If bad people hurt someone you love, how far would you go to hurt them back?
Masters of suspense WES CRAVEN (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream trilogy) and SEAN CUNNINGHAM (Friday the 13th, House) revisit the landmark movie that launched Craven's directing career and influenced decades of horror films to follow: The Last House on the Left. Bringing one of the most notorious thrillers of all time to a new generation, they produce the story that explores how far two ordinary people will go to exact revenge on the sociopaths who harmed their child.
The night she arrives at the remote Collingwood lake house, Mari (SARA PAXTON, Aquamarine) and her friend Paige (MARTHA MACISAAC, Superbad) are kidnapped by psychopathic prison escapee Krug (GARRET DILLAHUNT, No Country for Old Men) and his crew--deranged girlfriend Sadie (RIKI LINDHOME, Changeling), sadistic brother Francis (AARON PAUL, television's Breaking Bad) and powerless son Justin (SPENCER TREAT CLARK, Gladiator).
Terrified and left for dead, Mari's only hope for survival is to make it back to parents John and Emma (TONY GOLDWYN, The Last Samurai, and MONICA POTTER, Saw). Unfortunately, her attackers unknowingly seek shelter at the one place she could be safe. And when Mari's family learns the horrifying story, they will make three strangers curse the day they came to the last house on the left.
The contemporary reimagining is helmed by director DENNIS ILIADIS, whose recent film Hardcore won acclaim and found controversy for its depiction of teenage prostitution in modern-day Greece. Producing alongside Craven and Cunningham is Craven's longtime production partner MARIANNE MADDALENA (Scream trilogy, Red Eye). JONATHAN CRAVEN (The Hills Have Eyes II) and CODY ZWIEG (The Hills Have Eyes II) serve as co-producers, and RAY HABOUSH (Primal) executive produces.
A Cult Classic: Craven and Cunningham Redesign Fear
With a career spanning more than three decades, Wes Craven has become a cultural phenomenon in film and television. He reinvented the horror genre in 1984 with the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, which he wrote and directed, and in the next decade he deconstructed the genre again with the successful Scream trilogy. These two franchises have earned nearly one billion dollars and serve as a demonstration of his profound understanding of the often unconscious fears roiling in the human psyche.
But Craven's success in probing the roots of terror began in 1972 with his first film, the landmark shocker The Last House on the Left. The film was produced by fellow horror master Sean Cunningham, who went on to launch a juggernaut franchise of his own with his monumentally successful Friday the 13th.
In the early '70s, Vietnam raged as American college students protested the war. Millions were disillusioned by the battle carnage filling their television screens each evening. Too, citizens saw injustices within their own borders. Young people were challenging status quo approaches to hot-button issues such as civil, women's and gay rights. Mirroring this revolutionary attitude, a new generation of filmmakers expanded the boundaries of conventional cinema.
Among them were Craven and Cunningham, who quietly commenced work on a film that would change the course of modern thrillers. "Last House was very much a product of its era," offers Craven. "It was a time when all the rules were out the window, when everybody was trying to break the hold of censorship. We were all very antiestablishment at that time. The Vietnam War was going on, and the most powerful footage we saw was in actual documentary films of the war. In Last House, we set out to show violence the way we thought it really was and to show the dark underbelly of the Hollywood genre film. We consciously took all the B-movie conventions and stood them on their heads."
A university literature professor before he switched careers, Craven took inspiration for the project from the Ingmar Bergman film Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring), which is actually based upon the medieval Swedish ballad "Töres dotter i Wänge" ("Töre's Daughter in Vänge"). At the time, Last House was a drastic departure from the vapid mad-scientist monster movies prevalent in the late 1960s and early '70s.
The two filmmakers weren't sure if their low-budget film filled with controversial subject matter would attract an audience. Indeed, they were simply interested in the exercise of making a feature film. "When Sean and I made The Last House on the Left, our attitude was that we were going to do this tiny little film and it was only going to be shown in two or three theaters," remembers Craven. "Nobody was ever going to see it, and nobody was ever going to know we did it. So, we essentially said, 'We're going to show things that people have never seen before on a movie screen. We'll pull out all the stops and just do whatever the hell we want.'"
The original version of Last House was, as Cunningham describes, "a guerilla film." It was made with a skeleton crew of 15 members and a budget of just under $100,000. In order to save money, the movie was mostly filmed in houses belonging to the crew's families in Westport, Connecticut. "It was just one of those things," remembers Cunningham, "where somebody says, 'Hey, I've got an idea…let's make a movie! You write; I'll produce; you direct. I'll make sandwiches, and I'll take sound.' It was very primitive, student-level filmmaking. It was like doing a high school play where everyone works around the clock for no other reason than to do the play. We were literally kids running around with a camera."
With such humble origins, little did anyone suspect the film would become a box-office sensation and revolutionize modern thrillers. Of the opening weekend, Craven recalls, "I called to check with Sean and see what was happening with the movie. He said, 'Are you sitting down?' A moment later he said, 'It's a hit; it's a smash; they are lined up around the block to see it.'" After a successful first run, the controversial film went on to play for years at college campuses and midnight screenings, where it became rite-of-passage viewing for young horror buffs.
