Event: The Last House on the Left Q&A

Craven and cast on updating the original

Wes Craven’s 1972 directorial debut gets a facelift in The Last House on the Left. Directed by Dennis Iliadis, Sara Paxton and Martha MacIsaac star this time as two young girls who run afoul escaped convict Krug (Garret Dillahunt) and his “family” (Spencer Treat Clark, Aaron Paul and Riki Lindhome). After a series of brutal events, Krug and company seek shelter in the home of the Collingwoods (Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter) unaware of the vengeance they will face. Rogue Pictures recently held a press screening of film in Hollywood where managing editor Ryan Rotten conducted a Q&A with producer Wes Craven and stars Paxton, Potter and Dillahunt. The original Last House shoulders such a level of notoriety – why would you consider remaking it?

Wes Craven: The great thing about it is, when Sean Cunningham and I concocted it way back in the Dark Ages, the contract gave the studio, or whoever bought it, the rights to it for 30 years. Thirty years later we own this thing. It’s the same thing with The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left where we finally got to enjoy the benefits and it was a matter of why not remake it? Let’s find a talented director and people and see what happens. That’s how it started, then Marianne Maddalena, one of the producers, and Cody [Zweig, of Midnight Entertainment] just started the search for the directors. Thank God they found Dennis.

Shock: In the documentary The American Nightmare you say the original film was created out of the context of the ’70s. Anti-establishment, belief in yourself. Does this new version speak about the times as well?

Craven: I think it’s a film for its time. I think it has been a very chaotic eight years of what we all know and warfare and reactions to 9/11. 9/11 was perhaps the ultimate home invasion, not to be glib about it. Certainly profoundly shocking to the American psyche. In its own where there is some profound relevance to this film, I think.

Shock: Sara, Monica and Garret – were you familiar with the original film and was there any apprehension going into this film given the original’s reputation?

Monica Potter: I had not seen the original film. But I just heard the name Wes Craven and I wanted to be a part of this. I didn’t see the original on purpose because I didn’t want to have any preconceived thoughts or ideas on how to play the mother, but I know it was different, or so I heard.

Sara Paxton: I had not seen it either. I did watch the original while we were filming in South Africa. I watched the original after all of my stuff had been shot because, like Monica, I didn’t want to have any preconceived notions on how to play it. It was definitely disturbing. I think it’s different from what we did.

Shock: Garret, you’re slipping in to the shoes of Krug, formerly essayed by David Hess, how was that experience?

Garret Dillahunt: I actually had a great conversation with David Hess and he was really nice. We talked about things that were troublesome for both of us playing this. I, too, hadn’t seen the original but I was surprised because I love watching movies. I had watched bits of it before we started, out of respect for them and with the knowledge we were updating…I don’t know, I just wanted this to be our own. I was so proud of it, so proud of this cast. They’re a really good group and I think Dennis is great. When I met Wes, I said, “Every actor has a checklist of things [directors] they want to work with in their life and Wes Craven’s on mine.” And Wes said, “How far down the list?” [laughs] I’ve watched the rest of the original since because it has a very special place in the hearts of the hardcore fans.

Shock: Wes, where did you find Dennis?

Craven: He was found by Cody Zweig who has an encyclopedic knowledge of anybody who’s doing anything in film and especially people who are emerging and he turned us on to Dennis’ film called Hardcore. We were struck by the sophistication and his abilities to go were filmmakers would back away from. [The film tells of] two girls who are fifteen and involved in prostitution. It’s naturalistic but you totally get to know the characters and have a great apathy for them. There are scenes of great violence and scenes of great pain and struggle on the part that you have these two core characters and beautifully naturalistic performances. Here’s a guy who was the hardest and courageous enough to go into the darkness.

Shock: How difficult was it to update the film’s shocking nature and how did you go about deciding what to leave in and leave out? Like the “piss your pants” scene, for instance…

Craven: It was a very shocking thing, for me it was like one of the more humiliating acts in our childhood in some way. That was the reason we had that in there. It wasn’t necessary here, what was necessary was people going into the boundaries of going into the personal space of their victims in a way that was unnecessary and perverse in the most profound sense of the word. Beyond that, it was Dennis’ call on what should be in there and I think he and Carl Ellsworth – who did a rewrite and wrote Red Eye – probably felt that was more than what they needed. Marianne Maddalena and I had conversations and one of the first things we said was, “Let’s take this to the next level.” Let’s take this up to the next level where this could almost play in an art house. That has proven to be the thing Dennis has managed to do, sometimes almost to spite us, sometimes I we felt it’s too slow, it’s too arty and then we watched it with the first test audience and we were just astonished by the power of it. It’s almost one of those things where you do something of certain significance and you step back and say, this is just a great story, it’s powerful, it comes from an evil tale that has lasted…there’s a great core story here, let’s give it to another artist then step back. Dennis really got some magnificent actors and my hats are off to all of them. They exposed their souls and held nothing back and achieved some of the most intense, genuine moments. I’m very proud to have my name on this.

