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|March 19-25, 2009
•Home on the rage
by Michael Phillips
•The pervs next door
by Glenn Whipp
Home on the rage
by Michael Phillips
The strategy behind the remake of The Last House on the Left is clear. It grinds our bones to make its bread.
I’m sort of astonished it works, just as it’s astonishing Wes Craven, the writer-director-editor of the determinedly “ugly” (Craven’s description) 1972 original, went on to create such rich cinematic nightmares as the first Nightmare on Elm Street. The old Last House was pure unstable trash, a grindhouse item provoking all sorts of protests and cuts regarding the content. Its most appalling cruelties — urination, castration, exposed intestines (portrayed by condoms stuffed with peanut butter and jelly) and a nihilistic late-Vietnam War era tone — were made somehow more disturbing by the film’s misjudgments. The comic relief and chipper bluegrass musical score didn’t just belong to another movie; they belonged to another galaxy.
Craven borrowed his rape-revenge narrative from an unlikely source: The Virgin Spring, Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 allegory in turn based on a 13th-century Swedish ballad. Now comes the blunt, unusually well-acted remake of Last House, produced by Craven and his old crony Sean S. Cunningham (who begat the Friday the 13th franchise). They’ve overseen a horror remake — more of a thriller by definition, and a grueling one — that doesn’t amp up the grisly extravagances of the original, or even pay much attention to what the kids have been going for lately, in the realm of the Hostel or Saw charnel houses. This film, the first in English directed by Greek native Dennis Iliadis (Hardcore), is what it is: a stark story of bloodthirstiness quenched, first by the obvious antagonists, then by sympathetic, civilized characters who avenge the atrocities that have come before.
As in ’72, the pursuit of marijuana sets the victims on a path to hell. Mari (Sara Paxton), teenage daughter of John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma (Monica Potter), leaves her folks at the lake home while she and her weed-minded pal (Martha MacIsaac) go into town and get to know a sweet, strange young guy (Spencer Treat Clark) who has the stuff they’re looking for back at a pretty rough-looking motel. When his family arrives — father Krug (Garret Dillahunt) chief among them, a recent prison escapee and heartless sociopath — the girls’ lives get much worse very quickly.
The Last House on the Left hinges on humiliation and vengeance, which makes it like most other modern horror titles. Its focus on sexual assault, however, puts it in a different, more primal league. The way director Iliadis shapes the key misery-inducing sequence, there’s no hype or slickness or attempt to make the rape palatable or visually “dynamic.” For that you have to go see Watchmen.
The second half of the film offers a more reassuring comfort zone for the audience, pitting the Manson-type family against the parents of Mari. Two sequences point to the remake’s strengths and weaknesses. When John and Emma realize who’s in their house, the kitchen scene (crimson shades of Rolling Thunder) satisfies the audience’s need for Old Testament justice; it’s pretty dazzling in its suspense as well as its homey domestic sadism. This is followed by a far less interesting cat-and-mouse slaughter, capped by an epilogue that’s basically a sight gag belonging to a far more jokey pulp universe.
Such aspects of the screenplay by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth are there because they’ve been there in so many previous, financially lucrative franchise items. The writing’s better than that as a whole, though. Last House proceeds with a grim sense of purpose, its actors portraying characters approximating real people and plausible behavior, amid plausible tension, borne of a terrible situation. Is it pointless? It is, actually. Does that kill it? No, actually. I wouldn’t call it a good time, but I would call it an unexpectedly good genre film.
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The pervs next door
by Glenn Whipp
The funniest thing about the monumentally stupid anti-comedy Miss March is that somehow the producers persuaded Playboy to sign off on the thing.
Now, self-awareness has never been Hef’s strong suit, and maybe he goes by the maxim that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. (How else do you explain The Girls Next Door) But even a 15-year-old boy would find this movie to be a chore.
If Miss March possessed at least one decent idea, it would be tempting to think that it’s intentionally parodying the vapidity of the Playboy “philosophy.” Certainly, its portrait of the plastic people populating a Playboy Mansion party is rather damning. (Apparently, it’s easy to confuse the champagne with dog urine at these events.)
But Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore, who wrote, directed and star in Miss March, make the film into an unfunny wish-fulfillment fantasy for adolescent boys afraid of girls. It’s Weird Science, only our heroes can sit back and relax because the plastic surgeon already has done all the work for them.
The story has nice guy Eugene (Cregger) getting drunk at his high school prom, falling down a flight of stairs and landing in a coma, just as he was about to lose his virginity to his hot girlfriend, Cindi (Raquel Alessi). When Eugene wakes up four years later, he discovers Cindi has moved on — to the pages of Playboy. And here he is, atrophied, incontinent — and still a virgin!
Action must be taken, so Eugene’s lewd-and-crude best friend, Tucker (Moore, doing a bad Ace Ventura-era Jim Carrey), piles him into a station wagon for a road trip to the mansion. Along the way, they encounter some very angry firemen, make fun of epileptics, pick up a couple of horny Russian lesbians and meet a former classmate (Craig Robinson) who has become an unlikely rap superstar.
The boys’ Tweedledum and Tweedledee act wears thin after about a minute, which is unfortunate, because there are no memorable supporting characters to pick up the slack. Cindi, a.k.a. Miss March, remains a cipher, given less screen time than Eugene’s bowel problems.
The best line comes when a bodyguard socks Eugene, saying, “It sticks in my craw when people disrespect women.” Again: self-awareness, anyone?
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