Conceived and executed in the cool, desaturated style of a Saw movie, this remake is decidedly calculated. Its Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) is again a big-city writer roughing it in the country, but she’s a contemporary woman: instead of spending the day lounging in a hammock or on a rowboat, she’ll be out jogging in the morning and enjoying a glass of red wine in the evening.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the film or its reputation, let me give you an idea of just how disreputable the 1972 Wes Craven version of The Last House on the Left really is. I saw it in film school, in a horror-film class that was being taught by a professor who had stepped in at the last minute, after the one who had actually programmed the syllabus fell ill, so he was unfamiliar with some of the films that had been scheduled. The semester went pretty well went pretty well until the day we screened The Last House on the Left. The prof — a fine teacher and an expert in film in his own right — stood in front of the class afterward and declared that he had always considered himself a First Amendment absolutist. Until that day. Screening Last House for the first time, he said, had convinced him that there was a good case to be made for censorship. His argument was essentially that the film was sadistic and utterly worthless, the product of very small minds, a debasement of not just its cast and crew but of the audience members as well. I complicated matters somewhat by raising my hand and noting that The Last House on the Left was based on an Ingmar Bergman film, The Virgin Spring. As a defense of the film goes, I admit now that’s pretty weak sauce, but it’s what I had. And it worked, to a degree. I don’t think it necessarily changed his mind about the film, but it altered the tenor of discussion. Slightly.
Let’s see. Half an hour out of the screening and I’m already forgetting what transpired. Severed ear, check. Decapitation, check. An arrow through the head, check. (Did it come out through the eyeball? I can’t quite remember.) Axe, thrown, to the upper back, subsequently shoved through chest from behind, check. Machete to the head, check. (Think this may have been a direct crib from the Savini stunt in the original Dawn of the Dead.) Meat-hook hanging, check. (Swiped from the original Texas Chain Saw.) Death by campfire? Check. Double-impalement coitus interruptus? File under missed opportunities, along with the inexplicable lack of a 3D version. Hockey mask, check. “Sister Christian,” check. Naked tits, check check check check check check.
It wasn’t until the end credits of Rob Zombie’s head-banging Halloween remake that I had the chance to chuckle. Buried in that pile of scrolling text was a credit for an Alice Cooper song that I missed during the actual movie: “Only Women Bleed.” Oh, indeed. I’d consider it a droll joke, bordering on self-deprecation, if only I felt confident that Zombie’s film had the presence of mind for reflexivity, or even a sense of humor. I’m still not sure what to think of Zombie’s (ironic? who can tell?) use of cheeseball power ballad “Love Hurts” to score a sad montage earlier in the film — if it’s meant to be hilarious, it’s the only thing that is.
Casting Nicole Kidman in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake is borderline brilliant. Once she turns on the ice water, who can tell whether she’s human or alien? Hope the story has been reworked to take advantage of this! *
Please turn down the scary music. You’re ruining the first act by telegraphing the next two.
There are certain signals in a man’s life that remind him that he’s not getting any younger. In my case, I’ve started noticing that when I go to the multiplex on a Friday night, I’m just about the oldest guy in the lobby. Some of those fresh young starlets who regularly inspire impure thoughts are roughly half my age. The neighbor kids have started calling me “Mister.” And, just this weekend, I faced the fact that lumbering zombies are totally uncool. Rage zombies are in.
At 34, I feel so old.
The interesting thing about Teenage Caveman is that it yokes a Z-grade post-apocalyptic sci-fi screenplay of no real distinction to the naked-teenaged-orgy sensibility of Larry Clark, the director of Kids and Bully. The resulting film would have been quite something to stumble across on pay cable in the middle of the night.
I’ll be damned if, for the first 45 minutes or so, Clark doesn’t actually make something of this mess, which has to do with some kids who’ve been forbidden from having sex by a self-styled Messiah who really wants the nubile young girls all to himself. An old dude’s been impaled on a “No Skateboarding” sign before the credits finished rolling, and the centerpiece of the film is a tour de force that begins with all of the characters stripping off their clothes and getting into a hot tub before culminating in one of the most disgusting (and terribly funny) sequences I’ve seen lately. It could best be described as “explosive.” If this sounds like the sort of thing you’d enjoy, then it probably is (you sick little twist, you).
The main problem is that Teenage Caveman shoots its wad fairly early and then goes straight downhill, falling into that trap of no-budget SF-horror outings — it becomes a gabfest, with characters standing around talking about their dastardly histories and their nefarious plans for the future. Like a real trouper, Tara Subkoff gets naked again in an attempt to save the final reel, but despite some special effects that probably chewed up half the film’s budget, it just dies on the screen.