Well, the hurricane turned out to be sort of a bust. I woke up to sunny skies today. I still decided to watch my movies, at least since nothing was open and I was pretty bored.
This movie is pretty much the polar opposite of Shaun of the Dead. I chose the 1972 grindhouse slasher classic, The Last House on the Left the legitimate directorial debut by Wes Craven (He admitted that he learned directing while making porno flicks.)
I love the graphics for the title, the font and color are so lurid. Plus, there’s the fact that there’s nudity behind it. The opening credits are interspersed with nudity. Brian DePalma opened 1976’s Carrie with nudity, specifically the famous scene of Carrie getting her first period, in order to show the audience that this movie wasn’t like other movies and that he wasn’t going to pull any punches. Well, Last House on the Left predates Carrie by four years. It just seems like Wes Craven should get some credit for Carrie‘s opening scenes.
The movie opens with what you know is one of my favorite things in the horror genre–a warning about how this totally happened!
In reality, this didn’t happen. It’s actually loosely based on The Virgin Spring by Ingmar Bergman, which, in turn, is based on a medieval Swedish ballad, “Töres döttrar i Wänge.” The gist of the story is that the three daughters of Pehr Tyrsson and Karin are killed by three highwaymen on their way to church. Three wells appear where the girls were killed. The highwaymen wind up at the Tyrsson house and try to sell the girls’ silk shifts. Karin recognizes the dresses and tells her husband who kills two of the men but lets one of them live. Pehr asks the surviving highwayman who they are and where they’re from and he tells Pehr that they’re brothers whose parents sent them out to fend for themselves in the world when they were very young–oh, and that their parents are Pehr and Karin. So The Last House on the Left is, at heart, a revenge flick.
It’s set on the night of Mari Collingwood’s seventeenth birthday. Her and her friend, Phyllis, are going to see the ironically-named band, Bloodlust, in NYC. While on the way to the show, they hear a news report about a gang of escaped convicts–Krug, a rapist and serial killer, his son Junior, Sadie, a psychopath and sadist, and Fred “Weasel” Podowski, a child molester and murderer. After the show they try to score some pot from Junior and end up held hostage in their apartment. They try to negotiate their escape but Phyllis ends up raped–which we never see but we hear and see via Mari’s reaction.
The scenes of brutality are interspersed with the innocent scenes of Mari’s parents planning her birthday party.
The gang decides to leave the city and take the girls out-of-town with them in the trunk of their car. Their car breaks down right in front of Mari’s house. The gang takes the girls into the woods and further brutalize them. This includes forcing Phyllis to wet her pants, forcing the girls to make out with each other, and Sadie performing oral sex on Mari. When Krug leaves to go back to the car, Phyllis tries to make a run for it, hoping that they’ll be distracted enough to let Mari escape.
While the girls aren’t well-characterized, the villains are so brutal and appalling that you can’t help but feel for the girls. You really want Phyllis and Mari to survive. I actually found myself rooting more for Phyllis since she had more fight in her than Mari. So it’s exceptionally sad when Phyllis runs into a graveyard and you know that she isn’t going to make it.
In between the chase and fighting, Craven shows tranquil scenes of nature, in a contrast with the action on-screen. This makes the scenes of Phyllis and Mari dying even sadder. After killing the girls, Krug’s gang are still stuck without a working car. They make their way to Mari’s house, unaware that it’s her house. Mari’s mom figures out who they are, though, and the parents set about exacting their revenge. Meanwhile, the killers are beset by fear once they realize whose house they’re in. This includes a dream sequence involving teeth that freaked me out at least as much as the tooth scene in A Serbian Film.
The grieving parents then rig their house up for vengeance. Dad gets his rifle and electrifies a door-knob. It’s kind of like Home Alone if Home Alone involved biting a dong off during a blow job.
While all this is happening, we’re treated to the world’s dumbest cops trying to solve Mari’s disappearance. The cops finally walk in while Mari’s parents exact their final revenge. It’s a very hopeless note, which makes sense if the point is the futility of revenge.
I read once that Craven was inspired by the images coming out of the Vietnam War, which I think I can understand. The news was reporting about atrocities committed by both sides in the war but The Last House on the Left brings those atrocities home. My question is why are people so horrified by what happened to the girls in the movie when similar things were happening to women in Vietnam? And what about the effects of war on the people fighting it? Why is it worse when it happens to two suburban girls?
There are multiple cuts of this movie floating around. The film was censored in multiple countries, especially the U.K. Even in the U.S. cinema machinists would cut scenes out before showing the film. I have the MGM DVD release that features an introduction by Wes Craven and claims that this is the closest print to the original version available. I tend to believe this since my version is 84-minutes-long and the only scene I can tell that’s missing is the opening when Mari’s reading her birthday cards.
I recommend this movie if you’re not sensitive. As Wes Craven said in the intro, take a tranquilizer and remove any kids and pets from the room.
My only complaint is the music. It was composed by David Hess, the man who played Krug. The music often contrasts with the action on-screen–i.e. light-hearted folk ballads when the girls are trapped in the trunk. I really, really hate that and wish they’d used something more subtle to enhance the terror of the situation. Other than that, the movie is quite scary and worth viewing. I just can’t help but think that the seventies were really the time for horror.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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