Monday, 22 June 2009

The Last House on the Left remake

Director: Dennis Iliadis
Writers: Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth
USA 2009

The remake of The Last House on the Left - one of the more infamous Video Nasties - has a lot of horror fans up in arms, but while it's a bit of a pointless exercise I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with remaking trashy old classics. In fact given the original's flaws, most due to the technical inexperience of director Wes Craven, there was every chance that a new version could complement the original nicely.

It doesn't quite manage that, mainly because it's a pretty badly-made film itself. The really glaring flaws of the original are gone - there are no slapstick police scenes, thank god; and the jumpy, scratchy editing has of course gone too, for better or worse - but compared to most modern horror films the remake, with its annoyingly aggressive and cheap sounding score, unengaging action scenes and functional dialogue has all the hallmarks of a modern B-movie. Pointless flabby sections imbetween the meaty bits are overlong and tedious, a familiar sight to the exploitation fan but one that's no doubt down to incompetence rather than a homage. Shame really, because like the original there is some merit here.

The infamous central scene that sees the drawn-out torture of two young women is present, and amazingly is even more brutal and unpleasant than the original. It's uncomfortable seeing these scenes rehashed in a release that is geared solely to making a profit, but to think the original had aims otherwise, despite its sketchy arthouse credentials, is to romanticise it. The questions that surround the use of such realistic and nasty violence in this way are much the same as when the original was released.

A more tangible success is the smooth linking together of the film's two main acts, the violent attack and the revenge that follows, an area of failure in the original which was just too muddy and badly-made to pull off the transition. The remake makes a smooth, coherent switch that feels much more believable. These two acts are famously reworked from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, violence being avenged by more violence in a grim and unrelenting spiral, a comparison that I feel too much is made of in what is in effect a pretty straightforward revenge story. Wes Craven may have wanted to inject some intellectual weight into his movie by referencing Bergman but he didn't manage it, and the remake doesn't either.

The 1972 film shocked with its groundbreaking and original approach to horror: the only reason such a poor film is remembered with such reverence, and the only reason it has been considered for a remake. This renders the new version pretty pointless, a cash-in with little artistic merit. It is however executed with more competence, and placed side-by-side with the original it's the better film. It's a shame that it isn't as tight as it could be and still feels so cheap, as there was a real opportunity here to turn a bad film into a brilliant one.

That such a nasty cult horror movie has been remade for mainstream audiences, while losing none of its appalling brutality, poses the interesting possibility that there might be more new versions of Video Nasties to come. Modern audiences have more of an appetite for horror films than ever before, and rehashing cult classics certainly makes commercial sense. I can't think which of the Nasties are ripe to be remade, but then I wouldn't have thought The Last House on the Left was suitable either. Maybe someone else will have a go at that same film. I hope so, it feels like an idea someone should get right one day.

My review of the original Last House on the Left is here.