Sara Paxton's character is put through hell in The Last House on the Left, a remake of the Wes Craven horror film which was released back in 1972. At that time Craven was making a statement about his generation and the Vietnam War with his revenge film. Fast-forward to 2009 and this new Last House on the Left may not be making the same statement, but it is asking the same essential question: How far will two ordinary people go to exact revenge on the people who attacked their daughter? Paxton plays the daughter, Mari, who is kidnapped and tortured by a vicious gang. But there's a twist – her attackers unknowingly wind up at Mari's parents' house looking for shelter. And once Mari's parents figure out what's going on, they make these thugs pay for what they've done to Mari.
Paxton had worked with Garret Dillahunt, the actor who plays Krug (the leader of the vicious gang), before and that made enduring some very difficult scenes just a little easier to handle. "Garret and I met a couple of years ago," said Paxton at the film's LA press day. "I was about 15 and I was doing a pilot called Mr. Ed, a remake of the original television show. I got along really well with Garret on that set, so when I heard that he was going to be playing Krug, I was honestly so relieved because all I could keep thinking was, 'Who’s going to be playing Krug?' You know, some actors don’t want to form a relationship. If they have to hate you on screen, they want to not get to know you in real life. So I was nervous about that and trusting the person. When I knew it was Garret, he’s so unlike Krug, he’s so gentle and sweet and thoughtful and so I knew we weren’t going to have a problem communicating and really going full-force on that scene. I didn’t want us to hold anything back. You can’t. Otherwise it’s not realistic."
The Last House on the Left is a real departure for Paxton who's best known for her roles in light comedies. And Paxton admits this was a huge challenge but one she really looked forward to after reading the script. "I was looking for a challenge at that time. I’d just finished doing Aquamarine and Sydney White and those were really fluffy, light-hearted comedies and so I really wanted to challenge myself and show people that I can do different things. I never wanted to be put in any kind of box because that’s really depressing to me to always be playing the same thing. I was definitely ready. It was crazy, really. As much as I had imagined in my head reading the script, I had no idea it was going to be that much more in real life actually doing it."
And Paxton didn't even have memories of the original film to draw on to help her wrap her head around the character. "I had not seen the original and it was a conscious decision for me not to see the original while we were filming because I didn’t want to have any kind of preconceived notions of the character or the film or anything because we are not trying to copy the movie, you know, remake page by page," said Paxton. "We’re just trying to breathe new life into this story and so I watched the movie after we finished filming most of my stuff. I can definitely see how it influenced the entire genre."
Life on the Set of The Last House on the LeftFilming in Africa was quite an experience for the cast who were initially put up in lavish condos by a marina. "I’m like, 'Yeah, this is going to be great.' And then they’re like, 'No, no, no. When we’re filming, we’re going to go way out into the forest and you’re going to be living there.' And I was like, 'What happened to this condo?' 'Well you can stay there on the weekend.' And I was all right until we get there and we were literally staying in these 18th century wooden cabins with bugs," recalled Paxton. "It was beautiful historically, but it was really crazy actually staying there with the cast."
"We definitely had to blow off some steam. We had to. After a day of filming like that, we would all call each other and just be like, 'Let’s go to the one restaurant in town.' Literally one restaurant," said Paxton, laughing. "And we would just go to the same restaurant every night and just relax and just talk about the day because I think we’d all go insane if we didn’t have each other to talk to."
Paxton also needed a chance to relax and unwind after slogging around in the mud in her underwear at 4am in the morning for a particularly arduous scene. "I don’t know why when I was reading this script it didn’t quite hit me, you know, mud, cold, rain, wind machines, underwear. It didn’t really all fit together until on the day and I was like, 'What can I do now?' It was like, I’ve just got to go for it. I’ve just got to do it.' The swimming scenes in the pool, that was actually the worst for me. I actually enjoyed the mud more than the pool because it was so freezing and it was like 5 in the morning and the water was so cold and the first AD actually pushed me in the pool because I was too scared to go in so he pushed me in," said Paxton.
And trying to act when she was freezing was definitely hard to do. "We all hated the rain machine and we were all like, 'We’re doing the rain machine today! Yup. It’s not going to be a good day.' Definitely it was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done. Ever, ever, ever! We got bruised and beaten up every day," revealed Paxton. "I have so many scars still from getting so injured. I remember there was this one scene where in the car we have a huge fight sequence, which was actually my favorite scene to film. We had to take the entire back of the car, like the back seat, and take it out and move it back and there were a couple nails sticking up and I’m fighting with Riki [Lindhome] and she’s pulling my hair and it got so intense and real that I landed on one of the nails and it went under my knee cap and I screamed out and Dennis was like, 'Cut! Print that! That was the best one! It was so real! How did you do that?' I was like, 'Ahhhhh! It was real, it was real!'"
* * * * * *
The Last House on the Left hits theaters on March 13, 2009 and is rated R for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use.