The Last House On The Left Review

The Last House On The Left film still

Score

This clanging cover version believes in nothing, not even its own nihilism, and the horrors it portrays leave us colder, but not wiser.

Time has not been kind to Wes Craven’s original Last House on the Left, a Vietnam-inspired rape-revenge flick distinguished by its lack of technical merit, jarring music (sung by villain David Hess) and fantastic tagline (courtesy of Friday The 13th director Sean S Cunningham): 'To avoid fainting, keep repeating: it’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…' Even the daunting but geographically misleading title was added in post-production.

Thirty-seven years on, that film’s USP – its unflinching depictions of sexual, and sexualised, assault – have been made redundant by a) the French and b) torture porn. So why bother with a remake? We all know revenge is a dish best served chilled, is there any point reheating it?

The answer is either a resounding 'no' or a qualified 'yes', depending on which half of the film you’re watching. The first hour, in which escaped convict Dillahunt (the TV Terminator), his moody Gap model buddies (Riki Lindhome and Aaron Paul), and his son (Spencer Treat Clark from Unbreakable) kidnap, rape and dispose of innocent teens Sarah Paxton and Martha McIsaac (Superbad’s vomiting vamp), is slow, nasty and stupid, abounding with images of its own avaricious inadequacy such as blood smearing across a 20 dollar bill.

After a – horrible – extended rape/murder sequence, Dillahunt and co take refuge at the house of Paxton’s parents, and the film dramatically improves. Maybe it’s because righteous rage is much more interesting than sadism, or it's just that Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter are the better actors, but the last act is slick, surprising and tense, a brutal home-invasion thriller in which microwaves and waste-disposal units are put to imaginatively icky uses.

Still, the bitter tang of misogyny lingers long. Early on, Dennis Iliadis’ camera leers at Paxton undressing as if it wants us to be complicit in her objectification, and throughout the film Lindhome’s face (she’s a girl by the way) is burnt, scarred and battered much harder than the boys’, as if she somehow deserves worse. It’s not a question of censorship, but consistency. A question the filmmakers don’t care enough to answer.

A character in David Cronenberg’s otherwise prescient Videodrome decried the dangers of violent imagery that has a 'philosophy', but surely the opposite is true. For all its flaws, the 1972 Last House presented inhuman atrocities in outrage at an actual war. This clanging cover version believes in nothing, not even its own nihilism, and the horrors it portrays leave us colder, but not wiser.

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