But director Dennis Iliadis and writer Carl Ellsworth roll their version of TLHOTL back to the initial simple premise of the original (the idea of which Craven lifted from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring), and ended up getting TLHOTL's crucial third act almost exactly right. For those unfamiliar with this film in any of its variations, here is the basic plot design (stick figure-style!): two teenage babes venture into "the woods"; gang of scuzz buckets rape, beat, kill, and humiliate the girls; gang coincidentally crosses path of girl's parents and receive their comeuppance in the form of vigilante street justice. In the roles of writer & director, Craven treated that final section as an opportunity to jump on the trendy 1970's revenge porn bandwagon, making for a fine night of casual viewing if you're having a couch party with some friends, but observed as carefully picked apart piece of art, it's a total zero sum zero of a movie.
Because of circumstances in the new TLHOTL (no phone, no car) the parents are given justification to kill, not just fetishistic carte blanche to slaughter-at-will for a gore-thirsty audience. This reawakens the frightening question every audience member has asked them self on the limits in which they would go to in order to protect their family or loved ones, thus furthering internal debates over the issues of deadly self-defence and capital punishment. At its heart, Iliadis and Ellsworth's film is about familial preservation. In fact - and this ain't no bullshit - I even teared up in a scene where Mari's parents lay her out "operation style" on the family room table in a desperate attempt to save her life. Monica Potter, as Emma, is especially believable (and excellent) at juggling the maternal duties of nurturing and protection while up against the most extreme kind of challenges.
Watch how Emma and John use appliances and tools from around the house in order to keep their family secure. Their weapons of choice include the sink, firelog poker, fire extinguisher, hammer, and wine bottle, objects that have domestic practicality on a peaceful day, but on a day of survival, they flip-flop into battle accessories. It's a brilliant plot conceit by Ellsworth: using the home to protect the home. And in Idialis' best moment, he juxtaposes the lifeless bodies of three scuzz buckets with an image of Mari opening her eyes. It's a 10 second visual argument on the need for war.
But The Last House on the Left has its problems. I've spent most of my time praising the films' final section, but the first two thirds are a drag, a nearly lifeless hour of cinema existing solely to set-up the worthwhile conclusion. I continue to be perplexed about the length of some of these movies. The Last House on the Left is 110 minutes long... but why?!?!?! There is no logistical reason for it. The film could make its points (specifically highlighting the best ones) by being no longer than an 80 minute film. Also, I really want to know whose idea it was to tack on the ending... the very, very ending. As it stood, after the showdown at the Collingwood house, we see parents and daughter and newly acquired "son" sail away on a boat. But then the film hits us with one final splatter scene which threatens to wipe away the provocative section we just witnessed. It's so bogus, and it so defines hackery. I must know who did this. Time for research... but I suspect it was Craven being counterproductive in that producer role.