A blog exploring the sexy, shocking, surreal, and silly side of horror films.

July 19, 2010

The Last House on the Left (Review)

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The Last House on the Left (1972) 

Director: Wes Craven

The Last House on the Left is pure Id. According to Sigmund Freud, the Id is a dark, unorganized part of the personality and psyche that thrives on basic drives and immediate satisfaction but is repressed by the Ego and Super-Ego. On the DVD featurette "Still Standing: The Legacy of Last House on the Left," Craven talks about how he created Last House in the early seventies as an experiment in letting loose from intellectual and artistic repression -- to break every barrier. The original script was brutally violent, but although the script was toned down, Craven still let the Id out to play. As a result, the film is still truly shocking and holds  an incredibly dark power in its depiction of physical and sexual violence and degradation. Unfortunately, like the Id, the film is also very confused and unbalanced. Side by side with the violence are excruciating sequences of bumbling comedic relief and the most emotionally off-key music and score I've ever heard. It's these latter elements that have not aged well and contribute to what is, over all, an unsatisfying horror experience.


Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) is a sweet and lovely girl, if only a bit naive, making her way into womanhood. She lives with her mother Estelle (Cynthia Carr) and father John (Gaylord St. James) in a secluded, wooded area of town. She leaves one night with her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) to take in a concert in the city. While accompanying Phyllis to score some recreational marijuana, she and Phyllis are abducted by a gang of criminals and rapists lead by the sadistic Krug (David Hess). They are raped, tortured, and eventually murdered, but not before Mari's parents find out what happened to her and seek violent vengeance on the killers.

Rating: 1.5 / 5 Krugs


Unfortunately, yes, this is what I take away from Last House on the Left despite its infamous listing as one of the video nasties and sadistic videos of the 70s / 80s. David Hess is menacing as Krug, the ringleader of the gang, but he also did the music and the songs that completely sap the movie of its horror. You have to excuse musical styles for the time in which they were made, but even if you forgive the fact the music reeks of the early 70s, every musical score and stinger is out of touch with the horrors on screen. Sometimes this can be used to create a disturbing sense of dissonance, but here it just sounds ridiculous. For example, Krug is joined by his illegitimate junkie son (Marc Sheffler), the animalistic Sadie (Jeramie Rain), and violent pervert Weasel (Fred J. Lincoln). They're a horrible, evil family of predators, but the music that accompanies their drive sounds like it comes out of a country bumpkin road movie comedy.

The music is really and truly horrible save for the smooth, soothing blues song that plays over the post-rape scene. Here the film achieves some sense of effective dissonance, but it's a rare success. The goofy quality of the music also finds its way into the interactions between Krug and his band and the subplot about the cops. Sadie and Junior mimic frog noises, Sadie pulls a Bill and Ted by talking about Sigmund FROOD, and two bumbling cops run out of gas and have to hitch a ride on an old chicken truck to try and save the day. In the climax of the film, Mari's dad even tries to go all Home Alone on Krug but resorts to confronting him in a lazy chainsaw fight. It's all really face-palm worthy.


We can chalk up a lot of these screwy moments to the fact that this was one of the first films for most of the cast and crew, including West Craven and producer S. S. Cunningham. Controversial at the time, I can't see today how the corn-ball scenes and music in The Last House on the Left can be tolerated.


Absolutely. While it's not shot with the same style or careful attention as shown in other more effective rape-revenge films, Craven's raw amateur style does as much as it can not to glance away from the horror and therefore lends Last House on the Left a surprisingly effective voyeuristic quality. 

Do not score weed from these people. 

The actors also deserve a lot of credit. When not delivering cornball lines or being fed some very stilted dialog, the core croup of criminals (Krug, Junior, Sadie, and Weasel) develop a surprisingly sadistic bond and natural sense of family that heightens the horror. Also, Lucy Grantham is very sincere as Phyllis although she never showed her acting chops elsewhere. Last House on the Left remains her only known commercial film.


For all the hype, Last House on the Left is not a good movie and hardly as shocking as you might expect. It has its moments that hint at the better work Craven would deliver in the future, yet it is a largely inept and amateur picture much like The Hills Have Eyes.
God help me, but I actually look forward to the remake now. I think hell just froze over.

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