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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

March 13, 2009 at 10:40 AM

“The Last House on the Left”: When is an R not enough?

OK, let’s talk about this. I didn’t go to “The Last House on the Left” this week, though it screened for critics on Monday. The film is a remake of a graphic, bloody 1972 horror film in which young women are sadistically raped and tortured. (Leonard Maltin called the original “technically inept and really sick.”) Usually, movies like this (i.e. the “Saw” movies) don’t screen in advance for critics. A couple of years ago, I went to a screening of another movie in this genre, “Wolf Creek,” and, during a prolonged scene of brutal sexual torture, did something I’ve never done before or since: I walked out. I didn’t review the film, but explained in a story why I couldn’t. A deluge of email followed, leading to some very interesting conversations with readers about screen violence and where each of us draws the line.
Though I”ve reviewed a number of extremely violent movies, I didn’t think I could stomach “Last House on the Left,” and so chose to have a freelance critic review it. And I realize that by doing so, I forgo much of my right to criticize it. That’s fine; I’ve already weighed in, in my “Wolf Creek” piece, about films that use sadistic violence as a thrill ride.
But today, in the Los Angeles Times, comes a question we should all be pondering, from longtime film writer Patrick Goldstein: Why is this film rated R and not NC-17? Why is the MPAA, which supposedly exists to help parents rather than film studios, not drawing the line at extremely graphic rape? This is, of course, the same MPAA which gave “Taken,” a very violent film about a teenage girl kidnapped into sex slavery, a PG-13 rating. “Wolf Creek” was also rated R. So, just how violent does a film have to be before the anonymous MPAA ratings board decides that it’s not OK for children to see it, even if they are accompanied by an adult? I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

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