In compliment to its commercial success, Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert championed the film. The young reviewer called Last House "a tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie that's about four times as good as you'd expect…one of those rare, unheralded movies that succeeds on a commercial level and still achieves a great deal more."
Within the film industry, modern-day "splat pack" directors such as Alexandre Aja and Eli Roth credit Last House with being extremely influential on their own aesthetics. To reimagine Craven and Cunningham's masterpiece, they would welcome to their exclusive club a new member…a young Greek director named Dennis Iliadis.
Welcome Home: Returning to Last House
Flash forward 30-plus years. Intrigued by the astonishing success of such horror remakes as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Craven's own The Hills Have Eyes, the producing partners pondered revisiting The Last House on the Left. Craven offers: "Because the original had been produced on such a minuscule budget, there were many aspects of the story I simply couldn't afford to explore. Fortunately, the new version has a much bigger budget, so we were able to greatly expand the production's scope and take more time and care in shooting."
In order to reintroduce this classic to contemporary audiences, Craven and team began to look for a rising young director to bring a new perspective for the story told 37 years later. It would require a visual innovator--someone with not only a dark imagination but also a talent capable of revisiting the action, gallows humor and terror of the landmark film. Better yet, he needed to integrate the elements into a distinct, new experience.
Over the course of a year, the team and Rogue Pictures considered nearly 100 different directors for the position. The project's co-producer Cody Zwieg was impressed after he saw Greek director Dennis Iliadis' film Hardcore, the controversial story of four teenage prostitutes in modern-day Athens. After viewing the film, he encouraged Cunningham, Craven and Craven's longtime producing partner Marianne Maddalena to see it. His producers were equally impressed by Hardcore and its provocative, fresh approach to the world's oldest profession. "We all agreed it was brilliant," says Maddalena.
Hardcore top-lined Variety's Critics' Choice awards as one of the best films by new European directors for 2005, and the film also won the prestigious German Independence Award. Moreover, the independently produced, low-budget film had exemplary production values, showing that Iliadis was a savvy filmmaker who could be highly creative within budgetary constraints.
"We knew the remake would only work if we could find someone who could create strong characters while handling the more extreme moments," explains Zwieg. "Hardcore wasn't a genre or a horror film but showed completely believable characters in horrific, realistic situations. Many directors could handle the surface elements, the blood and shock moments of Last House, but Dennis proved that he could do it all without exploiting his characters and their situations."
Iliadis jumped at the chance to work with Craven on Last House and make the movie his American debut. "I've seen all of Wes' films and loved them," he states. "This film is based on a very archetypal story and primal story, which is a great foundation. I wanted to keep all the shock value and the power of Wes' film and develop the story in my own way."
With Hardcore, Iliadis had elicited performances of depth and beauty, while working with mostly nonprofessional actors for a long rehearsal. He would bring those learned lessons to Last House. "You must discover the characters with the actors," says the director. "We rehearsed for a month-and-a-half on my first film. We got to a place where we could shoot very difficult scenes very quickly, because we had developed the characters in rehearsal. All the extreme scenes came out naturally after that."
Using Craven's original screenplay as the template, the production team assigned writer Adam Alleca and then Carl Ellsworth with the task of updating and fine-tuning Last House. Ellsworth, who worked with Craven on Red Eye, relished the opportunity to revisit his director's inaugural property. "This is a classic good-triumphing-over-evil movie. I wanted to thriller-ize it. At the end of the day, it's about normal everyday people in extraordinary circumstances, and it doesn't get anymore extreme than this."
Iliadis welcomed the challenge of interweaving visceral thrills with complex characters. "I want this to be a film that grabs you and never lets you go," he says. "At the same time, it should make us think a bit about human nature. Who is civilized, who is uncivilized? Who is violent, who is normal? Our film grabs you by the throat and tells us some things about human nature. We are an interesting species."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Greek-born director DENNIS ILIADIS (Directed by) makes his American film debut with The Last House on the Left. His controversial film Hardcore--depicting the lives of four teenage prostitutes in modern-day Greece--top-lined the Variety Critics' Choice: Europe Now! as one of the best films by new European directors for 2005. The film has gone on to win the prestigious German Independence Award, Audience Award.
Iliadis was born in Athens, Greece, and grew up in Athens, Paris and Rio de Janeiro. He studied political economy and film at Brown University and then film direction at the Royal College of Art in London. His graduation film, Ole, won the European Film Comet Award and was widely viewed throughout Europe. His next short film, Morning Fall, won the Greek Director's Guild award and the Ministry of Culture's Excellence Prize. He has also written for the theater.
A successful and well-respected commercial director, Iliadis has filmed more than 100 commercials for such clients as Kellogg's, Volkswagen, Toyota, Bailey's, Daihatsu, Amstel, PepsiCo, Gordon's, Drambuie and Vodafone, to name a few.
