With the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Scream franchises under their collective belts, it's easy to forget one of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham's older gems, The Last House on the Left. Controversial because of its graphic violence, the 1972 movie found two teenage girls, Mari Collingwood and Phyllis Stone, tormented and tortured by a gang of violent escaped criminals: Sadie, Fred, Krug, and his son Junior. After murdering their victims, the sociopaths are forced to take shelter in the Collingwood house, where Mari's parents discover their identities and exact revenge on those responsible for their daughter's horrifying ordeal. In the following exclusive interview with FEARnet, actress Riki Lindhome (Million Dollar Baby, Gilmore Girls, Changeling) talks about Rogue Pictures' upcoming remake, and taking on the role of the sadistic Sadie.
Warning: The following interview contains spoilers. If you haven't seen the original Last House on the Left and want to be surprised by the remake, come back here after you've seen it!
How familiar were you with the original Last House on the Left?
When I first read the script… I was supposed to go in last December, of 2007, and I got it the night before. It was 17 pages of scenes and I had never heard of the original. I just quickly read through the script, studied the scenes, went in, and missed my appointment because they gave me the wrong time. They were like "It was three hours ago. You have to come in January." In that month, I saw the original and read the Vanity Fair article on it. I thought the movie had incredible history, so by the time I went in for it again I was very familiar with it.
What appealed to you about this tale of sadism?
I like horror movies. I've just come around to them in the last four years because I was scared of them when I was younger. This was by far the best one I had ever read. The script was so different and profoundly creepy. I thought my character was creepy for no apparent reason, which chilled me to the core. I feel they don't really justify why the three of us do what we do, and I love that. In every other horror movie it's, "Oh, he has a mean mom." In this, it doesn't matter why, they just did it!
I read Wes Craven said this version isn't as brutal as its predecessor.
I think it's as brutal, but just in different ways. It's more realistic. I feel that what goes on with the two main characters is something that could happen. The original probably goes further than what people could believe could happen to them. Not all the violence from the original takes place in this one, but I think that makes it scarier.
Not to sound sexist but we expect this deplorable violence from men. Were you shocked that Sadie takes joy in terrorizing these girls too?
Oh, that's why I loved it. I was shocked! It's always guys. It's always the men behind the masks. That's the reason I loved this part. I don't remember the last time the woman was right there with the men. Sadie is equally as bad as them; she might even be worse as soullessness goes. They don't tone her down at all. She's not wimpy or subservient. She's as brutal as everyone else.
Is it difficult getting into that headspace to perform these despicable acts repeatedly for take after take?
At first it wasn't, but being on location with Martha [MacIsaac] and Sara [Paxton], and growing to love the cast and crew so much, it became more difficult as the shoot went on. That was surprising to me, but in the beginning I was able to detach myself more. By the time we were doing the scenes in the woods, it was upsetting. All night, it would be, "Let's go have a glass of wine and not talk about it."
This sounds like an emotionally and physically draining project.
It was. The week where all the bad stuff in the woods happens, the producers saw it was taking a toll on us. They sent Martha, Sara, and I to the spa on the weekend. They got us massages and everything. We were also bruised and cut up everywhere.
Having spoken to Garrett Dillahunt, who plays Krug, and now you, it seems they went against typecast for the killers because you both come off incredibly friendly.
That is the genius of director Dennis Iliadis and Wes. I know it was by design that when you first meet us, we are not the people you would expect to be cast in these parts. In the typical horror movie, you go to the gas station and it's the crazy guy with one tooth. He has yellow eyes and you know he did it. You look at Garret, Aaron [Paul] and I, and it's like, "Ummm, no." That's what makes it creepier. When we first take the girls, people who haven't seen the original aren't going to believe what happens because we don't look like we'd do that. It was inspired casting, especially with Garrett because he's so gentle and calm.
How was it filming that final confrontation with Monica Potter, who plays Mari's mother Emma?
It wasn't just with her. The confrontation has changed from the original. That was the most technical part of the movie. Actually dying was slow, technical, and shot over many days. That part was a learning experience and we had an amazing medic on set that had seen every sort of death in real life. He was advising us, "If someone gets shot or stabbed like this, this is what they do." We were just trying to make it accurate.
Was Wes or Sean hands-on at all?
Wes wasn't actually on the set. I didn't meet Wes until about three months ago but I know he was very hands-on with constantly watching dailies. Sean was there almost the entire time. When I arrived there the first day, Sean picked us up and took us out for dinner. He's fascinating. Every time I was with him, I made him tell me stories about the original Last House on the Left and Jason. His stories are unreal and he's like this wealth of bizarre horror knowledge. I know Wes was very involved, but when he saw how well things were going, it wasn't necessary he came down. Sean said Wes had been watching the dailies and was like, "Dennis is doing amazing work. I don't need to be there."
Considering this is Dennis Iliadis' first American feature, what kind of director was he?
Dennis was amazing, and I'm not just saying that. We were all wondering how he was going to be. We had a lengthy rehersal process, and would talk to Dennis a lot about the character. Before he gave me the role, he brought me in, sat me down for an hour, and asked me about the character and me. He wanted to make sure I was serious and who this person was. You just trust him so much. There were always two to three cameras rolling which was completely different. You never knew exactly what he was filming so you always had to be present because the camera might be pointing at you. A few weeks into shooting, the editors put together this mini trailer of what we had been shooting and everyone went through the roof! We were like "Whoa! This guy is not playing games! This is intense!" Dennis is very soft-spoken, but he also knows what he wants. He finds that balance and is really protective of the actors. We all just loved him.
Have you seen the final cut of the film?
I believe that I have. They may be making a few changes, but I think it was the final cut. It was incredible! We all had a feeling it would be after seeing the trailers they were putting together in South Africa. I just think Dennis did a great job, and people are going to be lining up to work with him. He's going to be a force to reckon with after this movie comes out. I'm really proud of this movie.
After appearing in Pulse and now this, what do you find fulfilling about the horror genre?
Pulse was a different thing, because I did two lines and I'm not really sure why they didn't get someone local for it. I feel the horror genre is so much fun because you get to be bigger than life, whether you are the victim or the bad guy. You get to have the most extreme emotions, and sometimes the silliest lines you have to commit to. It's really fun combining that element of total realism and making people believe you would really do this, along with a fantastical element. For this, I liked having a part that was so different from me and was so physical, with the running or hitting people. Sadie is a tough chick and usually I get to play a ditzy blonde girl, so it was nice to do this whole other thing.