Shock: Can you talk about creating some of that intensity on set? You obviously need to put trust in your director so how did Dennis help you along with that?

Paxton: Dennis was absolutely amazing and was really protective of the actors. We had a lengthy rehearsal process which I thought was really awesome because we could focus on the physical part that we were doing so on the day all we had to focus on was our headspace.

Potter: And because it was such an intense film, we had a bunch of jokesters in our cast. It was so intense and, the producers included, there were so many scenes where we were so distraught we just had to laugh a lot. And we did because we were like a family. We’re in this country where some of us had never been to before and we all sort of lived in this apartment building. We ate together…we didn’t sleep together. [laughs]

Dillahunt: I was lucky, I guess, because Sara and I had worked together once before. I remember originally very nervous about the stuff I was going to have to do. I was happy it was someone I knew, at least. Then I thought it was horrible because you don’t do that to friends.

Paxton: I was happy. I was like, let’s do this, I know the guy!

Dillahunt: I have to say, you really set the tone. Not being a young man anymore, it really amazes me when I work with younger actors who are so together and so capable. Sara really put me at ease. She was nervous I wouldn’t be rough enough to sell it. Every time I grabbed her it was like I caught a wild weasel, she was so into it I had no choice. Everyone was like that and a good thing Dennis and Wes did was assemble a group of people who wanted to make something special. I’m really proud of it, I think it’s great. The first time I met Dennis, I complimented him on Hardcore and the first thing out of his mouth was, “I had some great actresses.” It sold me immediately on him. We’re just a part of the process, but it’s an important part and I’m glad he understood. Sara made that scene happen, really.

Shock: From the narrative standpoint, how integral was the rape sequence? It really hammers home the revenge aspect, but did you ever consider taking it out to avoid backlash?

Craven: No, I don’t think this is a film you make if you’re worried about backlash. We were worried about overkill. This is all about primal stuff. There’s incredible out of left field moments of parenthood with Krug and Justin where he says, “You don’t get to talk now!” He’s jamming this poker in his belly, but you can feel the father in there is hurting because his son didn’t turn out the way he thought he should. It’s bizarre, primal, close to the core of humanity stuff that’s ancient. Rape, as horrible as it is, is so primally offensive, it fits within the context of the Bergman film [The Virgin Spring] and it has to with when you have no human compunction. It’s great power and enormous weakness in the same moment where he has to prove his power and hide his weakness by doing that at the crushing cost to another person. It’s a very powerful thing. One person in our marketing department said very candidly that by showing in the trailer the aftermath with the parents getting revenge, it allows the audience to know they’re going to get past that horrible event and get some release in the sense that there’s going to be payback. Payback is a very slippery slope but at least they got those people out of their house and they’re protecting their daughter’s life. Sometimes it feels like, in mild forms, for parents out there you realize you would kill for your kids, and in a sense you give your life to your kids every day. But, yes, it’s integral for as painful as it is.

Shock: Can you talk about working with Tony Goldwyn?

Potter: I worked with Tony mostly and he was amazing. He’s a director now mostly but he took that hat off and gave Dennis full range to do whatever he wanted. But he helped me so much because there were certain scenes, like when we got Sara’s character off of the porch and brought Mary inside, it was the middle of the night and I was having trouble getting to that place so he was very helpful through the entire process for me.

Shock: Garret, what did you do – if anything – to bond with your family members, so to speak?

Dillahunt: I didn’t do anything consciously. For me, it’s all about the story and getting around I can play such a horrible a man. I wanted to play him well and I was happy to be surrounded by actors who felt the same way. There wasn’t any ego on set. Everyone wanted to do what was needed to fulfill the story. So that’s easy to bond with. We were alone down there [in South Africa], the problems we had were few and fleeting and we were all there to make it better. I guess it wasn’t me, it was Wes and everyone who put this good group of people together.

The Last House on the Left opens in theaters on March 13th. Click here for a full photo gallery featuring new stills!
Event: The Last House on the Left Q&A
Event: The Last House on the Left Q&A
Event: The Last House on the Left Q&A