HT Schuyler: Remake Comparison-The Last House on the Left

Posted: July 9, 2011 by htschuyler in Retrospectives

The Last House on the Left movies may seem like bizarre start to my comparisons, but the films actually have an interesting history. The 1972 film is actually considered a remake to a 1960 Swedish film, The Virgin Spring. So basically, The Virgin Spring has been remade twice, but under a new title The Last House on the Left. Now, The Last House on the Left is not a direct remake of The Virgin Spring, in fact, except for the basic idea of a rape/revenge scenario, they are completely different in their tone and message. There have been three attempts to tell a story, but at the same time it produced three completely different movies. But, how do they compare to each other?

Warning: Reviews contain spoilers.

The Virgin Spring (1960)

Released: February 1960

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg, Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Pettersson.

The Virgin Spring is an Academy Award Winning (Best Foreign Film 1961) drama/thriller by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It is set in 14th Century Sweden, and tells the story of proud land owners who’s daughter is savagely raped and murdered by three brothers on her way to church. The killers then seek refuge in the parents house, only to have the parents discover the crime they committed and seek brutal revenge on the them. Despite this sounding like the perfect premise for gratuitous violence and gore, the film is rather tame, in that most deaths are off screen and there is little to no blood.

Plot Outline: Young Karin (Birgitta Pettersson) sets out one day on her way to deliver candles to her church, accompanied by her pregnant servant (Gunnel Lindblom). On her way there her servant feels ill, so she stays with a local man while Karin continues on her journey. She is stopped by three brothers, one of whom can’t talk, and the other is simply a child. She decided to have lunch with them, but soon they start getting too close. Her servant catches up to her, but is too late, and watched as the brothers rape and kill her. The brothers later seek refuge in Karin’s parents house, and her parents welcome them in and serve them dinner before they all retire for the evening. Before they go to sleep, one of the brothers tries to sell the mother (Birgitta Valberg) Karin’s dress, which they stole from her. The mother recognizes it as Karin’s, and tells the husband (Max von Sydow). The husband then finds the servant, who tells him everything. The father then storms into the killers room and stabs the mute brother, then wrestles the second brother and kills him in an unclear way, his body then burning on the open fire in the room. The mother tries to protect the youngest brother, but the father pulls him away and throws him against a wall, killing him. They then go and find Karin’s body, where the father falls on his knees and asks God for forgiveness, while promising to build a church where his daughter was murdered.

The film focuses more on building characters, setting tone and creating atmosphere, and it achieves on all levels. The acting all around is good (granted, I don’t speak Swedish, so I’m assuming the delivery of lines is good), especially Max von Sydow, who is fantastic, as you really believe his grief and eventual guilt. One of the main things that separates this film from the other two is the heavy religious themes, and it really asks the question of what the consequences would be for committing such a horrible crime. The black and white compliments the dark tone of the film, displaying grim shadows and gives the beautiful scenery a threatening edge to it. Despite the dark nature of the plot, it is an extremely well made film, and is definitely recommended for foreign film fans. It creates tension, atmosphere and tells a story with a message, asking to what extremes human beings will go to. A truly great film.

8/10

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Released: 30th August 1972

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Sandra Peabody, David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Lucy Grantham, Marc Sheffler, Jeramie Rain and Gaylord St. James.

To say that this film is a remake of The Virgin Spring is really an insult to Bergman’s film, because I doubt when he was making his picture he had what this film portrays in mind. The only thing this film has in common is the basic outline, but this film does not contain the heart, tone, acting, message or even imagination to come close to comparing to the original.

Plot Outline: Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody) is turning 17, and on the night before her birthday she decides to go to a concert with her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham). Before the concert the girls drink alcohol that Phyllis hid in the middle of a stream for some reason, then drive into town, get ice cream, try and score some weed from a sketchy guy standing outside of a building named Junior (Marc Sheffler), who then brings them upstairs and introduces them to his serial killer father Krug (David Hess), his fathers girlfriend Sadie (Jeramie Rain), and his father’s crime partner Fred (Fred Lincoln). The group then kidnaps the girls and holds them as hostages. The next day they hide the girls in the trunk of their car as they flee the authorities. Their car breaks down literally right in front of Mari’s parents house, but for some reason the killers don’t notice the house at first, so they take the girls into the woods and torment, torture, rape and ultimately kill them. This is where the movie takes a very dark turn, and also provided one of the most disturbing scenes in movie history. But instead of keeping the incredibly dark tone the movie has now gained, it decides to include the story of the two dumbest cops on the planet.

Now, horror movies tend to be unfair in their portrayal of authorities, but this movie is just plain mean. They create the most idiotic, incompetent and absurd characters ever. These two cops can’t even drive to a house without screwing up, so it seems highly improbable that they could solve a crime. The cops are played by Marshall Anker and Martin Kove, and they are constantly messing up; when they are sitting in the Collingwood’s house as they tell them their daughter is missing, they just sit there eating birthday cake and tell them she probably just ran away, then they show them at the station playing checkers waiting for something to happen, then when they are driving to the Collingwood’s house the second time their car breaks down because they didn’t fill it with gas. I know I’m nitpicking but it’s mind-bending as to why these characters are in the movie. It’s as if they were filming their scenes for a separate film, but decided to just splice their scenes into this one instead. So anyway the cops provide some senseless comic relief, and the killers take refuge in Mari’s house. Her parents allow the killers to stay the night their, only to discover what they had done. So the mother bites Fred’s penis off, which apparently kills him, Junior’s father tells him to kill himself, so he does…not to sure why…the mother slits Sadie’s throat and throws her in their pool, then the father kills Krug with a chainsaw. Then the cops walk in to save the day. The end.

