Thursday, August 12, 2010

Don't Get Caught in The Last House on the Left

Every so often, the medium of film produces a villain who is so contemptible that it is actually a pleasure to watch as their lives are extinguished.

The Last House on the Left provides just such a villain.

A remake of a 1972 film by the same name, The Last House on the Left provides a nightmare scenario: having taken someone who grievously harmed a family member into your own home, and being trapped with them.

Moreover, they are psychopaths.

In the film, Dr John Collingwood (Tony Goldwyn) and his wife Emma (Monica Potter) have moved with their daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) to live in their lakehouse in the Pacific Northwest.

No sooner have they arrived than Mari starts asserting her independence. She wants to live in the guesthouse rather than in the main house with her parents, and she wants to take the car into town to visit a friend.

But while in town she encounters Justin Stillo (Spencer Treat Clark) whose gentle nature belies his extremely dangerous father, Krug (Garret Dillahunt), uncle Francis (Aaron Paul) and his girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome).

A carefree afternoon spent smoking pot with Justin turns into a horrifying ordeal when Krug, Francis and Sadie return to the hotel room where Justin has been left alone.

Mari and her friend are taken hostage. Later, after an escape attempt, Mari's friend is cruelly murdered -- left to die of two knife wounds meant to cause a slow and painful death -- and Mari herself is raped and shot.

With their vehicle damaged during the escape attempt, Mari's assailants (with Justin in tow) wind up at the Collingwood home, where they receive shelter from an incoming storm.

The Collingwoods, worried over their daughter's absence, are about to be confronted by the horror of having their daughter's psychopathic assailants in their own home.

The lack of reason for Krug, Frances and Sadie to take Mari hostage, and the casualness with which they clearly plan to kill her mark them as clear psychopaths.

And while American law provides for the possibility of the death penalty -- the only means by which a psychopath can truly be dealt with in a humane manner -- Canadian law doesn't even recognize them.

Shortened significantly, the psychopathy checklist developed by Dr Bob Hare checks for the following behavioural and personality traits:

-Glib and superficial charm
-Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
-Need for stimulation
-Pathological lying
-Cunning and manipulativeness
-Lack of remorse or guilt
-Shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
-Callousness and lack of empathy
-Parasitic lifestyle
-Poor behavioral controls
-Sexual promiscuity
-Early behavior problems
-Lack of realistic long-term goals
-Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
-Many short-term marital relationships
-Juvenile delinquency
-Revocation of conditional release
-Criminal versatility

Krug, Frances and Sadie can be determined to exhibit any of these behaviours as can be exhibied within a two-hour movie.

Yet in Canada, where Dr Hare's Psyophathy Check List (PCL-R) was commissioned by, and then upon receipt shelved by, Corrections Canada, individuals such as these three would never be identified as psychopaths by Corrections Canada and treated accordingly -- because of an ideological view of criminal justice that refuses to accept the possibility that an individual cannot be redeemed.

A psychopath, by their very nature, cannot be redeemed. Canada's justice system needs to recognize this fact, or risk being utterly impotent in the handling of individuals similar to the Stillos.

By the time it has concluded, The Last House on the Left has walked a fine line between tense suspense/thriller and brutal revenge film. As Frances comes in search of sexual gratification from Emma and Krug discovers that Mari is the Collingwood's daughter, and with no help available to them, John and Emma are forced to dispatch their now-unwelcome houseguests.

Krug, in particular, shows no remorse whatsoever for his actions, and even brags about them while embarking on protracted self-aggrandizing speeches on "being a man" -- that such an individual would think that raping and murdering helpless teenage girls makes him a man is certainly a testament to his parasitic lifestyle.

In the end, the only law left available to the Collingwoods is the law of the jungle.

Canadian law could not suffer the same to be commonplace in Canada -- and so must get realistic in the handling of psychopaths. Considering the parole of Karla Holmoka, and how close she came to receiving a pardon, it's clearly in dire need.


  1. Actually, Canadian law allows for convicted criminals to be declared "Dangerous Offenders" and incarcerated indefinitely, precisely because they are considered to be an ongoing danger to the public. It's interesting that you mention Hamolka, as Paul Bernardo was declared a Dangerous Offender.

  2. You're correct that Canadian law allows this.

    However, until very recently there was no objective criteria for declaring an individual to be a dangerous offender -- it was at the judge's discretion.

    As it stands right now, an individual must commit at least three violent offences in order to be declared a dangerous offender.

    However, because Corrections Canada doesn't use the PCL-R, it cannot detect a psychopath on a first violent offence. That is the problem I'm alluding to here.

  3. You wrote "an individual must commit at least three violent offences in order to be declared a dangerous offender." That's not the case--if someone is convicted of three violent offenses then the onus is on them to prove that they're not a violent offender. But the crown can still try to have a convict declared a violent offended even if they haven't been convicted of three violent offenses, but in this case the onus is on the crown to prove that the convict is still a danger to society, not the other way around. Presumably showing that a convict meets the definition of a psychopath would be sufficient, but it's up to the judge to decide.

    Would you say that indefinite detention is also a humane way of dealing with incurable psychopaths?

  4. If we're going to delve deeply into the details, you're correct.

    However, if a prosecutor thinks they're dealing with a psychopath after a first violent offence, they've already been deprived of a key tool in making that case -- the PCL-R.

    That makes it difficult to make the case until a reverse onus is applied.

    In some cases this is actually rather fair. After all, someone who commits a violent act in a fit of passion should be considered redeemable the vast majority of the time.

    Psychopaths are rare, but extremely dangerous -- and the best case scenario should be to identify them the first time out.

    My opinion is that life in prison is not a humane or even safe way of dealing with incurable psychopaths.

    In order to minimize the threat such individuals would pose to the general popularion of any prison -- even a maximum-security prison -- they would essentially need to be kept in solitary confinement.

    I dnn't consider a lifetime in solitary confinement to be humane. I think capital punishment for individuals who can be confirmed as psychopaths, and who have offended appropriately (first degree murder) is the most humane method of handling them.


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