Film Review: The Last House on the Left

It was only a matter of time before they got around to revisiting 1972's "The Last House on the Left," a prime piece of horror-remake real estate that was well ahead of the "Saw" torture porn curve.

Firmly establishing writer-director Wes Craven as a genre original, the raw revenge-thriller -- loosely inspired by Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring" -- stood as a gritty, disturbing departure from standard monster movie fare.

Armed with a larger budget, the refurbished "House" adheres sufficiently closely to the original template so as not to offend purists and manages to pack an intensely visceral punch of its own, most effectively in the extended setup.

Given its arrival in a marketplace that hasn't exactly been hurting for horror, Rogue Pictures' Friday the 13th release should open solidly but well short of the mark set by the decidedly campier "Friday the 13th."

Entrusted with the new edition, and with the blessing of producer Craven, is Greek filmmaker Dennis Iliadis, whose hard-hitting 2005 film "Hardcore" dealt with teen prostitution in Athens.

Working from a script by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth that makes just a few key departures from the original, Iliadis maintains a tight rein on the grisly early proceedings, in which two young women (Sara Paxton and Martha MacIsaac) are beaten, raped and left for dead at the hands of a psychotic prison escapee (Garret Dillahunt) and his equally damaged accomplices.

As fate would have it, the sickos subsequently take shelter at the lake house belonging to Paxton's parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter), who soon identify them as their daughter's assailants and proceed to exact a fitting vengeance.

The inherent problem in remaking a film like "Last House on the Left" is that it originally was made in a very specific place in time. According to Craven, he was responding in part to the effect of violence on a society that was being exposed on a daily basis to graphically numbing battle footage coming out of Vietnam.

Stripped of that sociological context, the extreme brutality here can't help but feel more than a little exploitative, especially where the film's female victims are concerned.

And though Iliadis does a good job of establishing a brittle tension, things unravel somewhat during those retribution sequences in which Dad and Mom, not possessing the trained skills of, say, Liam Neeson's character in "Taken," pull off a few clunky, giggle-inducing maneuvers.

But the performances are uniformly sturdy, and the production values (with Capetown, South Africa, doubling for Westport, Conn.) get the job done with a stripped-down emphasis on mood over showy style.
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