Why Last House star Sara Paxton took the job in a brutal remake

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Sara Paxton, who stars in the upcoming remake of Wes Craven's controversial revenge horror film The Last House on the Left, told SCI FI Wire that the film is "something very special" and not just another entry in Hollywood's seemingly endless remake sweepstakes. (Spoilers ahead!)

In the very adult and graphic film, Paxton (Aquamarine) plays Mari, a young woman who's raped and beaten by Krug (Garret Dillahunt) and his gang. Thinking she's dead and finding their car broken down, the attackers seek shelter at a secluded house owned by Mari's parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter). Mari then stumbles home, prompting her parents to put together the clues and avenge their daughter. Wes Craven produced and Dennis Iliadis directed the remake, which will open nationwide on March 13.

SCI FI Wire spoke to Paxton last week by telephone. Following are edited excerpts from the exclusive interview.

Starring in Last House was no doubt an opportunity for you to show what you can do as an actress, but what else about it compelled you to audition and sign on?

Paxton: Definitely Wes Craven. He's an icon, and that was interesting to me. The role, the script. What really sold me, though, was when I met the director, Dennis Iliadis. I hadn't seen the original Last House on the Left, but I did watch Dennis' movie Hardcore, which is an independent film that he did in Greece. That movie completely shocked me. Then I was like, "Oh, OK, he means business. He's a good director. Where do I sign?" Reading a script like that, and a remake, of course, it's so touchy. You don't know where it can go. It can be really good or bad, but maybe with good actors and a good director it can be something special. And I really think that's what we ended up doing, something very special.

How hard was it for you to be in the presence of Garret Dillahunt before and after shooting those scenes in which he terrorizes you?

Paxton: I'm not one of those actors where, if I have to hate you, I'm really going to hate you in real life. That's not something I need to do. And Garret was so nervous. He didn't want to hurt me. He was worried that I'd start crying or get emotional. He was the scared one, the one that backed away, and finally I came to him and said, "Don't worry about me. I'm a big girl. I can handle it." If anything, I was worried that he wouldn't be rough enough. I was worried that the scene wouldn't come off real because he wouldn't throw himself into it completely. But we had our talk and we came to an agreement.

Some people love remakes, some people hate them, and this is the latest in a long line of remakes. What are your thoughts, and can Last House get a fair shake from people who've had it up to here with "re-imaginings"?

Paxton: I so badly want people to like this movie. For the first time ever, I've been concerned about people liking it. Normally I go off, I do my thing, I have fun, I'm a mermaid in Australia, and then when it's done I go back to my life. With this I've been checking message boards and seeing what the hardcore fans have to say about it. And they're being pretty brutal about the whole remake thing. People definitely have a problem with remakes. I guess to a certain extent I understand when you love something so much, and then to see it remade ... and there are so many bad remakes. ...

You held off on watching the original Last House until after you finished the new version. What did you make of Craven's original?

Paxton: It was so strange seeing the original after we'd just filmed all this stuff, because I don't see them as the same movie, really. I get that it's the same plot—the two girls, the revenge of the parents—but ultimately that was taken from the old Bergman film The Virgin Spring, and we go mostly off that. The Last House on the Left, the 1972 version, is so brutal and so raw and gritty. I think we also have rawness and grittiness, but just not so much, because you have to make it more watchable. The whole peeing in the pants, we didn't do that. Some things were just too much. But I hope people are happy, because we truly, truly were passionate about not just making this a cookie-cutter remake. Our goal was to make a good movie.

And since we have you on the phone, we've got to ask about Mr. Ed. You actually shot a Mr. Ed pilot with Sherman Hemsley and Sherilynn Fenn?

Paxton: Gosh, I was about 15 when I did that [in 2004] with Garret [Dillahunt], and Sherman Hemsley was the voice of the horse. I think it could have been a good idea. With the horses it was a lot of work. I remember at least five days out of that shoot where the horse got loose and trampled over some lights, ran through the set, knocked down craft services. The horses were going a little crazy. So maybe that was too much of a problem.