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The Last House on the Left (Film Only)
The Last House On The Left (DVD)
Member Name: DavidJay
The Last House On The Left (DVD)
Advantages: Truly uncompromising, powerful, beautifully shot.
Disadvantages: Politically dubious to say the least.
Last House on the Left, Wes Craven's 1972 exploitation classic, represents one of those rare occasions when inexperience, fearlessness, anger and despair conspire to produce something which strikes the viewer as truly unique and important even as it obliterates all acknowledged indicators of "worth" within moments of its opening credits. It is a film which is, by any standards, shockingly lo-fi, grotty and chaotic. Yet it stands, alongside Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Craven's own The Hills Have Eyes, as one of the most astonishing, most intelligent and most damning American films of the decade.
Dennis Iliadis' 2009 remake is an infinitely slicker, much more conventionally "artful" affair which, like Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes, shirks none when it comes to the harrowing, graphic depiction of rape, mutilation and murder. Unlike Aja's film, however, it robs the source material of much of its political punch, and what it retains it reconfigures, turning a pitch-black, bleak condemnation of violence into a gung-ho, punch-the-air revenge fantasy.
Arriving with her mother and father at the family's vacation home, the young Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) heads off, alongside best friend Paige (Martha MacIssac), to score some dope from a local teenaged dealer, the quiet, shy Justin (Spencer Treat Clark). Justin invites them back to his motel apartment, where the three are soon joined by his father, the psychotic, escaped-convict Krug (Garret Dillahunt) and his two sadistic accomplices. From here, the film spirals into a truly punishing, brutal play of violence, violation, and vengeance.
The two girls are raped and, it is assumed, murdered. Their car playing up, the villains call at a nearby house for assistance - a house coincidentally occupied by Emma and John Collingwood. Soon, the events of the day are brought to light, and the parents embark upon a series of devastating retaliatory murders.
Iliadis' film is absolutely one of the most powerful American horror films of the past decade. Every blow, be it the dull thud of a head off a bathroom wash-hand-basin or the crunch of finger-bones thrust into the blades of a garbage-disposal unit, registers with a sickening, disorientating wallop. The rape scene is almost unbearably protracted and the whole thing is suffused with an air of utmost despair - at least until the final half-hour, when certain derivations from the source come into play, and the dubious politics of the enterprise are made apparent.
Hitherto this shift, the heart of the film, perhaps surprisingly, has lain with Treat Clark's Justin. Utterly appalled at what is happening, he nonetheless exudes an air of utter resignation. What can he do? What can anyone do? Nothing. Sit by the tree and wait for it to end, knowing he'll most likely suffer a similar fate before long.
The cinematography is absolutely stunning throughout, shots framed at curious angles, events playing out with an almost slow-motion, languid air wholly at odds (but somehow fittingly so) with the terrors on display. Characters are positioned in stark relief to an unfocused, hazy world of ghosts and half-glimpsed demons. The environment has an ambiguity which is not mirrored in the narrative itself.
There is much to say about Last House that cannot be said here for the simple reason that to do so would be to spoil many of its surprises. Suffice it to note that it is a deeply uncomfortable experience for reasons both intentional and otherwise, yet for all that it is problematic, it is at least compelled to present rape as the unutterably evil act that it is, something which we would hope we're all aware of by now, and yet, in the wake of, for example, Zack Snyder's repulsive, imbecilic Watchmen, one can't help but wonder...
Summary: A problematic film that is nonetheless incredibly powerful and artful.