Last House on the Left (2009) DVD Review

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Remaking LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT seemed like a dubious proposition at best; the original was so much a part of its cycnical ’70s era (Nixon, Vietnam, Watergate) that transplanting it to contemporary times seemed as if it could rob the story of vital cultural context. Yet somehow the new HOUSE works better than expected, perhaps because we had come full circle to a cultural context roughly equivalent to the early ’70s (Bush, Iraq, Torturegate). Consequently, the remake seemed weirdly appropriate in the waning days of the previous administration – not an anachronisms ripped from its own time and plopped down haphazardly into a new era.
The new version of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT does not seek to replicate the grungy, semi-documentary feel of the original. It follows the basic outlines, but there are several notable variations that prevent the remake from being a clone. Some of the overt sexuality violence has been toned down, but Krug and company’s heinous assault, rape, and murder of innocent victims packs as much impact as ever, creating that rare horror film moment when the gore-hound audience, instead of shouting “Ain’t it Cool!” in approval, is shocked into dumbfounded silence. Whether it’s an improvement over the original, is hard to say, but the new HOUSE on the block stands on its own foundation.
Not everything works as well as it should. Krug’s escape from police custody is an absurd movie-moment: when his brother and his girlfriend ram the police car in which he is being escorted, Krug somehow survives without a scratch, while both officers are lethally wounded.
And in a plot point deleted from the 1972 LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, after being raped and shot, Mari Collingham (Sara Paxton) survives not only long enough to tell her parents what happened; she’s is actually well enough to recover, if her parents can get her to a hospital.* This is supposed to increase the suspense when Mari’s attackers coincidentally show up at the titular “Last House on the Left” looking for shelter in a storm, but it blurs the perfect movie logic of the original, which focused on the gruesome revenge the parents took, the events playing out like a cathartic dream of karmic payback. The resulting cat-and-mouse scenes go on longer than they should, throwing off the rhythms, so the much-awaited revenge has trouble building to a perfect climax. Consequently, the film seems almost forced to add what feels like a tacked-on gore scene in which the villainous murderer-rapist Krug (Garret Dillahunt) gets what he deserves.

DVD DETAILS

Rogue’s single-disc release of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT offers the theatrical cut and an unrated cut. Apparently this is achieved with branching technology, as both versions are on the same side of the disc, and the Menu warns that the unrated version may cause havoc with some older DVD players.
In any case, the widescreen transfer is a beauty. The soundtrack is available in English, Spanish, and French, with subtitles options for Spanish, French, and English for the hearing impaired.
The unrated cut does not differ significantly from the R-rated theatrical version, which was plenty brutal on its own terms, featuring one of the most repugnant rape scenes ever committed to celluloid. There is an additional insert close-up of Mari’s friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) being stabbed in the belly, but the overall impact of the scenes is little changed, and you won’t see anything to match the over-the-top insanity of the 1972 film. (It is interesting that the heterosexual rape scene is acceptable in a mainstream nationwide release, but  original flm’s enforced lesbianism had to be left out, along with the scene of Mari’s mother offering a blowjob to her daughter’s rapist and then biting off  his penis).
Bonus features are slim, consisting of “Deleted Scenes” and “A Look Inside.”
The deleted scenes would be more accurately described as extended scenes or alternate takes. The deleted footage is mostly minor transitional stuff, but there is one over-long suspense scene showing Krug’s son Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) sneaking in to retrieve the gun that plays a role later. There is an amusing gag-reel moment: after Mari’s parents give her the keys to the family car, the stunt drive standing in for Sara Paxton hits a tree on the way out of the driveway. There is also a very impressive shot of John Collingwood’s bloody revenge on Krug; it’s the same action seen in the finished film, but presented here in a single take, wherein the distinction between live-actor and special effect is absolutely invisible.
The “Inside Look” is a promotional film – basically the trailer with added interviews from director Dennis Illiadis and producer Wes Craven, who discusses the rational behind remaking the original (which he wrote and directed). You won’t get much insider information, but you will hear Craven and Illiadis echo the 1972 advertising campaign: “Just keep telling yourself: It’s only a movie.”
*There is also a weird moment in which both parents react to the realization that Mari has been raped – as if being nearly murdered were bad enough, but sexual violation is somehow worse.
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