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Family Holiday Turns Into Gruesome Night in 'The Last House on the Left'

An updated version of a horror film classic is on theater screens almost four decades after the original had drive-in movie audiences screaming. Just remember: it's only a movie. Here's a look at what's new in The Last House on the Left.

The Collingwoods: mom Emma, dad John and daughter Mari - are set for an idyllic holiday at their summer cottage on a secluded lake. But the teenager's reunion with a friend in town turns deadly when the two girls fall into the hands of a family of another sort: psychopathic killers who just broke one of their clan out of prison and are on the run.

A harrowing ride into the woods is followed by brutal attacks; but then, as luck would have it, the criminals are stranded on the isolated country road near the lake as a thunderstorm roars through. They head to the one light they can see in the distance: "The Last House on the Left," where they must turn for shelter to none other than Mari's parents who …at first …have no idea what has happened.

During the fateful night, the Collingwoods discover who their guests are and what they have done. As the storm rages outside, they fight for survival and, ultimately, revenge.

The 1972 original was the first film written and directed by Wes Craven, launching a career that would revitalize the horror genre. The soft-spoken former college professor, who is producer of this new version, says the story has deep roots.

"You probably know [Ingmar] Bergman did it in The Virgin Spring and it was a medieval fable; so the core story is just remarkable and it has a wonderful irony about it in the way somebody you think is totally straight can turn savage if they have to," explains Craven.

"The easy thing is to go for the gratuitous violence and so forth; but to make a film like this you have to be a mature artist and be serious about what you are doing and have the ability to get actors to go to those places that are real and complex," he adds.

Greek filmmaker Dennis Iliadis makes his English-language directing debut with The Last House on the Left and says his goal was to make it more realistic than the original.

"To me this film has a great core story and it is a fascinating piece on human nature," Iliadis notes. "I really wanted to go deep with that and try to get this almost real-time sense where you are with these characters over the course of a day as things escalate and keep getting worse. To me it is very important to have that feeling that it is almost like real life where things could go in a different way at any given moment."

Garrett Dillahunt co-stars as Krug, the lethal lead villain. He believes that sense of realism serves the main purpose of a horror film: to scare the audience.

"I don't like a lot of 'splatter-fests.' It just doesn't seem realistic to me [and] I feel like I can watch it very casually," Dillahunt says. "I certainly prefer a more realistic approach and that's what we tried to do here. I think it is more disturbing. I don't know if it has any more value."

"Honestly, I probably wouldn't go see this first. I like comedies more," admits Monica Potter, who co-stars as the mom, Emma Collingwood, who must find the inner strength to fend off the evil Krug and his murderous family.

"There is something very human about each character, even Krug and all the bad guys too which, to me, was really interesting; and this is something that people might actually think 'what would you do if somebody did something to one of your loved ones?' " she says.

Producer and writer Craven has said the original was inspired by public attitudes toward the Vietnam War. Director Iliadis says 37 years later, the story taps into another social issue.

"I think there is something very interesting about how we try to set morals and codes: what we think is civilized and what we think is proper," says Iliadis. "Sometimes we need to reassess ourselves and there is a lot of darkness in the world. To what extent do you go? I think in the present climate we need to reassess the darkness inside us and how we will deal with all the ways we are being violated."

The Last House on the Left also features Tony Goldwyn as the revenge-crazed father. Sarah Paxton plays the teenaged daughter Mari. For economic reasons the film was shot in South Africa, with locations in and around Cape Town doubling for the Oregon woods of the American Pacific Northwest.