ADAM ALLECA (Screenplay by) is currently preparing to enter production on his feature directorial debut with Cinamour Entertainment (Standoff). He is also developing an original television series with Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Hardlove & Burnside).
Alleca has developed projects with Michael Bay, Jerry Weintraub and Michael De Luca. He's sold screenplays to Hancock producer Richard Saperstein (The Samaritan) and Intermedia (The Drowning Man), and is writing an original comic book for Archaia Studios Press ("Serpent Highway").
CARL ELLSWORTH (Screenplay by) wrote the screenplay for DreamWorks' hit film Red Eye, directed by Wes Craven. Ellsworth also co-wrote D.J. Caruso's hit thriller Disturbia, starring Shia LaBeouf.
His television credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess. He has also written forthcoming episodes for the computer-animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, for executive producer George Lucas. Ellsworth is currently adapting the popular comic book series "Y: The Last Man" for New Line Cinema and writing MGM's upcoming remake of Red Dawn.
WES CRAVEN (Based on a Film by/Produced by) has been challenging audiences with his bold visions since the release of his first feature film, The Last House on the Left, which he wrote, directed and edited in 1972. In the 37 years since that controversial film's arrival, Craven has demonstrated that he is a filmmaker with heart, guts, humor and an unbridled imagination expanding into film, television and literature.
Currently, Craven is in postproduction on the first film he has both written and directed in more than 14 years, currently titled 25/8, for Rogue Pictures. He also formed Midnight Entertainment, a Rogue-based shingle that will concentrate on genre films with budgets under $15 million. The first film under the Midnight Entertainment banner is the remake of The Last House on the Left.
Craven demonstrated his versatility as a director in the psychological thriller Red Eye, starring Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy and Brian Cox. In 2006, he also wrote and directed a romantic comedy, one of the 20 short films helmed by internationally recognized directors that compromised Paris, je t'aime (Paris, I Love You).
Craven, with producers Peter Locke and Marianne Maddalena, produced and released a remake, and then a sequel, of his seminal film The Hills Have Eyes, the first done with French filmmakers Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur; its sequel, The Hills Have Eyes II, was written by Craven and his son Jonathan Craven, and directed by the German director Martin Weisz.
Both creative and commercial milestones have marked craven's career. He literally reinvented the youth horror genre in 1984 with the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film he wrote and directed. A decade later, he deconstructed the genre with the audacious New Nightmare, nominated Best Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards in 1995. Craven also directed the phenomenal hits Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997) and Scream 3 (2000). With Scream, Craven reached a new level of success. The irreverent, genre-bending winner of MTV's Best Movie Award (1996) grossed more than $100 million domestically, as did Scream 2. Between Scream 2 and Scream 3, Craven, excited at the opportunity to direct a non-genre film for Miramax Films, jumped into production on Music of the Heart (1999), a film based on the Oscar®-nominated documentary Small Wonders, and starring Meryl Streep. For her performance, Streep was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Actress. That same year, in the midst of directing, Craven wrote and published his first novel, "The Fountain Society."
Craven has also directed Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), for Paramount Pictures; The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988); and Deadly Friend (1986). He wrote and directed The People Under the Stairs (1991), Shocker (1989) and Swamp Thing (1982), and wrote, directed and edited The Hills Have Eyes (1977).
For television, Craven helped create and produce the series Nightmare Cafe, for NBC. He directed the telefilms Night Visions, Stranger in Our House, Invitation to Hell, Chiller and Casebusters. He also directed five classic episodes of the mid-'80s revival of The Twilight Zone, which have now been released on DVD. In those episodes, he directed, among others, Robert Kline, Annie Potts, Terry O'Quinn, and, in his first role, Bruce Willis. He also discovered both Johnny Depp and Sharon Stone.
Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and holds a master's degree in writing and philosophy from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He taught humanities at two eastern colleges, and even taught a year of high-school English before deciding to take a shot at getting into the film business. For generations of genre fans, he made the right decision!
SEAN CUNNINGHAM (Produced by) produced the original Wes Craven cult classic The Last House on the Left in 1972. Filmed on a shoestring budget, the movie generated enormous controversy and attention and helped launch the resurgence of fright films in the '70s, putting horror back on the map. Cunningham went on to direct and produce the phenomenally successful Friday the 13th, featuring iconic villain Jason Voorhees. The film spawned an enormously successful franchise that continues to thrive.
Other notable films he's directed include A Stranger Is Watching, Spring Break, The New Kids and DeepStar Six. Cunningham also produced such films as House I and its sequels House II: The Second Story and House IV: Home Deadly Home; The Horror Show; My Boyfriend's Back; Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday; Jason X; and the tremendously successful Freddy vs. Jason. He is an executive producer on the recent hit remake of Friday the 13th.
READ MORE ABOUT THE CASTING, THE DESIGN AND HOW THE FILM WAS SHOT
THE ART OF REMAKES