There are questions to be asked about films like The Last House on the Left, which ostensibly comments on society’s approach to violence. Can graphic gore be discussed without being glorified? Is it possible to portray a vigilante in a way that won’t inspire at least part of the audience to stock up on balaclavas and hollow point ammunition? Can a film be made about sadism that doesn’t involve the girl from Darcy’s Wild Life getting raped, tortured, and shot? I’m not sure, but I’m not going to take my dick out of my hand long enough to research it, because watching that shit is hot.
That’s right, Last House on the Left remake, I’m calling you on your bullshit. This is not a film that condemns violence, in the admittedly awkward way attempted by Wes Craven’s 1972 original. No film, in my opinion, that contains a microwaved head can possibly have much to say about morality. Instead, the film is emotionally manipulative torture porn cloaked in the weird atmosphere of a Mandy Moore movie, as if director Dennis Illiadis were attempting to convert 11-year old girls and their mothers to a Baal-worshiping death cult. And if you’re going to give me torture porn, I’m going to treat it as such, even if that means bringing lubricant and a severed pig head to the theatre.
The Last House on the Left follows young Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton), on vacation with her family at their remote summer home. Her mother, played by Saw’s Monica Potter, is determined that the vacation will bring the family closer together, though father John (Tony Goldwyn) seems unconcerned when Mari borrows the car to hang out with a townie and score some weed.
Soon, the idyllic summer vacation becomes nightmarish, as Mari and local girl Paige (Martha MacIsaac) discover that Justin, the cute young drug hook-up they just met, is actually the son of sadistic felon Krug, freshly sprung from captivity by his psychotic brother and girlfriend. About an hour of torture later, Paige is dead, Mari is floating in the lake full of lead and semen, and the family of psychopaths is spending the night at the home of the unsuspecting Collingwood parents. Charming. See what you’ve made me write, Last House? Now I sound like a sex offender, simply because you decided that graphic on-screen rape belonged at the multiplex. I hope you’re happy.
What happens after that is par for the course in rape/revenge films, a subset of exploitation movies somewhat absent in American cinema for the past decade, but alive and well in the parts of the world where you can still buy children. For a while, the film flirts with complex issues of vigilantism and the cost of vengeance, as well as presenting the traditional 70s horror trope of the civilized family versus the bestial clan. But quickly enough, The Last House on the Left falls into the dangerous realm of glorification. Most worryingly, a gratuitous final scene replaces any previously emotional resonance with a preposterously gory ending seemingly calculated to rile the crowd into either a lynch mob or a gang-bang.
Up until then, however, The Last House on the Left works reasonably well. The actors, given realistic and relatable characters by screenwriters Adam Alleca and Carls Ellsworth, all turn in creditable performance, and cinematographer Sharone Meir creates a look that doesn’t rely on the past 30 years of slasher films. But though Illiadas manages to craft both tension and a visceral viewing experience, he invalidates the only premise that would justify the film’s sadism. The result is a cleaned-up version of Hostel that I’d condemn wholeheartedly, if my hands weren’t covered in KY and blood.