Movie Review - 'Last House On The Left': Horror, Slickly Remodeled Two teenage girls head for a concert and stumble into more than they anticipated in this update of the 1972 Wes Craven classic. Critic Nathan Lee says the reboot is a classy one: "fine-tuned savage poetry" for horror fans.
NPR logo 'Last House On The Left': A Slick Horror Rehab

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'Last House On The Left': A Slick Horror Rehab

Attack Aftermath: Mari (Sara Paxton) is rescued by her parents after being kidnapped by thugs in Dennis Iliadis' retooled version of Wes Craven's classic thriller. Rougue Pictures hide caption

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Rougue Pictures

Attack Aftermath: Mari (Sara Paxton) is rescued by her parents after being kidnapped by thugs in Dennis Iliadis' retooled version of Wes Craven's classic thriller.

Rougue Pictures

The Last House on the Left

  • Director: Dennis Iliadis
  • Genre: Horror
  • Running Time: 84 minutes

Rated: R for violence and sexual content.

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Mari And Paige

'Ready For Anything'

Guesthouse

Shady Characters: Revenge against a cast of particularly nasty villains drives Last House. Lacey Terrell/Rogue Pictures hide caption

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Lacey Terrell/Rogue Pictures

Shady Characters: Revenge against a cast of particularly nasty villains drives Last House.

Lacey Terrell/Rogue Pictures

The horror in horror movies is generally of three kinds. First comes fear: We go to horror moves to be afraid of things, hungry for the thrill and catharsis of situations that provoke our instinctual aversion to danger.

Aligned to fear is revulsion, a desire to confront the grotesque, extreme or transgressive. These two aspects of horror claim overlapping audiences, but also draw a line in the sand between those with an appreciation for gore and those who prefer their terror less messy.

The third kind of horror is evoked by absurdity, surrealism, Grand Guignol excess. This is the most elastic mode, inclusive of the comedic, philosophical or outlandishly nasty.

The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven's 1972 debut film, partakes of all three types of horror, but its notoriety largely rests on its queasy mix of revulsion and absurdity. A touchstone of the "rape-revenge" subgenre, the movie pivots on the explicit brutalization, rape and murder of two young girls on their way to a rock concert. The aggressors, a family of criminals, are eventually found out — and graphically massacred — by one of the victim's parents.

Inevitably, Last House has now been remade by Hollywood. Surprisingly, the update is an exceptional, truly horrific movie that follows the outline of the original while changing almost everything about its sensibility and style.

Craven's film was crude, messy, volatile and vulgar, a blast of cinematic punk in opposition to the culture around it. Last House redux is a sleek, studio-financed production, eminently professional and suave. Where the original was pitched against the status quo, the remake squarely belongs to the mainstream.

Critics tend to dismiss this type of movie — reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and Halloween, for instance — with howls of nostalgia for the earlier, more authentic and "raw" experience of the originals. Well, fine. But the '70s are long gone, and so are the relevant modes of its cinema.

Now, in a culture where nothing's shocking and everything's for sale, the impulse to horrify has little choice but to manifest inside the system. Last House and its remake ilk may be cynical money-making bids on the part of producers and studios, but they're also made by writers, directors and crew obviously invested in, and loyal to, their genre.

And so director Dennis Iliadis polishes up Craven's template to a lethal shine. He keeps the narrative clenched and swift, effectively blunt in its violence but also remarkably tender in its depiction of the victimized family. If the original was a blast of grindhouse nihilism, the remake is fine-tuned savage poetry.

While no one in our jaded, seen-it-all culture will call for a ban on this Last House (as happened in 1972), the rape at its center is still a shock, reminding us how rarely movies venture into raw sexual terrain. (Sex extremity in the cinema now lies entirely in the province of rarefied art house provocateurs.)

Naturally, not everyone will want to go there, but it's a mistake to dismiss the movie as an irrelevant, cynical rehash of some supposed cult classic. Last House may be a multiplex film, miles away from the outlaw impulses that drove Craven, but within its own context it succeeds brilliantly. A rapt, white-knuckle hush fell over the screening I attended. No snarky giggles or cheap laughs here — just fear, revulsion and the horrible absurd.