Of all the supposed masters of macabre, Wes Craven has been the most prolific…and practical. He constantly makes movies, even if fans refuse to take him or his latest titles (Vampire in Brooklyn, Cursed) seriously. He’s also been a shrewd businessman, making sure that he keeps control over almost everything he’s done. That’s why, along with John Carpenter, you see so many of his past “glories” being recast for current audiences. As part of the horror remake craze, Craven has seen The Hills Have Eyes redux become a 2006 hit, and he’s got several more projects in the pipeline – Shocker, The People Under the Stairs, even a new version of his ’80s classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. Yet messageboard fever has been furious over the proposed plans to take on his most notorious film, The Last House on the Left. Some see it as the ultimate form of sacrilege. Others – with a much clearer memory of the original – wonder what all the fuss is about.
With the Craven approved update arriving in theaters this Friday (13 March), SE&L is going to step up and guide you through the major changes and narrative twists that the new version of The Last House on the Left has to offer. While nominal in most cases, those contemplating a Friday evening trip to the Cineplex may be interested in knowing the score. Be warned though – there are MASSIVE SPOILERS o’plenty here. In fact, both movies have the facts and fatalities completely given away over the course of the article. Perhaps a better plan would be to wait until after a viewing to visit this piece. After all, both the original and new Last House rely on shock value as a means of making their point, and nothing spoils suspense faster than a little firsthand knowledge. Either way, here’s the compare and contrast between 1972 and 2009:
At the beginning of the original film, Wes Craven offered the standard “true story” tease, stating that certain names had been changed to protect those still living. Oddly enough, something similar could be said about the update. Gone are the goofball cops who provide more slapstick than protection for the local populace. Equally missing are all counterculture sidebars (harassing hippies) and throwaway local color (chicken farmer Ada Washington). Krug is still here, as are Sadie and Junior. Fred “the Weasel” has been renamed Francis and is given a slightly smaller libido than his 1972 equal. He’s not a fellow escaped con but the actual brother of Krug. Troubled girl from across the tracks Phyllis has been replaced by good natured grocery store clerk Paige, and all the subtext about Mari’s friend being “bad” and “slutty” has been swapped for concepts like “trusting” and “innocently reckless”. Again, this is probably to make her death that much more senseless, but it does remove a rather strong element from the wilderness wilding to come. Perhaps the biggest change happens for Junior, however. Instead of being a strung out junkie selling out everyone for a hit, we now get a weak willed kid who just wants to be liked. His transformation is one of The Last House on the Left 2009’s strangest surprises.
On the other side of things, Mari is a strong swimmer (a fact that makes the middle act escape seem rather obvious), Dad is a workaholic type ER doctor (perfect for suturing wounds and delivering emergency chest cavity venting) and Mom is a slightly sexy teacher with a hidden talent for payback. Gone are the arcane, erudite conversations of the 1972 couple. In their place are a matter of fact pair of parents who see no other solution than destroying the people who imperiled their child. Our new guardians are more thoughtful and “hip”. The original were so old school and square that their sudden switch over to maniac mode was truly disturbing.
Oddly enough, there is little difference between the basic plot of the 1972 film and this 2009 redux. Screenwriters Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth are very faithful to the initial movie’s main set-up (sorry, no trips into NYC to see some scummy rock band) while attempting to expand the emotional core between the characters. We learn that the Collingwoods have faced a tragedy the year before with the death of their oldest son Ben. Everyone, especially Mari, still carries complex memories. Our heroine and her pal Paige fall into a kind of trap, although Junior is far less complicit this time around (in fact, one could argue for his complete innocence). The lure of pot is still the main sticking point for the gals’ deadly fate, but sex is now secondary in Krug and company’s plans. As you’ll see below, Mari doesn’t die instantly after her ordeal, and there is less hospitality and interpersonal interaction between the Collingwoods and the criminals before the mayhem begins. In a recent interview, Craven claims to really like the subtle changes. By keeping Mari alive, mandating that she get to a hospital soon or die, the parents have a real reason to go apeshit on her tormentors. In the original, the vengeance felt anarchic and animalistic. Here, it’s in direct correlation for the couples’ need to help their child.
It’s SPOILER time, and if you don’t want to know the fate of any character in either film, turn away now and prepare for Friday’s opening. Indeed, the biggest difference fans will see in the recent remake is the way in which all the deaths occur. For those unfamiliar with the Craven original, Mari and Phyllis are taken out into the woods. Both are tortured and tormented. Phyllis is stabbed repeatedly and then disemboweled. Mari is raped, and then as she tries to escape, is shot in the back and left for dead in a nearby lake. Craven originally intended for the girl to remain alive long enough for her parents to find her (the scene was shot and is available on the recent Special Edition DVD release), but he figured that it was better to leave said reconciliation on the cutting room floor. Instead, Krug and his gang show up at the Collingwood house, they have dinner, and then the killing begins. Junior shoots himself. Fred is seduced by Mom, has his “manhood” removed orally, and is left to bleed to death. And in the film’s shocking climax, Krug and Dad battle until the latter gets the advantage via chainsaw. Mom slits Sadie’s throat and leaves her to rot.
In the remake, Mari burns Sadie with a cigarette lighter. This causes a car crash which breaks Francis’ nose. The gang takes the girls out into the woods, where Paige is stabbed. She bleeds to death. Mari is raped in a very brutal manner, and as she escapes to the lake, is shot in the back. She indeed survives, and manages to make it back home. Desperate to get her to a hospital, Mom and Dad soon discover that the individuals who showed up at the house earlier were actually the fiends who did this to their child. After some emergency meatball surgery, Mari is secured away while her parents exact revenge. Francis is semi-seduced, stabbed, and bludgeoned. Mom tries to drown him in the kitchen sink, and Dad steps in to help. Francis’s hand finds its way into the disposal, and the couple throws the switch. Finally, while screaming in agony, Dad drops the butt end of a hammer into the guy’s skull. After retrieving a gun from Junior, Sadie is shot in the face.
Once again, Krug and Dad fight to the death, and before we know it, the escaped murderer is supposedly dead. However, in a key last minute addendum, Dad returns from the hospital to find Krug lying on a table, paralyzed. Seems our father figure cut his spinal column so he couldn’t move. As the criminal pleads, Dad puts his head in a broken microwave, cranks up the juice, and waits for the moist results. One fried face later and Krug’s coconut literally explodes. The End. Now, in some ways, both films are cruel and callous in their disregard for human life. There is much more physicality in the remake, more fisticuff back and forth between the Collingwoods and Krug’s clan. At the same time, however, the deaths in the original seemed more apropos. Fred’s demise in particular mirrored the horrific way in which he treated the girls, and the original Krug’s animalistic bravado required something as extreme as a chainsaw to end its power. Still, the microwave gag is a wonderful denouement, and audiences will surely respond to the comeuppance given these heartless, soulless creeps.