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This week:
The Last House on the Left

Filthy says:
"Snuff film without the snuff."

Okay, I'm back. The aluminum recycling riches are gone, down the gullet. Sometimes I don't know whether it's a curse or a blessing to find a neighbor's old shower frame out by the curb. They are scrap aluminum, which draws a lower price than cans, but still enough for an 18-pack of Keystone. I apologize for foisting Jimmy on you last week. He was available, though, and also told me, "No, it's okay, Uncle Filth, I'm cool now. Popular too." That was a barrel of shit sent over Niagara. With me in it.

I rarely go to movies in the afternoon because I am either sleeping or hiding from someone. Or watching reality TV. This week, though, I ventured out to see The Last House on the Left in broad daylight in a theater half-full with retired people. The movie is a remake of Wes Craven's 37-year-old original, which is often mistaken for a classic because it's old. I doubt anyone who has bothered to watch it recently would actually call is a classic. Then again, just sticking around is the Wes Craven stock in trade. Hang on long enough, making 90% lousy movies, and people mistake your longevity for quality. That guy has produced more smelly turds than Jimmy Dean Sausage. For fuck's sake, he's responsible for A Vampire in Brooklyn. In the new Last House on the Left, Craven is just an executive producer, taking a fat paycheck to let a hack (Dennis Iliadis) rebarf his "classic" story.

A very sweaty Tony Goldwyn and a sleepy-looking Monica Potter are two-overworked yuppies who take a week off from their jobs in New York City to go to their massive lake house in Upstate New York. Well, the house isn't really massive. It's just fucking enormous, with an equally big-ass guest house. Their daughter, Sara Paxton, is along for the ride. Early on we learn that Paxton is obsessed with competitive swimming, and the family lost a son a year earlier. They really don't seem to be grieving a hell of a lot, but you know, dead children are a lazy writer's way to make you think the characters have an interesting backstory. Even when it ends up having nothing to do with the story at hand.

The lake house is reportedly six miles from the nearest other house. Which is a bit odd since some guy waterskis right past the front door, and there appears to be a huge, operating quarry within walking distance. Never mind the inconsistencies, though. Iliadis certainly didn't let them slow him down.

As teen girls in bad horror movies are wont to do, Paxton takes off alone in the family car to visit a friend with remarkably bad judgment. Within minutes, the two are high as a zappelin, playing with a boy's hair in a dingy motel, and held at knifepoint by fugitives. In a torture sequence as grueling and long as the wait for a stall in the men's room at Sweet Tomatoes, an SUV is demolished, the bad guy's moll (Riki Lindhome) is burned with a cigarette lighter, Paxton's friend is gutted and Paxton is raped. For a really long fucking time. Long enough to give you the sense Iliadis is really enjoying filming it. Like the rest of the movie's big scenes, this shit is not scary, just explicit. And not explicit in the fun way, like a video of a goat having a baby.

After being raped, Paxton escapes the thugs, dives into the lake and tries to swim home. She is shot by the leader of the pack (vroom vroom) Garret Dillahunt, and left for dead. Oh, you stupid villains, don't you know you can never leave the girl who doesn't take her top off for dead? Because of the accident, Dillahunt, Lindhome, et al are stranded with no vehicle and a big-ass, mood-setting thunderstorm rolling in. They walk to the home of Paxton's parents, who for whatever reason, like to let really creepy, dirty, bloody people spend the night in their guest house. Oh my fucking God! The irony. Here they are being taken in by the very people whose daughter they just murdered. If only that irony played out in some interesting way. It doesn't.

Besides, Paxton's not dead. In a twist approximately as surprising as discovering that the Olive Garden's spaghetti sucks, Paxton is alive. She struggles her way back to the lake house and makes it to the front steps, where her parents find her and nurse her back to health while the baddies rest up in the guest house.

What ensues is fetishized violence that clarifies why Iliadis never bothered to make us care much for Potter or Goldwyn. They are fucking assholes, no better than the fugitives. They're set up to be caring parents, Potter with a strong maternal instinct, and you may think what will follow will be the story of cold-blooded killers confronted by a physician who cares about life, and a sympathetic mother.

Instead, someone gets a claw hammer through the skull, but only after getting his hand shoved down a running disposal. Lindhome, who is the movie's designated topless girl, gets shot in the eye and maybe stabbed, too. I can't remember all the ways in which Iliadis wants to show us blood. Dillahunt and Goldwyn go mano y mano for a long fucking time and stab and jab at each other. A kid gets stabbed and killed with a fire poker. It comes hard and heavy, with no time for any irony or commentary to get in the way of the bloodshed. Potter and Goldwyn don't stop to reflect on their primal reaction to their daughter being attacked. They just get their weapons of choice and hack away.

It almost ends up with the "good" guys escaping in a boat so they can get Paxton to a hospital. I say almost because after escaping, Goldwyn's character comes back to the house just so he can paralyze Dillahunt and then shove his head into a microwave to bake until it explodes, Scanners style. That last bit of gore is so fucking over the top and excessive, it tips the damn scale of the entire movie. What little sympathy may be left for the family is shot to hell. Iliadis makes clear that his main intention is to put as much gross shit on screen as he can, and that's all.

I'm not a fucking pussy about blood. I've seen plenty of it and it doesn't make me squeamish. I grew up with three older sisters and out of curiosity once opened one of the big balls of toilet paper in the bathroom trashcan. I survived that, I can survive The Last House on the Left. What I hated about the movie's guts and gore was how indiscriminately it was used. All the lovingly shot scenes of stabbings and rape don't add to the story, highlight the irony, or make a comment about society. It's just a shitload of blood.

Cracking someone's skull open on a bathroom sink can be visceral and useful in making a point or shocking an audience. For it to have an impact, though, there needs to be a story that we're wrapped up in and that the violence disrupts or puts the exclamation point on. In The Last House on the Left, the beatings and killings are strung together with a weak-ass story, a hackneyed cabin and thunderstorm setting, and a bunch of characters that Iliadis undermines our relationship with just to throw more blood up there.

Within its first five minutes, I knew who would live and die, as well as the basic plot. When the characters start looking for boat keys, I knew how they would escape, and I knew it would be at dawn, as the storm broke and sky lightened. When Paxton is shot and left for dead in the lake, I knew she wasn't really dead. It's all painfully obvious and Iliadis does nothing to tweak it. There is no increasing tension, or building sense of foreboding. It is never shocking, just increasingly gross and gruesome in a way detached from the characters. The violence is the focus.

If I just want to be grossed out, I'll go rent Pink Flamingoes, because no matter how hard Iliadis tries to be sick, Divine eating real, fresh dogshit is worse. The Last House on the Left is pointless violence. It doesn't have anything to say, it doesn't have anyone for us to care about. It just has more blood than that trashcan from my youth. I still remember the trashcan. In thirty years, I won't remember this. Two Fingers.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Bryan Erdy of Movie Planet

Race to Witch Mountain is "An action-packed thrill ride!"

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Filthy's Reading
W. R. Burnett - Underdog

Listening to
Minutemen - Double Nickels on the Dime


Piñata: Survival Island