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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Last House on the Left (The)

When I was a kid, our family lived on a street where everybody knew everybody else’s business. Mrs. Bukowsky’s bunions were as much a topic of conversation in our living room as my father’s hemorrhoids were in the Goldstein’s kitchen. In other words, pretty much anything was up for grabs in our neighborhood. Well, maybe not “up for grabs” literally in the case of my father’s hemorrhoids, but you get the idea.

The O’Halloran Family, fiercely Roman Catholic in an almost exclusively Red Sea pedestrian-filled district, were welcomed with open arms, as much because mom Judy could be depended on for a never-ending supply of gossip and innuendo, as for the fact she could also be counted on for cranking out another O’Halloran every year. Judy O’Halloran was perennially pregnant, and since ours was a street filled with children anyway, the mothers who ruled the roosts looked past her “kooky New Age religion” as my mother referred to Catholicism and welcomed her with arms as open as her legs usually were.

On the other hand, there was Marge Quologue, whose very name sounded like an extended bowel discharge that didn’t quite make it to the bowl. Mrs. Quologue, who mysteriously lived without a Mr. Quologue, which was an eyebrow-raising event all its own back in the day unless you were over 70 (she wasn’t), was a source of constant whispers amongst the block’s mothers, and thus created a perfect storm for our childish imaginations to create all kinds of horrific scenarios for what might be going on in The Last House on the Left of our block where Mrs. Q. resided. Somehow I don’t think any of our eight-year-old imaginations came anywhere near to hitting on the same plain as what our moms were guessing. We didn’t even know how to make a “Tom Collins” and had never heard of Frederick of Hollywood’s. We envisioned more along the line of her cutting the heads off of bats and mixing their blood in her cauldron of spell-making stews or sticking pins in any number of voodoo dolls she had sewn together in her lonely nights at home.

I doubt the mothers of Lombard Drive could have ever let their imaginations rise quite to the levels of sleaze that they’d find in this latest escapee from Hollywood’s crapfestiest producers, Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham, The Last House on the Left. My mother and her cronies might have been able to conjure up a story about rape and murder, but I’m sure it would look more like a Lifetime© movie (“Lifetime©, television for women… and gay men”) starring Donna Mills and Ted Shackelford and feature a lot of cutaway shots and heightened music to suggest bad things happening off-screen than this putrid tale that makes Deliverance look like a day at “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” where the only thing that is cutaway are teenage girls’ pants before the camera zooms in closer than a gynecologist during the ugliest of acts.

The 1972 version of The Last House on the Left (yes, once again, this is a remake) was what gave now (semi-) esteemed director Wes Craven his first glimmer of success and his first recognition in the business, thus allowing him to go on to make the more cerebral Swamp Thing and A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, it is this newer, more brutal version that people will remember in years to come because 2009’s The Last House on the Left gives its heinous killers as much back-story and connection to one another as it does to its protagonists, almost enough to make them sympathetic despite their horrible actions ~ almost, at least when it comes to teenager Justin (Spencer Treat Clark ; Superheroes) and Sadie (Riki Lindhome; My Best Friend's Girl), the girlfriend to one of the main crazies, both of whom appear to be victims in their own way to the murderous brothers Krug (Garret Dillahunt; tv’s "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles") and Morton (Michael Bowen; The Hessen Affair).

Fortunately, I don’t think any characters like these were living at The Last House on the Left on our street with Mrs. Quologue or the Ladies of Lombard would’ve sniffed them out during one of their Thursday afternoon “pre-weekend canasta parties”, which were really just excuses for the moms on the block to start drinking wine early and often between then and Sunday nights when they’d gather again for a communal wrap-up of the weekend’s events in someone’s driveway and a last gasp of gossip before staggering home to greet their inevitable hangovers on Monday morning. Naturally, Mrs. Quologue was a HUGE topic of conversation in many a front yard. After all, hers was the single porch light never to be turned on to greet the neighborhood kids on Halloween. Her home was the only one whose floor-to-ceiling living room picture window was never allowed a sliver of light inside as she kept her heavy drapes closed all day, every day, and, worst of all, according to those who had been close enough to the actual entryway to know (according to Maxine Silverman’s husband Aaron, our letter carrier, anyway), her house smelled like… well, piss. With evidence like this, I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t pick up torches and pitchforks and just burn the old gal out and stab her to death when she tried to flee.

After all, as The Last House on the Left teaches us, it’s that it is the purview of “righteous” or “normal” folk to seek revenge and do more grossed out damage to those who wronged them or theirs than was ever done in the first place, and it is good and just to do so. Take Emma (Monica Potter; Lower Learning) and John Collingwood (Tony Goldwyn; American Gun), the parents of rape and shooting victim Mari (Sara Paxton; Superhero Movie). Now here is a “typical” middle-aged couple that looks like they just stepped out of a Land’s End catalogue but they have the menace of a Republican sub-committee asked to support funding for a national pro-gay and lesbian adoption initiative raging inside. The truth be told, if there is any reason at all to see this repugnant piece of trash it has to be to watch Spencer Treat Clark weep and whimper as the trodden upon Justin and to thrill at Monica Potter’s performance as she shines as the blonde who uses a simple tool better than anyone I’ve seen since Ivana was married to Donald Trump, and that’s all there is to say about that.

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