The original version of The Last House On The Left was directed by horror maestro Wes Craven and released in 1972 when the controversy over what certificate it should be granted – or whether it should be granted one at all – began.
Thirty years later the distributors tried again to get it past the notoriously sensitive BBFC without cuts. Again they failed, but finally, in 2008 it was released on DVD in the UK in its uncut form. A year on and amid the seemingly endless conveyor belt of horror remakes, The Last House On The Left has arrived in our cinemas. But as you might expect with Craven still involved, albeit in a producer’s role, this is a slickly put together film.
The story begins with violent criminal Krug (Dillahunt) being busted out of police custody by girlfriend Sadie (Lindhome) and brother Francis (Paul). Their ruthless dispatch of Krug’s custodians sets the tone for what is to come. Meanwhile, champion swimmer Mari Collingwood (Paxton) is having a holiday with her parents Jon (Goldwyn) and Emma (Potter) in their lakeside country house. A visit to see her friend Paige (MacIsaac) triggers a series of events which ends with Krug and his dysfunctional family unit kidnapping the two girls. A car crash and several vicious assaults later and Krug and co are forced to seek refuge in the Collingwood’s house. Unwilling to be complicit in the day’s horrific events, Krug’s son Justin (Clark) “rats out” his dad and on finding their daughter raped and shot but still alive, Jon and Emma swear bloody vengeance on the perpetrators.
From the opening scene involving Garret Dillahunt’s Krug there is an air of menace on screen which means that there’s no need for Iliadis to resort to jumpy shock moments. The unfolding of the story has a sickening inevitability about it, leading up to the pivotal and horrifyingly prolonged rape scene. Pivotal because this is the moral crux of the story – without this horrific assault, would Mari’s parents have taken the law into their own hands? And was it right for them to do so anyway? Of course, the viewer’s sympathies lie entirely with the Collingwoods but when they begin meting out their own brand of justice to the criminals, it’s often no less unpleasant to watch.
Indeed, the second half of the film reverts somewhat back to traditional horror staples as Jon and Emma use anything they can get their hands on to dispose of the baddies and bring horrific new meaning to the phrase ‘kitchen sink drama’. But although this section descends into the more familiar unrealistic slapstick violence of horror films of yore, the tension created in the first half lingers on and makes watching events unfold a physically exhausting experience. So while The Last House On The Left can barely be classified as fun, it does achieve what it sets out to do very effectively. It may be visceral, grim, depressing and tough to watch but it’s well made, gripping stuff from start to finish.