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EXCL: Carl Ellsworth on Last House on the Left

The writer behind the Craven remake

The road leading to the remake of 1972 shocker The Last House on the Left certainly didn’t lead to “nowhere,” as the Steven Chapman/David Hess song goes in the original, but it did take some time to come to fruition.

A few years back Wes Craven’s Midnight Entertainment commissioned an early script that relocated the story’s events to Northern California; it retained some familiarity yet carried a touch of the supernatural in its third act. Whoops. Ultimately, this troubled draft was rejected and Midnight was back at square one searching for the proper approach. Enter Carl Ellsworth, a writer tasked with punching up an existing script by Adam Alleca. His challenge was to not only update the film’s rather unforgiving subject matter for a new generation, but to draft a take on a film he had never even seen.

“Wes [Craven] and Marianne [Maddalena] approached me with it,” Ellsworth recalls. At the time he was brought the project, the Disturbia scribe had already worked with Craven on Red Eye. “I can’t remember if I went home and watched the movie, then read the draft or vice versa.” Regardless of what he did first, his initiation into the seedy rape/revenge world Craven had created was not his cup of tea. “The original movie is difficult to watch and is extreme for what I’m accustomed to. I went back and said, ‘What am I supposed to feel at the end of this movie?’ When I go to the movies, I don’t want to come out wanting to kill myself. But I don’t always come out wanting a happy ending. So I told them my instincts tell me, first and foremost, that we have to be rooting for someone’s survival here. They agreed to that premise. And that’s where it started.”

Ellsworth latched onto the idea of normal folks faced with extraordinary circumstances. In this case, it’s the Collingwood family, a trio on vacation at their lakeside home who are pushed to the limits when they clash with a killer named Krug and his small clan.

“What would a typical family do in such an extreme scenario?” the writer questions. “That just inherently invites the audience to participate. We’re asking ourselves through it: How are they going to do this? How would we do it? Then that poses the opportunity to really explore the extreme nature. In terms of Krug – these are evil human beings. Humans are capable of evil shit all the time, so it was a chance for me to get into the R-rated version of [these themes].”

“As much as you can say it’s about the parents getting revenge, it’s more so about survival,” he adds, noting that a difference between the remake and the original is that Mari – the young, victimized daughter played by Sara Paxton – is found alive. This inserted an extra dramatic layer. “It’s a movie is about a family doing what it takes to survive. And that is what got us going. We looked at the elements and chose which to use or not use from the original. There’s a ticking clock to it too – having Mari show up alive you have the ticking clock of getting her to a hospital. The high concept for Last House is that what if this horrible stuff happens and just by happenstance the killers end up in the house where the parents live? That’s what launched me. That’s a great idea.”

Mari’s fate isn’t the only alteration made to give the movie-goer a sense of hope in an otherwise grim dilemma. Things bode well for another character, who shall go unnamed here – yet another reflection of the new mindset behind the story. “I try to always keep the audience in mind,” says Ellsworth of this change. “You want to surprise them, but it’s a delicate balance of surprise and expectation. For this, I think the audience is more engaged if they have a rooting interest in the characters as opposed to leaving them in the darkness with a family who ends up in even worse shape at the end of a movie. This movie doesn’t have a happy ending, but there is some hope. I couldn’t be happier that, in the end, this is a good versus evil movie.”

Up next for Ellsworth is a another redo: Red Dawn, based on the 1984 John Milius film about an invasion that takes place on American soil and the high school students who band together to fight back. “We’re working with Dan Bradley, the director, on revising the draft,” Ellsworth says. “We’re not straying too far from the original story. It’s about the Wolverines, a group of kids. And we’re doing our best to make these kids realistic and relatable. There are parallels between these kids who become an insurgency and the insurgencies we’ve had to face in Iraq. It’s essentially another home invasion film.”

He hopes that this update will float an R rating because he doesn’t want to “PC it, I want to explore what could happen, let’s talk to some experts and see if this could happen today. Oddly enough, the timing of the remake could really tap into something with what’s happening with the world right now.”

Also in the works is his adaptation of the comic book Y: The Last Man which will reunite him with Disturbia helmer D.J. Caruso. The Last House on the Left opens in theaters on March 13th.

Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor