The third and final classic horror film remake on my list is my personal favorite, although not necessarily the best. The Last House on the Left remake is perhaps a better film cinematically in my belief, however, I still contend that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the best because it was much more successful and popular and appealed to a much wider audience.
This is probably going to be very long because I love this movie so much, so I apologize right now!
The Last House on the Left is another Wes Craven classic and was in fact his very first feature film. He had a very intriguing story inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film (The Virgin Spring), but perhaps not all the resources at the time to make the best adaptation of his vision. The resulting film was a shocking and violent gore-fest that put the country in a tizzy. People went absolutely nuts over this movie. It received an X rating when first sent to the ratings board and was banned in several countries for many years. Roger Ebert, however, liked the movie (yet he railed against I Spit on Your Grave - I don't get it), and over the years it has gained more credibility and admiration and is now considered a classic.
But classic or no, there was definite room for improvement on this film. Another first film by a first time director with a low budget and no-name actors. All of that turned out well, though. Some of the actors were in fact very impressive in their roles - David Hess as the leader of the gang Krug, and Lucy Grantham as Phyllis stand out the most to me. No, the biggest problem I have with the film is in terms of story.
Okay, for those that have been reading this and have no idea what this movie is that I'm talking about, here's a synopsis of the original. Two teenage girls, Mari and Phyllis, go into the big city one night to go to a concert. Trying to score some weed from a guy on the street, they end up in the clutches of a murderous little "family" of convicts. After some rape and humiliation in the woods, Phyllis is stabbed to death and Mari is shot. The convicts are left without a car and seek help at a nearby house which happens to be the house of Mari's parents. The parents discover what happened to their daughter and seek bloody revenge on the gang.
In my opinion, this basic storyline is a fantastic one to explore. However, Craven misses a few beats along the way. First of all, the scenes of rape and humiliation are interspersed with comical scenes of two bumbling sheriffs as they search for Mari, who has been reported missing by her parents. Craven has explained, and I certainly understand, his intent with these scenes - to create some uncomfortable-ness in the viewer by juxtaposing these horrific acts of brutality with an almost Three Stooges reenactment, with some wacky 70s music to go along with it. I don't think this was the best choice for the film. The second part of the film, the revenge by the parents, is completely dependent on the initial crime. It would have been so much more effective to concentrate on getting the emotion out of the audience for what happened to these girls, to make them so sad and pissed off at the people that hurt them that they will totally go along with the father taking a chainsaw to the guy who raped his daughter.
This is the main part where the remake succeeds. The story was stripped down to the basic emotional elements - here's the crime and here's the revenge. The first scene is the murderous gang busting Krug out of a police car and brutally killing the two police officers, so we immediately see how despicable these people are and just what they are capable of. The Collingwood family seems very loving, but have experienced some trauma recently from the death of a son. Mari does not die in this remake, so their revenge on her rape and attempted murder is more about protecting her and salvaging the remaining parts of their already torn family.
The other part of the film that was greatly improved upon was the scene of the discovery of Mari after her attack. In the original, Mari's dead body is found by her parents near the lake. The scene is literally less than minute long with hardly any real believable emotion by the parents over their daughters death. Boom, she's dead, next scene. They spent longer on the scene where the sheriffs get a ride from the chicken lady! The remake takes the scene much more seriously. In both films, the father, John, is a doctor but he actually gets to use his skills to try to save his daughter's life in the remake. This makes for an extremely emotional scene of him cauterizing her bullet wound, sticking a tube in her side to fixed a collapsed lung, and, as he's checking her for other injuries, discovering that she was raped.
Tony Goldwyn is fantastic in this scene, in the whole movie really. He's a talented actor that I had all but forgotten about and I'm so glad that he chose to do this movie (he was hesitant at first because of the violence). I'm still on the fence about Monica Potter in the role as the mother because at times it seemed like she almost didn't want to be there, to be in the movie, but then at times her crying and emotion was very believable. I'm not sure if it's not just her style of acting, though. She gives the same kind of awkwardness in the only other movies I recall seeing her in, Saw and Con Air. Going into the movie, I was most excited to see the actor playing Krug and if he could be as good as David Hess. Garrett Dillahunt does not disappoint as Krug. He's apparently played a bad guy before and it seems to be his forte. A mustache and beard and some black hair and totally looks the part of a bad-ass - but thankfully, not a bad-ass that you sort of like, which would have ruined the movie. He is a bad guy that you never like right from the start. He taunts the policeman in the beginning as the man is dying, he treats his son horribly, it's his decision not to let the girls go when they have a chance, he stabs Paige, he rapes Mari, and he shoots Mari. He has no respect for human life, therefore the audience has no desire to see him live. I would love to see this actor in more stuff.
I could go on and on about the directing and cinematography in the film as another way it improved on the original. I think, however, that the improvements in story were more important in the remake being about 10 times better than the original. I will say that I was incredibly impressed by the camera angles, composition, coloring, and just overall cinematography in the film. Some people look at me weird when I call this a beautiful film, but it really and truly is. There are also other things I could talk about, like responding to the controversy about the violence in the film, but that is perhaps left to another blog.