Wes Craven on why Last House on the Left is a remake for our times

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

The cast and creator of Last House on the Left discussed how the remake of horrormeister Wes Craven's first film resonates today as it did when the original made waves in 1972.

"I think it is a film for its times," Craven said after a screening for select press in Hollywood on Wednesday night. "It's been a very chaotic eight years. Eight years of, you know, what we all know and warfare and reactions to 9/11; 9/11 perhaps was the ultimate home invasion. ... Certainly profoundly shocking to the American psyche. So I think that there is certainly a profound relevance to this film."

Here's how Rogue Pictures describes the remake, directed by Dennis Iliadis (Hardcore) and produced by Craven and his original producing partner Sean Cunningham: "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 lakehouse, Mari [Sara Paxton] and her friend are kidnapped by a prison escapee [Garret Dillahunt] and his crew. Terrified and left for dead, Mari's only hope is to make it back to parents John and Emma [Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter]. Unfortunately, her attackers unknowingly seek shelter at the one place she could be safe. And when her family learns the horrifying story, they will make three strangers curse the day they came to The Last House on the Left."

The original movie was controversial for the graphic nature of the crimes depicted in it, including rape and murder. The new film is no less extreme in its brutality.

Craven said he was motivated to remake the film because he and Cunningham found themselves the owners of the film's rights after three decades. "The contract gave the studio or whoever bought it, I think Sam Arkoff, the rights to it for 30 years, and Sean and I looked at each other—we were both like living the '70s lifestyle in New York and didn't think we were going to live that long—you know, it's like, '30 years, yeah, maybe our grandkids'll [get it], maybe.' And then, 30 years later, Sean said, 'You know, we own this thing again.' It sort of happened with The Hills Have Eyes and the Last House, where we finally got to enjoy the benefits of actually owning the film, and then it was a matter of not remaking it but actually finding someone [else to do it],... a director, and see what happens."

The new cast confessed that they were not familiar with the original movie when they signed on to the remake, which shot in and around Cape Town, South Africa, which doubled for the United States (the original was shot in rural Connecticut).

"I had not seen the original film," Potter said. "I never heard of this film, sorry, just because I'm sometimes ignorant. But I just heard the name Wes Craven, and I knew that I wanted to be part of it. But I wasn't—I didn't see the original on purpose, because I didn't want to have any preconceived thoughts or ideas about playing the mother, but I know that it was very different."

Paxton, who plays the traumatized teenage daughter, also avoided the original before shooting. "I had not seen it either. But I did watch the original while we were filming in Africa," she said. "I watched the original after all of my stuff had been shot, because, like Monica said, I didn't want to have any preconceived notions of how I should play it or anything. It was definitely disturbing. I think that it's definitely a different film from what we did, though."

Dillahunt, who plays the vicious Krug, said he actually consulted with David Hess, the actor who played the same character in the original movie. "I actually had a great conversation with David Hess," Dillahunt (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) said. "We had a great conversation, actually; he was real nice. We talked about things that were troublesome for both of us playing that. I, too, hadn't seen the original, and I felt kind of surprised that I wasn't aware of it, because I feel like I do nothing but watch movies. I watched bits of it before we started, but I, as well, ... almost out of respect for them ... and the knowledge that we're updating this—I don't know, I just wanted it to be our own, and I was so proud of it, and I'm so proud of this cast. I mean, it's a really good group, and I think Dennis was great. And ... I was the same, I think, when I met Wes. I said, 'I think every actor has a checklist ... of things they want to do in their life,' and I was, like, 'Wes Craven's on my mine.' And then I think he said, 'How far down the list?' And I said, 'It was in no particular order.' But I have watched the rest of the original since, because I know it has a special place in the hearts of real hardcore fans. And how much it meant to them."

The new Last House on the Left opens March 13.