The Last House on the Left (1972) vs. The Last House on the Left (2009)
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Wes Craven & Ulla Isaksson (earlier screenplay)
Produced by Sean S. Cunningham
Editing: Wes Craven
Original Music by David Alexander Hess
Cinematography: Victor Hurwitz
Starring: David Hess
Fred J. Lincoln
Directed by Dennis Iliadis
Written by Adam Alleca & Carl Ellsworth
Based on the screenplay by Wes Craven
Produced by Wes Craven
Sean S. Cunningham
Editing: Pete McNulty
Original Music by John Murphy
Casting: Scout Masterson & Nancy Nayor
Starring: Tony Goldwyn
Spencer Treat Clark
In 1972, Wes Craven directed his gritty debut The Last House on the Left. The tagline was "To avoid fainting keep repeating: it's only a movie, it's only a movie, it's only a movie...". It was a brutal, vicious film about two girls on the way to a rock concert who end up getting abducted by a gang of escaped convicts, led by the incomparable David A. Hess as Krug Stillo. The lesser known facts are that it's based on the 13th century Swedish ballad "Töres dotter i Wänge" on which Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring is also based. An incredibly ambitious first project which landmarked Craven as a new and interesting face in horror. There have been many things said about the film, that it's useless, it's sick and utterly depraved, but then in 2006 Rogue Pictures picked up the film rights for the remake slated being the first film produced by Craven's new production studio- Midnight Pictures. He had limited funds in 1972 and now was interested to see what could be done with an ambitious director and more cash. The new film was darker looking and even more realistic than the original, which many thought probably harder to do. Both contain a rape scene which was criticized in the 70s and once again in 2009 after the film was finally released, if not more so in the remake. Many things can be said about this film, but certainly that it isn't interesting can't be one of them.
The rape scene in the original 1972 version was nowhere near as graphic and extended as the remake, which is something I prefer; most new horror movies, or remakes of some classics, always have to go for that nastier version. In the original, even the brutal scenes where they toy with the girls (including the rape scene) has a tinge of humour in it, along with David Hess' original music that adds the definitive 70s feel and some camp to the overall film. Craven went for a more subdued feel, even though the movie is still a brutal, realistic trip into hell; in the remake, it seems mainly they were going for all shock value instead of emotionality.
David Hess plays a much creepier and ruthless criminal in the original than Garret Dillahunt, although the latter is especially ruthless in the humiliation of the girls and the eventual rape. Hess is a more typical bad guy, in the sense that he really toys with the character of Mr. Colling in their big showdown; he taunts the father to pick up a weapon to help himself out and even the odds, and he even taunts his own son into killing himself when he pulls a gun on him.
The killing of Weasel is a lot better in the 1972 version than the death of Aaron Paul's character (although the manner of death is much cooler and more gory in the remake, of course). Mrs. Collingwood comes on to Weasel and lures him outside for a little fellatio, then proceeds to bite off whatever she can fit in her mouth; when Monica Potter's character tries to seduce Aaron Paul, however, she does a very realistic job of portraying the emotions of her character because she is very nervous about being near one of the men who killed her daughter, whereas Mrs. Collingwood in the original acted as if nothing had happened and it almost seemed too easy.
The ending in the original 1972 version is a lot better than the remake, mainly due to the fact that we see (most likely) there will be consequences to the parents actions for their revenge, when the sheriff shows up just as the last of the gang is being killed. As much as we can relate to the parents and say we would kill the ones who hurt our loved ones, there is still the fact that in reality there would be payment due for their vengeful actions. In the remake, we just get one last throttle as Krug's head is placed in a microwave to be blown to bits by the parents.
It seems in the remake we get more of a clear understanding on the part of the parents that their daughter was killed by Krug and his gang; apart from the shot of the necklace on Krug Junior, there's not a whole lot of evidence that the gang was responsible, where in the remake we also get a good scene where the son notices a picture of Mary on the fridge and goes white as a ghost with Mrs. Collingwood looking on. Of course, we know what the necklace means and especially once they discover their daughter in the woods, but it just seems that Craven sort of jumped right in without caring about any fortified proof on the parents behalf- not a major plothole, but just a small one that I noticed upon rewatching the original version. Then again- maybe I missed something?
One big improvement, which is also very obvious, is that the look of the film is newer and it's very well shot. As much as I love movies from the 60s and 70s, a lot of older films sometimes do not stand the test of time with a lot of audiences mainly due to the fact that it looks so old and the grainy filmstock creates this vintage look that a lot of people are put off by (which I have personally heard a lot of people from my generation say). If nothing else, the more slick look of the remake has drawn an audience that normally would never have heard about this film- hopefully a lot of those people who enjoyed the remake might have decided to go and have a look back at the original. As much as I wish Hollywood would concentrate more on original screenplays and new ideas, one good function of the remake is that a lot of times it draws more of an audience towards the original films and gets people into some classic, older cinema.
Another advantage that a remake in our time has is that the sleeker look (most) films have today can enhance the dirty, nasty feel and look of a film. The gang looks greasier, nastier in this version, the blood looks better and it looks disgusting- all this is possible because of the technology nowadays, so it doesn't fully take away from the gritty feel of the original, it just gives the grit a different taste in our mouths.
In closing, I have to say that there is merit in the rape and revenge theme of The Last House on the Left because it's realism; life is ugly, ugly things happen to good people some times. I do agree with certain critics that the remake, the rape scene mainly, is almost too realistic for people to handle. Some times less is more, and I think Wes Craven as a director understood that best when pertaining to the difficult issue of the rape when filming the original. Of course it was still over the top, it was still ruthless and disturbing yet it still was subtle at points where it really needed to be. We want to see the revenge but to see it we also have to experience the incident that triggered, and therein lies the difficulty. We're there to see the horror aspects, people want to see the death and destruction that a horror film usually brings. An exploitation film such as The Last House on the Left gives us that but also tries to bring us right into the real world by involving the rape. The film, both versions, is a very difficult and realistic look at a terribly ugly part of human life and art usually does imitate life. We want to see all of the beauty but we are so afraid to look at the pain.