eroticized, you’ll love this movie.” What are you saying here if not that anyone who enjoys this film is a “sexual deviant?” As another commenter pointed out, I fear it is you who are relying on a “straw man” of sorts.

The genre of rape revenge has huge history that goes well beyond this or any film. (Back to the Greeks in fact) These cinematic narratives often function as allegories for various political and social issues. Hence, the original HOUSE is often read as an allegory for the US’s involvement in VIETNAM and the death of the counter culture. In other words, these films are rarely if ever totally literal. That doesn’t mean that this new HOUSE is a masterful allegory for our current geopolitical situation or anything like that, but it does mean that perhaps more might be said about the film than simply commenting on the obvious. In the same sense, most Westerns are rather racist, but that’s not all that can be said about many Westerns.

Moreover, it seems like labeling a film pornographic, which you appear to be doing, is a way NOT to talk about the film -a way to focus on the violence of a film without looking at how the violence works within the narrative. Thus, my frustration with reviews such as yours.

Paul Weissman
Paul Weissman
Wed, Mar 18, 2009 10:06am

Well, the original Last House directed by Wes Craven doesn’t eroticize violence or build up how much you get to hate the bad guys so you cheer to see them killed off (that’s Charles Bronson territory.)

The rape and murder scene is deliberately excruciatingly uncomfortable (as it should be.)

Then they go to the parent’s house and all hell breaks loose as the parents (i.e. the bourgeoisie, if you like) go feral on the killers and do horrific things to them in turn.

The real difference between the original and the remake is that the original had something to say and a point of view beyond the general exploitation film goal of making a quick buck.

The remake is simply an exploitation film that is solely concerned with making a quick buck.

Paul Weissman
Paul Weissman
Wed, Mar 18, 2009 10:08am

P.S. The whole thing is based on an Ingmar Bergman film, “The Virgin Spring” which was in turn based on an actual event that took place in Sweden in the 1300’s. At the end of THAT film, after the parents take their revenge, they build a church on the spot where their daughter died.

Jocelyn Crawley
Jocelyn Crawley
Wed, Apr 08, 2009 1:44pm

Is anyone conscious and/or disturbed about the fact that the rape survivor was blonde and each of the deranged individuals in the film had dark hair?