Friday, October 4, 2013

Last House on the Left: 1972 vs. 2009

My journey began at my workplace when I saw the remake of Last House on the Left on the shelf. It got checked out fairly often, so I was curious. I’ll admit I had some low expectations and assumed that it would be the same excessive violence and unnecessary nudity seen in current horror. To my surprise, I really enjoyed what I watched. It was something different, the elements were balanced, and overall it was just satisfying. So, I ended up buying it the first chance I got and it had been a long time since I bought an American horror movie. What I didn’t know until later was that this movie was actually a remake. I wasn’t too encouraged to check out the original, until a friend began watching and expressing her disappointment toward it. Curiosity was piqued and recently I willed myself to rent it.

Mari is your typical teenage girl who wants to indulge in a little freedom with her friend. She has a good, close connection with her parents and they are moderately protective of their daughter. They're a little reluctant on letting Mari go out with her friend, but they give her permission to do so. Everything seems pretty normal between the girls and, in both versions, they are both lured away by a shy boy with a promise of marijuana. Unfortunately, their drug score gets turned into a potentially unsettling kidnapping.

The original movie was directed by one of my favorite horror movie directors, Wes Craven, and the remake was produced by him. When it comes to Wes Craven movies, I have set expectations for his work as a fan of the Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. From what I heard about the original, it was said to be controversial due to humiliating actions toward the victims. [**Spoiler** In short, rape and forced lesbianism (which is actually cut out of the movie)] Some of these controversial actions were recreated in the remake, but were modified to suit the viewers of that time. So, what can I say about both movies without giving away my conclusion too early.

Despite seeing the remake first and watching Cinema Snob’s take on the movie, I wasn’t completely sure what was going to happen. How close was the remake to the original? Did it leave out important details or add unnecessary elements to it to appeal to the new generation? Well, it did take a lot of the same scenes, characterizations, and even a bit of dialogue from the original. Unlike the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street, it kept the impact of those recycled elements while adding a little modern taste to it. There are things that are modified or removed from the remake, but I think it was for the better.

Let’s start with the things I liked from the original! For that time, I can understand the controversy surrounding the kidnappers and the girls. Even watching it now, you still feel sympathy, desperation, and humiliation for the girls. You really want them to survive and get away with minimal scars. There’s a definite attachment. The chemistry between the antagonists are convincing, entertaining, and effective. They’re definitely sick individuals who get off on humiliation and enjoy being that way. I also enjoy the sweet and satisfying bond between the parents. They have a good relationship with their daughter and their love for her shows through their actions and words in a realistic way. They also maintain a great relationship between each other when Mari is not with them and that bond stays consistent throughout the movie.

As much as I enjoyed the characters, their development, and the actions they take on, the flaws of this movie really put me off from really enjoying this movie. Ignoring the less than perfect camera work, which I can easily forgive because of the time period, I could not get over the overwhelming campiness. A good soundtrack could easily boost a movie’s effectiveness (see Bangkok Love Story), but a bad one could also easily drag a movie down. I’d rather have a forgettable soundtrack than one that distracts me from the tone of the movie. There was an overwhelming amount of campy, upbeat music in this movie. It completely ruined the mood for many scenes throughout this movie and I wish the soundtrack took things more seriously or maybe not exist at all. I know the 70s were plagued with camp, but for a movie that was considered controversial for its time, the silliness of the soundtrack was very off putting. There was also the comedic relief characters presented in cop form. I’ve seen many horror movies with dumb and incompetent officers, but this has to be the winner of dumb cops. This is a different category of dumb than the SWAT team of [Rec] ², since they made unrealistic dumb choices. No, these cops come from those 70s shows that would accidentally lock their keys in the car. Their presence was completely unnecessary. They didn’t help progress the story nor influenced the conclusion to the situation. All of their scenes completely interrupted the flow of action as they try to get ride on top of truck full of chickens [icing on the cake, the truck was driven by a country black woman with missing teeth]. When I really thought about this major flaw of camp, I had to think back on the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From what I remember, it had some silliness to it, but it fit the deranged family and the soundtrack matched the tone of the movie.

Since I had a major complaint about the original that it lowered my score, I must have a lot to say about the remake. Surprisingly, I don’t. I had to think and think about it, even while re-watching the movie and there are no major flaws that stick out for me. There might be a little bit of unnecessary nudity, but that was present in the original as well and didn’t bother me in either version. The gore and violence might’ve been a tad bit overboard, but it felt more satisfying than annoying. In fact, my father enjoys this movie and he is far from being a horror movie fan. He stays away from it. The Walking Dead is too much for him, so hopefully that paints a better picture for you. Something I didn’t pay attention on previous viewings of the remake was the soundtrack. I have no complaints there either. There’s one song that’s pretty stereotypical of being on one of those teen dramas, but it fit the scene. What about those annoying cops? Well, they’re in the beginning of the movie and are quickly disposed of and actually add a little something to the antagonists. One thing I found amusing was their mention of a chicken. Perhaps a small nod to the original? But for what little time they were on screen, they were far from being some sort of comedic relief.

The characters are kept the same and are even more fleshed out than the original, which probably adds a little to the length of the movie. I didn’t mind that at all. Although a lot of the scenes were reused, they have a modern makeover that is just as effective as its predecessor. The parts that were taken out also don’t hurt the movie at all. Although the violent actions were intensified to fit the current times of horror, it didn’t go overboard and gave a sense of satisfaction or disapproval, depending on the character. Without any spoilers, I enjoyed the conclusion of the remake more. The original’s ending lacked steam upon reaching the climax and the end felt a bit open ended. With the remake, there was a sense of urgency and even though it was quite a cruel way to end, it felt satisfying and less open ended.

It’s a rare occurrence for a remake to be as good or even better than the original, but in this case, I enjoyed the remake more than Wes Craven’s original. I do appreciate what he did with it and the boundaries he pushed with it, but the campiness of the movie took me out of the serious and urgent situation. The remake does a great job of keeping the integrity of the original while updating it and maintaining its emotional effectiveness. It doesn’t rely too much on violence and gore or go overboard with either of those elements. If you’re curious about both versions, I would suggests going the opposite what I did and watch the original first, but if you’re not really into comparing, I recommend the 2009 remake.

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