The pacing is all over the place, the viewer is never sure whether they are suppose to be scared or amused, and acting all around is awful. The only character that I found believable was David Hess’s character, Krug. He acted like a flat out psychopath and the viewer is actually intimidated by him. Another form of confusion is why characters don’t act like real people. I know this is common in horror films, but here it just seems like their purposely being idiots. When Phyllis is running away from the killers, she lightly jogs instead of sprinting, and there’s a point where they have her surrounded, but instead of making a break for it she just stands there. Despite all this, I don’t hate this movie. I give Wes Craven an immense amount of credit for having the guts to do what he did in this movie, because the rape/murder scene is incredibly disturbing, and when it’s all over you just feel dirty for having watched it. Also, the ending scene where the parents are getting revenge is absurd, but very entertaining. I always give horror movies points for getting a reaction out of me, and this film did it. It’s still not a very good film, but it’s a landmark in horror history because it was one of the first films to display something of graphic nature on camera without cutting away or having it all off screen, so for that, it deserves some respect. If you feel you need to see it just to witness it’s brutality, then go for it. But if your squeamish and easily disturbed, stay far, far away.

6/10

The Last House on the Left (2009)

Released: 13th March 2009

Director: Dennis Iliadis.

Starring: Garret Dillahunt, Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Aaron Paul, Riki Lindhome, Spencer Treat Clark, Martha MacIsaac and Sara Paxton.

Same set-up as the original film, two girls get kidnapped, a disturbing, brutal scene in the woods ensues, then the killers end up in the parents house where they then seek their revenge. While this is definitely a remake of the 1972 film, it’s not exactly the same thing either. This movie takes itself seriously, and has no comic relief, (which thankfully means no cop side story). It focuses on building tension, and truly shocking the audience.

Plot Outline: While vacationing with her family at their summer house, Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton), goes into town to visit her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac). They score some marijuana from a random boy, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) who brings them back to his motel. They lose track of time as they get high, when suddenly Justin’s recently escaped serial killer father Krug (Garret Dillahunt), his uncle Francis (Aaron Paul) and father’s girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome) come in and inform them they are on the run, and can’t risk letting the girls go. They take them with them, only to have Mari try to escape, which results in the car crashing in the woods and the killers killing Paige and raping Mari. Mari tries to escape by running into the lake and swimming away, only to be shot by Krug.

Thinking she’s dead, they find Mari’s house and her parents John and Emma (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter), invite them in and let them stay the night. Mari (severely wounded but still alive) manages to make it back to her house, where her parents find them and she informs them of the crime. The parents then seek revenge on the killers, shredding Francis’s hand up in the garbage disposal, then stabbing him in the head, shooting Sadie in the head, and knocking Krug out with a fire extinguisher. Justin actually helps them out, because he just wants to be free from his father. He steals his father’s gun and gives it to John, then later tries to shoot his father, only for the gun to be out of ammo. Once Krug is unconscious they escape on their boat and make they’re way to a hospital. At an unknown point in time we see John paralyzing Krug from the neck down, and sticking his head in a microwave (they previously state that it was not working properly). The film ends with Krug’s head exploding and the screen cutting to black.

The acting is nothing special for the most part, as most actors just seemed bored, with the exception of Garret Dillahunt, who creates a really tense and believable character. That being said about the acting, about halfway through the actors step up their game, and start to actually display emotions needed to create the tone the film was trying to achieve. A minor problem is they bring up plot elements that don’t really go anywhere, for example they mention that Mari had a brother Ben who recently died, and that plot element doesn’t even go anywhere, besides them mentioning it once or twice. Also, as disturbing as it is, the film doesn’t need the rape scene. They could cut it out completely and it would still be an effective movie, but I suppose it makes the revenge all that more satisfying.

Director Dennis Iliadis really knows how to create suspense, and you really feel the tension between the characters, and the confrontations and struggles seem real. It does unfortunately have some clichés, and attempts at scares that fall flat, but it is very effective in its execution and is a disturbing and thrilling experience. It’s still not easy to sit through due to it’s horrible brutality, so it is not recommended for the faint of heart, but it’s done with a lot of style, professionalism and talent that makes it a very good remake.

7/10

Comparison:

Best Acting: The Virgin Spring.

Best Atmosphere and Tone: The Virgin Spring.

Most Disturbing: The Last House on the Left (1972).

Most Suspenseful: The Last House on the Left (2009).

Best Direction: Ingmar Bergman, The Virgin Spring.

Best Kills: The Last House on the Left (1972).

Best Bad Guy: Garret Dillahunt, The Last House on the Left (2009).

Best Hero: Max von Sydow, The Virgin Spring.

Best Interpretation: The Last House on the Left (2009).

It’s no mystery that The Virgin Spring is the best film of the three, but as far as the remakes go, I have to give them credit for not doing a shot for shot remake and actually doing something different. That being said, I’m pretty sure Wes Craven wasn’t trying to remake The Virgin Spring, and was just trying to do his own thing. Considering it was his first film, I give him credit for making a truly shocking and disturbing feature. As remakes go, the 1972 film is not that good, but the 2009 one actually works well as a direct remake, because it takes the concepts The Virgin Spring presents and modernizes it, creating a whole new story, but still staying true to the original. In a way these films could be considered  the Virgin Spring trilogy, each film telling the tale in a different time period. The 2009 film is a superior film to the 1972 movie, which qualifies it as a remake that took the ideas presented in the original, and made it better, which is rare, but always refreshing when it occurs. If you want a really emotional and fascinating film, watch The Virgin Spring, if you want to see an iconic horror film and the debut of one of horror’s respected icons, see The Last House on the Left 1972, and if you want to see a very tense, suspenseful and well made thriller, see The Last House on the Left 2009. Each film delivers a different encounter, but if you want the complete experience, see them all.

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