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'The Last House on the Left'

Horrifying as it is, "The Last House on the Left" is not a horror film but its kissing cousin, an exploitation film. Its main goals are to shock, titillate, enrage and otherwise jolt your reflexes, which it does shrewdly and successfully. In other words, the person being exploited is you.

This remake of Wes Craven's 1972 trash classic comes with higher production values and some hilarious modern twists (one involves a microwave oven), but the marrow of the story remains intact. Young, nubile Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) leaves her parents' lakeside home to meet her impetuous friend Paige (an engaging Martha MacIsaac), who lands them in trouble by scoring weed from a shy teenager, Justin (Spencer Treat Clark).

Turns out Justin is the son of Krug (Garret Dillahunt), a convict on the run with his hotheaded brother, Francis (Aaron Paul), and a pansexual she-devil named Sadie (Riki Lindhome). We've already seen this trio sadistically kill two policemen, but that was just foreplay.

Coproduced by Craven, with perhaps one hand guiding director Dennis Iliadis, "Last House" spends its first half shoving your face deep in the muck: There is rape, there is murder, and both take a very, very long time. It's all a setup, of course, for the catharsis that comes when the gang unwittingly ends up staying with Mari's parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter).

This is when "Last House" shifts gears, delving into one of Craven's favorite themes: The civilized family forced to go feral. Nearly every household object - even the kitchen sink - becomes a bloody sword of vengeance. At times, the film's heightened violence verges on hysteria.

Roger Ebert famously compared the original to Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring," but this new version lacks, uh, sensitivity. Still, there's no getting around it: "Last House" is horribly, shamefully satisfying.

(R)

PLOT Three sadistic thugs cross swords with their victim's family.

CAST Garrett Dillahunt, Sara Paxton, Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter

LENGTH 1:49

PLAYING AT Find showtimes and tickets at a theater near you.

BOTTOM LINE An effectively brutal, gory update of the 1972 classic

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