The Last House on the Left

June 29th, 2009 by Perfesser Deviant

The Last House on the Left   lhotl poster 5 85x120 thriller reviews reviews horror Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
Release Year: 1972

Two girls have a Hess of a time.

Two girls, straitlaced Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) and wilder girl Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) go to New York City to attend a concert, but they run afoul of a problem. That problem comes in the form of two escaped criminals – Krug Stillo (David Hess) and Fred ‘Weasel’ Podowski (Fred Lincoln) – and two scumbags – Sadie (Jeramie Rain) and Junior Stillo (Marc Sheffler). When the scumbags end up at the home of Mari’s parents, Dr. John (Richard Towers) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr), things go from bad to ugly to Leatherface very quickly….

(Spoilers follow…)

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The main selling point of this film is the brutalization of the two young women by the slime-balls. This is a film in which we get to watch a trio of men and a woman abuse two young women for fun. We watch as the ringleader makes the girls perform for his amusement until they become too much trouble, then he kills them. While this is shocking and awful, it is simply the things that bad people do, and the way it’s filmed makes it exploitative. When the film squares up the evil that Krug and company inflicted by having Mari’s parents kill them all as brutally as possible it excuses what went on before because evil is punished. In this way, the film is an uneven balance of a morality play and an exploitation film. Really, that puts it in the same category as the Grim Brothers’ tales. The moral of the story, of course, is that young girls need to be careful when they go out into the world as there are really bad people out there who wish nothing more than their harm. So ladies, remember, obey your parents and stay within the safety of the home, or you’ll die and your parents will become murderers.

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The thing is, it might sound like I’m coming out against films that depict the brutal mistreatment of young women. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Quite the contrary, in fact, as I have no problem with exploitation that turns women into mere objects for my amusement. My problem here is not that the film goes too far or any such nonsense, but that the film tries to have its cake and eat it too by using the elements of exploitation while trying to erase that through the revenge, which is equally exploitative because of the brutality; in one case the revenge is blatantly sexual as well. I prefer my exploitation more raw, less restrained than this film, and I don’t like it when it tries to have it both ways, be exploitation and then take it all back with some revenge. Especially when comic relief is used to break the tension.

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The comic relief in this film, mostly the result of a useless subplot involving Keystone Sheriff (Marshall Anker) and Keystone Deputy (Martin Kove). These two guys are so stupid that they miss a car mentioned in an APB, don’t investigate a car stalled way out in the middle of nowhere and drive off without enough gasoline for a short trip. These morons are everywhere they’re not needed and nowhere that they are needed, terribly needed. These cops break up the tension that has been so carefully built and bring the film to a grinding halt, especially their interaction with Ada the chicken truck driver (Ada Washington) who has the world’s worst truck. Another thing that really interferes with the film is the score, written by villain David Hess. The problem with the score is that a full three quarters of it is mournful, awful in its grimness, but the remaining one quarter is upbeat and totally opposed to the mood of the film and actively works against it. It seems that it was meant to be a clever juxtaposition of the horror of the events with the lightness of the tune, but it’s done too much and too badly to work.

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One of the more amusing aspects of this film is the screaming fit that the remake has provoked in the horror community. This is more than a little ironic since this film is itself an uncredited remake of Jungfrukällan / The Virgin Spring, an Oscar-winning film by Ingmar Bergman which stars Max von Sydow. If you’ve not seen this film, seek it out as it’s well worth watching – the film struck me in two ways: it’s unbelievable how young Max von Sydow is in it and Swedish really does sound like backwards English as joked about in Top Secret. Of course, Bergman‘s film was based on earlier material as well, the medieval ballad Töres dotter i Wänge. It must be said that Jungfrukällan is a better film as it deals with the real cost of the revenge on those who serve it rather than simply showing the revenge itself.

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This flick required massive cuts by the MPAA, but all that was avoided through a bit of fraud when someone put a borrowed R rating certificate on the film. In the UK it was completely banned by the BBFC as part of the whole video nasty overreaction. Eventually of course the BBFC decided that The Last House on the Left was too dangerous for video because it, presumably, definitely would encourage other New Yorkers to seek out and kill as many teenagers as possible, something to be avoided at all costs. Thus it became a video nasty for now and forever; it was released cut in 2002, uncut in 2008.

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Or not.

 

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