Wes Craven Week: The Last House on the Left (1972 & 2009)

The Last House on the Left (1972) is one of the classic revenge films. Mixing in a harsh narrative and chilling acts of cruelty that prey on the natural fears of the audience. The family’s daughter Mari and her friend, Phyllis, were wild childs. One day they try to get a hook up and lo and behold, it turns into a mess of a night and day. The dealers turn out to be rapists and murderers prompting the parents of Mari to enact their revenge when the killers end up on their doorstep.

This is arguably one of the more chilling staple movies in the horror genre. Three horrid people and their son hopped up on heroine so they can control him, these are our villains. More aptly put though, these are our monsters. There is nothing in the way that this movie is shot or directed, that we should at any point in time feel sympathy for these three and it shows constantly. The son, Junior, of course is the naïve boy who is so messed up at this point he is only hoping for a way out and should be the only one pitiable. You will find nothing enjoyable about these events and that is the clear point.

Almost every scene brings a sense of tension, despite the obvious low budget, and never lets up. The only few things that arguably detract from the tone and atmosphere are the scenes with the cops. It is an attempt at levity for the situation, since it is quite hard to sit through the rape and murder sequences. I will applaud an attempt at comedy, but it should have been removed since we need to be fully immersed in the pain of these characters. These comedic scenes, and not even ones that hold up today, just detract from the innate terror.

Wes Craven, even in his first film, has shown genius in his directing style. The electric fear and disgust one feels from this, is what you should be feeling make no mistake about that. There is little left up to the imagination and I will agree completely that this is a one and done movie for me. It is horrifying in a real context, but also somewhat satisfying in its ending. The thing is, it is hard to put this one at the top of Craven’s filmography since it is that hard to watch. It brings respect for having the ability with a low budget to genuinely scare us, but it lacks a sort of duality to make us want to both fear and enjoy it. I will probably not watch this movie again though as it leaves little to the imagination for said scenes and the villains are just far too convincing at points. One cannot praise Craven more than giving us this real life fright, and giving us nightmares that night.

In 2009, director Dennis Iliadis had chosen to remake this influential piece of horror cinema. With Wes Craven being a producer we could potentially see a good remake in the era of bad horror remakes. There are distinct changes in this remake to set it apart from the original. It delves more into the dynamic of the son and the group, having them be dominated by fear of Krug, the leader, rather than by drugs and pure insanity. This was a welcomed change as the pitiable son in the first one gets a more interesting rework in the dynamic which helps this film since it is thirty minutes longer than the original.

The problem with this one is, it is far too excessive compared to the exploitative nature of the original, and that means a lot. Each kill has tacked on the one-upmanship making it feel like an inventive killing contest than a revenge tale. Even the ending is just too stupid with the culmination of that feeling and it is sad to say I left the movie wondering more about that ending than the entirety of the film. Then it hit me…why was that?

The movie at points…does feel more like a black comedy than a suspenseful horror. The excessive shots, prolonged moments, inventive deaths…it just feels clichéd. The original, while at points did have awkward scenes much like the cops, never felt like anything but a true tale of horror. This one tries to delve more into the narrative, which means some characters are more interesting, but it loses a bit of that horror factor in the process. Craven’s original The Last House on the Left was a genuine true scare, one wouldn’t want to watch again due to it being a primal sense of fear, while the 2009 remake lacks a sense of terror for the need to be excessive by nature.

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2 thoughts on “Wes Craven Week: The Last House on the Left (1972 & 2009)

  1. I saw the remake once and I didn’t like it very much. But then I recently saw Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring which the original was inspired by, and I was like: ”Wait, I’ve seen this plot line before…” I’d actually really recommend that one if you haven’t seen it, it’s pretty much the same story but set in medieval times, and with the exploitation replaced by questions around faith and morality (all in typical Bergman fashion).

    1. I’ve heard of Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” before, but never got around to it. If it is more focused than “The Last House on the Left” than it is sure to be a compelling watch. Especially since the exploitation is one of my primary reasons why I would never watch either again. Thanks for the recommendation!

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