As Hallowe’en is coming up, we’ve opted for some horror films and we’re looking to mark the passing of Wes Craven last month.
Released: 30th August 1972. No Irish release.
Fun Fact: It’s a loose remake of the Ingmar Bergman 1950 film The Virgin Spring which starred Max Von Sydow. It won Best Foreign Language Film at the 1961 Academy Awards.
A little context. The Last House on the Left was made for a paltry $90,000 and it shows. The actors weren’t top dollar, the camerawork is poor, the sound recording and subsequent editing is no great shakes and yet here we are 43 years later considering its merits. The reason is because it launched the careers of two of horror’s most celebrated sons – director Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) and producer Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th).
The film tells the story of two teenage girls, Mari and Phyllis who are heading off to the city for a rock concert and afterwards figure they’ll make a night of it and go and score some drugs. Unfortunately they end up with the wrong crowd and are abused, raped and assaulted by a gang of escaped convicts and are taken into the woods and murdered. The perpetrators pretend they’ve broken down and head to a nearby house to wreak more havoc but by complete coincidence, the house is that of Mari’s mother and father who quickly work out the gang’s true identities and plot revenge.
This is a sickeningly violent film. In 1972 America was involved in an ongoing violent war. Every day, American families would sit down and watch the nightly news and be subjected to never-ending footage of carnage as their soldiers were filmed either being massacred or massacring the people of Vietnam. Craven’s film here is a riposte to that, showing audiences that violence will beget violence. It’s a weak argument for the exploitative nature of Mari and Phyllis’ deaths and I’m not sure that it holds up to nowadays’ standards.
Craven had just moved from an early career in hardcore pornography and that lurid eye is still in effect here. But as with any revenge plotting, the central act has to be shocking to get the audience gunning for the pay-off. And what a pay-off it is, as Mari’s parents Estelle and John go full Home Alone and subject the gang to quite a bizarre and gruesome series of events.
To put it bluntly, The Last House on the Left is a trashy, exploitative film but even now it holds a lot of power and highlights the potential that the men behind it clearly had.
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