The Last House on the Left
A medical doctor (Tony Goldwyn) takes his wife (Monica Potter) and child (Sara Paxton) to the family lake house in this standard yet, in today’s times, almost enjoyable horror movie. In many ways, The Last House on the Left is an old-fashioned thriller that jolts the tired genre with a heavy dose of what horror pictures lack: characters that are good people.
The house, with blooming hydrangeas, an old, red wagon in the front yard, and a guesthouse in back, sits on the placid lake. The Collingwood family, still grieving from the death of first-born son Ben, wants to rest. Doc aims to leave the operating room and get some alone time with his wife. Since he’s not the best communicator, he needs all the help he can get in clearing away the distractions.
Daughter Mary, played by San Fernando Valley native Paxton, a talented actress, is encouraged by her mom to stop obsessing over the swimming stopwatch long enough to enjoy a relaxed vacation. Of course, Mom could use a break, too, and she’s a little out of practice with the husband. Everyone’s trying to move on since Ben died, and they support one another. This family has a bond.
Yes, this is a horror movie and it is amazingly, and, refreshingly, absent nauseous handheld camera shots and constant cuts. While it’s filled with horror movie clichés, it contains what’s usually missing from these shows—a plot. The Last House on the Left is not exactly in Stephen King range, but it beats the bleeders stinking up the screen for the past 20 years.
The problem for the Collingwoods is another family visiting the area. They happen to be a gang of thugs who have violently—and this movie is extremely gruesome—sprung their murderous brother from police custody. Through an admittedly implausible chain of events sparked by the desire for cigarettes and marijuana—like Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, this picture is seeded with a non-smoking lesson—the two families eventually intersect. Suffice it to say, they don’t sip tea and talk about the weather.
Mary, avoiding a cell phone call to her mother with the typical teenage dismissal (“you’re breaking up!”) on the eve of a storm, hangs with a pot-smoking friend who meets a kid that seems like a harmless nerd. The trouble begins when the nice but vacant kid’s Manson family returns, led by a charismatic altruist and his sadistic slut, and they seize the girls.
Mary, clutching an engraved pendant with a message from her deceased brother, thinks her way through the worst-case scenario. She bravely sets the stage for the spine-tingling second act and delivery of the movie’s theme that hell hath no fury like a good family scorned.
The nihilists—who reek of envy for those who produce wealth—enter the Collingwood house as refugees from the storm. Of course, mom and dad have no idea what has happened, and the hippies have no clue that the hosts are their victim’s parents. This leads to that and waiting to see who figures what first is half the thrill.
The Last House on the Left is humorous, with ample opportunities for the audience to scoff at evil and cheer for the good. The movie’s not easy to watch, though it is cumulatively less vile than, say, the blood-spurting Watchmen. Giving us decent, honorable people to root for at a time when decent, honorable people are being plundered by our government every day, The Last House on the Left (apparently, a remake of a 1972 movie) offers wild, bloody indulgence in self-defense and vengeance. In that sense, especially when the doctor takes back his work, it is surprisingly satisfying.