3/15/09

The Road Leads to Nowhere


The blogs have been all a buzz about the remake of Wes Craven's infamously brutal, The Last House on the Left.

To be sure, movie theaters, of late, have been lousy with remakes of horror films, and it does not appear that there is any end in sight.

I usually avoid the remakes, or wait until they show up on DVD and give them a cursory glance, because I am one of those people who does not believe in reinventing the wheel. I have yet to see a current remake that has improved upon the original (and that goes for an older remake like John Carpenter's version of The Thing - I still think Howard Hawks' version is the best).

But that's not the reason why I am going to avoid the latest version of The Last House on the Left.

The first time I saw the original, was at a drive-in back in the summer of 1978. The movie was already six years old, and already legendary, and I, for one, could not wait to see it.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I'm sure that most know the plot; two young women go to the city to see a concert, and on the way try to score some dope from an odd, but seemingly harmless young man who in turn brings the young women to his New York City hovel and introduces them to his "family", a group of depraved freaks who eventually rape and kill both of the women. Eventually the killers end up at the home of one of the women, and when the parent's discover what they did, they extract revenge upon their Manson-like guests.

All of this is based on Bergman's Virgin Spring; (which was based on a medieval balled called, Töres dotter i Wänge) so, in a way, the original The Last on the Left was a remake of a remake.

Be that as it may, as the film played out, I found my self nauseated by what I saw. The utter depravity that was portrayed pretty much turned my stomach. Watching a group of scumbags carve their names on to a girl's chest, or make another urinate in her pants, and of course the rape scenes ... I was dumbfounded and sickened. Honestly, were I not with a group of my friends, and a victim of teen peer pressure, I might have just started my car and left.

By the end of the film, I found myself cheering the parent's vengeance - I especially liked the mother and her unique way of extracting revenge via bloody fellatio. I did not know what catharsis meant at the time, but that did not mean that I was not experiencing it. And yet, when it was all over, I felt dirty, like I needed a shower.

Over time, I pretty much put Last House ... out of my mind. That was until about a year ago, when I saw it again via Netflix.

I wondered if it would prove to still be a harrowing ordeal, or was my memory just making it all seem worse than what it was.

I made it up to the first rape scene, and once more, I found myself sickened.

I opted to not watch the rest of the film; once had been enough.

While I don't consider myself a prude, watching torture and rape presented as realistically as it was in Last House... is not my idea of entertainment. Of course, with films like Saw and Hostel (and the sequels to said films raking in the bucks), I must be in the minority. That's not to say that I am putting Craven in the same league as hacks like Eli Roth or James Wan, no, I think that Craven might have been actually trying to create something unique with his film...and if nothing else, he did manage to cobble together a movie that was so controversial , people would be discussing it thirty some odd years later.

But for me, I don't need to see a remake, or a reboot, or a re-imagining, or whatever the hell they're calling it. Life is harsh enough with its Darfurs, Neo Nazi's, gun violence, hateful rhetoric and wars. I don't need to watch a woman being disemboweled to understand what a sick, sad world I live in. Not at all.

The horror films that I enjoy are those that employ elements of the supernatural, or the unexpected ... and yes, the occasional slasher film. But let's get real, no one in his right mind believes in Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. They are nothing more than cartoonish bogey men meant to give us a good scare; and I love a good scare as much as the next guy, but don't serve me up a cinematic plate of violent depravity and expect me to gush over how wonderful it is - that's just not going to happen.

So, I will be passing on the remake of Last House ... been there, done that; it's a road that leads to nowhere.

6 comments:

Cheekies said...

Pax I recently saw this one for the first time. I too felt dirty and was really sickened by the movie. That's saying a lot for me. I won't be seeing the remake either. The entire time I was watching the original I was shocked that I was actually seeing what I was seeing. That, for once, was not a good thing. I too cheered at the parents revenge but it still was not enough to make me want to see it ever again nor a remake. I'll go see Watchmen.

Anonymous said...

I understand your perspective. However, most of the films that you describe do show violence in a cartoonish and unrealistic way. I think a film that confronts the ugliness of it (and confronts the audience's expectations of "entertaining violence") is truly artful.

What is it saying that we want to see violence that doesn't leave us sickened? This is the question this film has always asked and why it haunts you to this day IMHO.

JA said...

Yeah, I certainly am not going to begrudge you not wanting to watch this remake or the original of this film again, since I really have no desire to watch the original again. I haven't seen it in probably a dozen years actually.

But I also agree with anon's comments about the violence as confrontation being meaningful and having a purpose.

I wasn't looking forward to seeing the remake, but because this sort of thing is where my deepest cinematic interests lay - the films that mess with and subvert our expectations as viewers of violence and how we as a society present it - I felt the need to go. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a couple drinks in me beforehand though. And I thought the film did a pretty good job. It was painful, and tremendously uncomfortable... but yeah, it should be. It's rape and murder.

I thought it got a little iffy with the scenes of parental retribution at the end, but then again it's supposed to I think, since that's what it's all about.

Blah blah I could ramble about this sort of thing all day. Like I said, I don't begrudge you in the slightest for not feeling the need to sit through the movie. I find the entire topic fascinating though.

Adam said...

I find the original sick but so fascinating and seventies in style that I have no real trouble watching it.

I gave the remake a chance and felt pretty ambivalent. It makes some fine choices and handles a few moments really well -- in a more slick and conventional sort of way -- but the ending failed completely for me. I think the power of the content itself is strong enough to overcome some weak points, which actually goes for the original as well.

Wayne said...

I saw the original on video way back in the mid 1980s. I was sickened and horrified. I kept turning it off because I was so disgusted. I still think it's a sick film--but it was made for a reason.
I saw the remake. It's nowhere near as brutal as the original (seriously, how could it be?) but it was dull and boring! ALL the acting sucked and it treated the audience like a bunch of idiots. Also the gang here was cleaned up. Krug especialy looked hot and had a nice body!!!! I mean WTF??? Are we supposed to identify with them? Trust me--you missed nothing.

ILozZoc said...

The problem with the remake is that it eschews the pivotal moral dilemma the situation causes for the parents. How far would YOU go if your child is tortured and killed in such a grotesque way. I believe Craven had a valid and important approach for his film.

The remake strips away the moral dilemma, and the completely gratuitous microwave ending is tacked on for gross-out effect. I was insulted by the film, although I found the acting and the production values professional enough. Too many horror films today are done as emotionless voyeuristic experiences. To say that they depict reality in their violence and depravity is not a strong reason to sustain their artistic or commercial integrity.