City Desk

Review: The Last House on the Left

If movies have taught me anything important, it's this: Don't ever stay in a fucking lake house. You don't get a cell signal. There are vicious storms. And no one's around to run to when you're about to get your ass murdered.

A vacation home is the tired if effective setting in The Last House on the Left, a remake of Wes Craven's 1972 debut that was itself a remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring.

How to judge a horror flick in which the bogeymen are not of the superhuman but dirtbag variety, in which one teenage girl is murdered, another raped, and all of the characters are brutalized before most end up dead?

It's pure torture porn. (Yes, I'd like to retire the phrase too, but it's apt.) Though The Last House on the Left has a slight advantage over films such as Funny Games, which soaked in its viciousness as some sort of alleged social commentary about audience appetite, or the Saw franchise, which seems to think killing is fun as long as it's creative.

There's a revenge factor here. The bad guys get back what they dished out, graphically and leisurely. The final, gory scene italicizes the point that the assaulted girl's parents attack her attackers out of self-preservation, yes...but they also want vengeance. And doesn't that make it all OK?

(A clarification, now that I think about it: Saw also tries to philosophize, its demonic villain choosing victims who he believes don't appreciate their lives. A decent twist, albeit one that gets lost in the bloodshed.)

TLHOTL is also fairly well-made. It's tense and unrelenting throughout; my heart was actually pounding in the final chapters, something I can't say about, for instance, Friday the 13th, no matter how many cheap scares it employs.

But none of that makes the film sit any better with me. I'm not convinced that watching people get tortured and killed is worthwhile as entertainment, regardless of whether or not they deserve it — you have to establish brutality to justify brutality, and does the world really need more ugliness in the name of, essentially, a good time for audiences?

It was particularly distressing to listen to viewers at the screening I attended laugh at the film's murderers (the first batch) as if they were charming. A guy rams a girl's head against a bathroom sink and then says, "She's taking a nap." LOL!

Seriously? I understand nervous titters during a scary movie, but there's something twisted about chuckling over a monster's one-liners.

So while I can't exactly recommend TLHOTL, I also can't call it a waste of time. Suffice it to say I walked to my car really fast when the thing finally ended.

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  • Dan Luberto

    I know you, and many other critics dislike Saw films. But part of the message about appreciating your life is to show what it takes for these people to learn, which happens to be graphically violent.

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