'Last House on the Left' no friendly neighborhood flick

March 13, 2009|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,michael.sragow@baltsun.com

Vengeance porn meets the torture flick in The Last House on the Left, a new version of Wes Craven's vile 1972 cult horror movie that itself was a rank vulgarization of Ingmar Bergman's 1960 Oscar winner The Virgin Spring. It's a gore sundae with an S&M cherry on top.

Before the stunned eyes of his son (Spencer Treat Clark), a vicious killer (Garret Dillahunt), his sociopathic babe (Riki Lindhome) and his psycho brother (Aaron Paul) kidnap and assault two nubile teens (Sara Paxton and Martha MacIsaac). They kill one (MacIsaac) and rape the other (Paxton) before landing in the vacation home of a doctor (Tony Goldwyn) and his wife (Monica Potter) - who happen to be the raped girl's parents.

"If bad people hurt someone you love, how far would you go to hurt them back?" runs one tagline for this movie. For starters, I might make them sit through this movie repeatedly with their eyes clamped open, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Its depravity is matched only by its ineptness and bad faith.

The director, Dennis Iliadis, indulges in arty flashbacks and camera tricks, and tries to bring a religious agony to several of the murder scenes. He lathers on the dirgelike music (one of the musical numbers on the soundtrack is actually called "Dirge") and displays Dillahunt's knife entering his first female victim with a rituallike inevitability. The movie satisfies the tribal rites of moviegoing morons, all right; it serves up stressed and torn flesh for our delectation. In fact, since Paxton is a swimmer, we get to know her skin quite well before it gets muddied and flayed.

Seeing biker movies riff on art house classics like Rashomon was often humorous and exciting in the 1960s, but Wes Craven's '72 psycho-killer takeoff on Bergman was repulsive and pretentious, and so is this remake of his take-off. (Craven helped produce this movie.) The many parallels the screenwriters and the editor draw among wildly different violent actions - for example, between a burning by auto cigarette lighter and the good doctor cauterizing his daughter's bullet wound - are fancy window-dressing on an unspeakably tawdry peep show.

The movie means to be about how violence makes animals out of all of us, including the vengeful parents. Unfortunately, that also includes the audience.

The Last House on the Left (no stars)

(Rogue Pictures) Starring Sara Paxton, Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter. Directed by Dennis Iliadis. Rated R for violence (including rape), gore and language. Time 100 minutes.

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