Review: Last House on the Left

Posted by: Elizabeth Hughes Belzil  //  March 13, 2009 @ 2:58am

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you microwaved someone's head . . . while they're still alive!? Do you enjoy watching as appendages are hacked up by the sharp-edged whirling of a kitchen garbage disposal? Does the prospect of viewing the brutal rape of adolescent girls fill you with slobbering anticipation?

If the answer to any of the above questions is "yes," then Last House on the Left is definitely the movie for you; for all others, this film should be avoided at all costs. Whether or not you enjoy this remake of the 1972 Wes Craven flick of the same name depends almost entirely on your feeling towards the "torture porn" genre as a whole. This genre, defined for the new millennium by films like Saw and Hostel has launched a long list of productions featuring an abundance of cruel and unusual punishment, unnecessary surgery, dismembered body parts, and unmitigated sadism. For its part, Last House on the Left is an entertaining, fast-paced, and quietly stylish addition to the canon.

The film follows the plot of the original fairly closely, though thankfully omitting the bungled attempts at slapstick humor this time round. The Collingwoods, a well appointed family of overachievers (Dad's a handsome doctor, Daughter's a swimming champion, and Mom's . . . well. . . a beauty) arrive for a fun-filled sojourn at their out-of-the-way vacation home. Things are going well until a group of white trash bad guys (a newly escaped felon, his girlfriend and his brother) arrive on the scene. When young Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton), who comes off as ludicrously naïve for a seventeen year old, is hanging out with a friend in town, she has the misfortune to stumble across the path of said baddies. The two are abducted, violated and left for dead.

Shortly after perpetrating these heinous crimes, the villains are caught in a terrible storm, forcing them to seek refuge at an isolated nearby house, which, coincidentally, is the Collingwood vacation home. They are warmly welcomed and even offered a place to sleep. In the middle of the night Mari appears on the porch, half dead after slithering through hundreds of meters of muck with a gunshot wound. The parents, realizing the horrors that have been enacted on their child by the group of strangers asleep in their guesthouse, decide to seek revenge. In keeping with the Collingwood's overachieving nature, revenge must go beyond merely killing the villains. And here's where the fun begins . . .

As stated previously, the film is certainly competent and some might say good for what it is. However, even the most seasoned of genre fans may find the gratuitous violence against women difficult to stomach. The violence is not limited to the lengthy rape scene, but pervades almost every aspect of the film. Horror movies are renown for their fetishizing of teenage flesh, but Last House on the Left takes it a step further. The camera takes every opportunity to linger, dirty old man style, on Mari's barely-there breasts, her crotch (thinly concealed by a pair of flowery cotton panties), and spindly adolescent legs. In perhaps the film's worst moment, we watch Mari's friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac), her top half clothed in nothing other than a lacy black bra, stabbed first in the lower abdomen and then in her lower back. Perhaps because the audience foresees Mari's upcoming rape or the knife's close proximity to Paige's erogenous zone, the stabbing comes off as a twisted act of sexual penetration. Towards the end of the film, we even get a quick shot or the female miscreant's breasts as she lies dead -- pretty sick.

While watching this film, as suspenseful and exciting as it was, I couldn't help but ponder the broader implications of a film like this. It's something I don't know the answer to and even if I had an idea, I don't have the space to elaborate. So instead I will end this review the same way I began it: with questions.

What do you make of a film where the good guys are more sadistic than the bad guys? Have the filmmakers compromised our humanity by capitalizing on our inherent desire for justice and, in turn, caused us to sympathize with torturers? Or does the desire for justice only act to conceal our true bloodlust? And how much is too much before we finally have to stop watching?

Tags: horror, wes craven, garret dillahunt, monica potter, sara paxton

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