Wes Craven’s 1972 debut feature The Last House on the Left was a scuzzy exploitation film that gained notoriety on the drive-in circuit and became a horror classic almost by default, as its director went on to become one of the defining figures of the genre. The original Last House is the idiosyncratic vision of a budding auteur working under grindhouse constraints, and in its own clumsy, garish way, it takes on serious issues about the end of the free-love era and the horrors of Vietnam coming into stark contrast with the loose openness of 1960s counterculture.
By contrast, Greek director Dennis Iliadis’ new Last House remake, produced by Craven himself, is just another meaningless horror movie. It might not be quite as inept as certain other recent horror remakes, but it’s nevertheless ugly and hollow, retaining the often extremely intense brutality of Craven’s original while losing all of the meaning. Craven’s movie was bleak in its depiction of the depths of depravity to which a couple (here played by Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn) would sink in order to exact revenge on the band of sadists who raped and murdered their daughter and her friend. The screenplay by Carl Ellsworth and Adam Alleca softens certain parts of the narrative to turn it into a more conventional horror story, and Iliadis adds in extra amounts of gore and prolongs sequences that, in Craven’s original, amounted to maybe one or two sickening images.
The result is a movie that isn’t so much shocking as it is numbing, and which loses the impact of the original by copping out on important plot elements. Instead, we get more time spent on useless character development, and an ending that ties up loose ends rather than suggesting future horrors. The acting on the whole is miles ahead of the crude original (go-to creepy guy Garret Dillahunt is effectively menacing as the main baddie), but still mostly just rudimentary. What a Last House remake needed wasn’t better acting or more back story, but a way to remain relevant and daring nearly 40 years after the original first challenged and outraged audiences. This new version will, at most, merely make them uneasy.