Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ever Notice How Nobody Remakes Jess Franco?

I honestly don’t know how I feel about the trailer for Last House on the Left, the shiny remake of Wes Craven’s searing 1972 original. It’s well put-together in that smooth way that the savvier studios have learned to develop for trailers, and features an admittedly catchy rendition of "Sweet Child of Mine". I suppose that’s what nags – this story should be the opposite of what the slick trailer offers. Craven’s film, about a group of thugs who brutally torture and murder two young girls only to hide out at the very home of one of the girls’ parents, instantly became one of the touchstones of the new freedom in horror cinema that flourished after Night of the Living Dead changed the rules of what was permissible in popular film. Critics who complained about the level of violence were missing the point; the violence in Last House was itself the central theme, not merely an exploitable byproduct. Craven saw a culture being slowly desensitized by the horrors around it – a world where the Manson ‘family’ perverted the hippie idealism of the 60s and used it as trappings for their murderous antisocial rage. The audience is forced to coldly observe the atrocities of the film’s crew of killers, led by the utterly despicable and amoral Krug (a towering performance from David Hess) until the mayhem – never filmed to titillate – passes beyond the comfort zone of even the most hardened genre aficionados as if to ask “is this what you came to see?” The show falters during the second half, once Krug and Co (one of the film’s myriad alternate titles) arrive at the Collingwood home. Here the film becomes more of a traditional grindhouse revenge picture and ceases to challenge its audience.

That no official sequel was ever made (though the title was used by literally dozens of horror pictures all over the world) was always a bit of a badge of honor and supportive of the initial goals of the filmmakers. But in a time when My Bloody Valentine is getting the remake greenlight, it was folly to imagine that Last House could hide forever. We will, of course, reserve judgment until seeing the finished product, but we were very pleased to see the all-important role of Krug go to Garret Dillahunt, so utterly brilliant in HBO’s Deadwood, a show whose passing is still much lamented here. Dillahunt played two roles during the show’s run, the perpetually drunk and supremely weasely Jack McCall who famously gunned down Wild Bill Hickok, and the treacherously urbane Francis Wolcott, agent of the equally terrifying George Hearst. Whatever the fate of the film itself, we hope it means good things for an actor we need to see more of.