Wes Craven – In Memoriam: Review 54: The Last House on the Left (4/5)

The Last House on the Left

Directed by Wes Craven

Starring Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Fred J. Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, Richard Towers, Cynthia Carr

Released on August 30, 1972

Running time 1h 24m

Rated R (originally X)

Genre: Horror, Thriller

This is Wes Craven’s directorial debut. And what a great way to start. Right off the bat, The Last House on the Left garnered serious controversy, was threatened with bans, and has earned a well-deserved place on the list of Video Nasties. Its bans took until 2002 to be alleviated worldwide. It is still lauded as one of the most disturbing movies ever made.

But frankly, by today’s standards, it’s pretty tame. In fact, the only onscreen violence that happens is 1) Sadie pulling about a foot of intestine out of Phyllis’s abdominal cavity, 2) a few seconds of Krug carving his name into Mari’s chest, and 3) Mari’s mother slitting Sadie’s throat. While it received an X rating back in 1972, it would be on the bottom tier of R-rated films, just like The Hills Have Eyes, The Amityville Horror, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Any nudity is only briefly onscreen, and any sex is either offscreen or just focusing on the faces of the rapist and victim. There are only two f-words and only intermittent sexual references. Marijuana is almost dealt. But what really got LHotL its X rating was its disturbing content, as you will eventually see.

Mari Collingwood (Peabody) is celebrating her seventeenth birthday by going to a Bloodlust concert with her friend Phyllis (Grantham), despite her parents’ concern at both the band and Mari’s friend.

En route to the city, the two girls hear of a prison break involving dangerous criminals Krug Stillo (Hess) and Fred “Weasel” Podowski (Lincoln). When the girls arrive in the city, they decide to score some pot. It’s the seventies. Of course they’re going to try to score some pot. They come across one lone man, soon revealed to be Krug’s son Junior (Sheffler) standing outside of an apartment. He leads them inside, and they are immediately trapped by Krug, Weasel, Junior, and Krug’s bisexual girlfriend Sadie (Rain). The two girls resist, and Phyllis is gangraped by Krug and Weasel. This is why I will never get involved in the drug-dealing world.

Meanwhile, at home, Mari’s parents are planning a surprise birthday party for Mari.

The next morning, the girls are locked in Krug’s car’s trunk and driven through the countryside, as the gang intends to leave the state, and eventually the country. Mari and Phyllis are essentially being taken along as sex “snacks”, if you will. The car breaks down near Mari’s home. Unable to fix the car, Krug and his gang drag the girls into the woods. To put it lightly, the girls are beaten, humiliated, defiled, and murdered. Mari truly had one hell of a birthday.

And the audience is reminded of the humanity of our killers when even the killers are shocked at what they have done.

Krug and his thugs change out of their bloody clothes, and go to Mari’s house, unaware that the house is hers. They masquerade as traveling salesmen, and Mari’s parents allow them to stay overnight. But Mari’s parents realize that these “traveling salesmen” are not who they say they are. They overhear a conversation, discover blood-soaked clothing in their luggage, find Mari’s necklace on Junior’s person, and ultimately find Mari’s body by the lake.

They lay all sorts of booby traps around the house as the gang sleeps, and their revenge begins. It was at this point that an ear-to-ear grin broke out on my face, and it never let up until the movie was over.

Mari’s mother tricks Weasel into letting her give him fellatio, and she bites off the luggage and both of the carry-ons, causing him to eventually bleed to death. Krug manipulates Junior into guilt-induced suicide. Sadie vs Mother, and Krug vs Father. Sadie fights Mother and falls into the backyard swimming pool, where Mother slashes Sadie’s throat. Despite initially overpowering Father, Father attacks and brutally kills Krug with a chainsaw.

The shaken, exhausted, and now stronger couple reunites in the living room as the police arrive.

This movie was phenomenal. It was brutal. It was tense. Our villains were nearly unbearably vile. And to see the villains die was incredibly satisfying. Its rough, grainy camerawork all but added to the overall atmosphere.

As Roger Ebert said, this film is essentially the same story as 1960’s The Virgin Spring, directed by the legendary Ingmar Bergman, famous for Through a Glass Darkly and The Seventh Seal, the latter of which I had the wonderful opportunity to see recently.

But the relationship between The Virgin Spring and LHotL is also comparable to the relationship between Rio Bravo and Assault on Precinct 13. Both of those were fantastic.

This is the quintessential Rape and Revenge movie. This is the movie I Spit on Your Grave wishes it could have been. But ISoYG was just violence and sex for the sake of violence and sex. LHotL is not. It is much more than that. I can’t exactly put that into words, but just trust me. I’ll probably update this review with the reasons why when I think of how to properly word this.

I know I brought up this issue in my Nightmare on Elm Street review, but I must bring it up again. The brassiere was invented in the 1914. Why does no one wear one in the 70s and 80s?

It turns out that David Hess, the guy who played Krug, is also the guy who wrote the surprisingly enjoyable country / rock-n-roll soundtrack.

Another thing about Krug. Wes Craven has also said that Krug was part of the inspiration for the last name of Freddy Krueger. Awesome.

While not necessarily an original story, The Last House on the Left retells The Virgin Spring in detail, but adds the raw power of its brutality. What made it as brutal as it is was not what we saw onscreen. It was what was implied.

In one scene, as Sadie takes a bath, she hums “Singin’ in the Rain”. Odd. A Clockwork Orange was released a year earlier.

Also, the film’s producer, Sean Cunningham, was the man who not only directed Friday the 13th, but was also the man who got Wes Craven into filmmaking. I may not have liked the original Friday the 13th, but I can appreciate Cunningham for getting Craven into filmmaking and starting the career of one of the greatest directors in horror history.

Thank you, Sean. I appreciate it.

Final verdict: 4 out of 5 stars.