Wes Craven’s 1972 debut The Last House On The Left was a kind of accidental horror milestone, a crude and often patently inept drive-in slot-plugger that nonetheless tapped into primal fears in the culture. Part of it may be Craven’s deft appropriation of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, which itself is inspired by a medieval legend, but it’s the film’s raw, home-movie-like realism that brought sick force to its simple story of terror and retribution. And it’s those precise qualities that are woefully absent in the slick, repugnant new studio remake, which substitutes general “intensity” for the thorny stylistic and political particulars that made Craven’s film so singular. It’s not as if director Dennis Iliadis and screenwriters Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth are mucking with a masterpiece; they’re wise enough to elide some of dopier elements from the original, including the bungling cops as “comic relief” and the cheap irony of a victim’s parents preparing for her 17th birthday party as she’s being tortured outside their doorstep. But they cut out its heart in the process.
Moving the action to a fancy lakehouse—with a speedboat that may or may not come into play later on—the new Last House team takes the premise as license to be extreme with little moral justification. Sara Paxton stars as a goody-goody teenager who goes into town to hang out with her friend (Martha MacIssac), but gets abducted by an escaped convict (Garret Dillahunt) and his sadistic gang of three. After putting the girls through terrible physical and sexual trauma, the convict and his crew unwittingly seek shelter at a lakehouse, unaware that their hosts (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) are Paxton’s parents.
Craven’s Last House existed in response to the carnage coming back from Vietnam and the sense of disillusionment and nihilism that was rippling through the culture; it’s a little like the Gimme Shelter of horror movies, where even the hippies are driven to savagery. The remake, by contrast, chooses to exist in a vacuum, glossing up the shock tactics of the original while scrapping all the subtext. It’s now a straight-up crime and retribution flick, capped off by the dumbest wolf-feeding coda a 13-year-old ever dreamed up.