Predating the flood of American horror films released in the wake of the Vietnam war, Wes Craven's phenomenal 1972 classic, The Last House on the Left is the amateur film that took horror to another, more terrifying level. Influencing the sadism of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974), the inventiveness of The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1982) and the documentary filming style of The Blair Witch Project (Eduardo Sanchez & Daniel Myrick, 1999), Craven’s film is a powerful and raw experience, once seen, never forgotten.
“All that blood and violence, I thought you were supposed to be the love generation!”
Last House… was Wes Craven's film debut. It tells the story of Phyllis and Mary (played by Sandra Peabody and Lucy Grantham); two girls who, on their way to a rock concert, try to ‘score some grass.’ When they ask a young man named Junior whether he's dealing cannabis, he invites them back to his apartment where they meet the three other occupants. Krug (played by the brilliant method actor David Alexander Hess), Sadie, the group's sex toy, and Weasel, the sleaziest of imaginable perverts it comes as no surprise that this bloke is a famous pornstar. The moment the girls enter the apartment Junior locks the door, trapping them inside. Krug suddenly appears before the girls from a hidden position, gleefully saying –‘Gotcha!’ Suddenly the film has leapt into a nightmare situation which is the beginning of offensive for those who cannot take it. A word of advice, if you don’t like this film now, don’t bother!
In an attempt to 'cross the northern border', the group venture with Phyllis and Mary in the trunk of their car. When the vehicle breaks down in the dense forestry Krug and his gang members decide to 'have a little fun', taking the weeping young girl's into the woods where they humiliate, torture, rape and eventually kill both. What follows is the most frightening scene in the history of horror. It is not the hideous atrocities committed by the group that is so terrifying, but, once the girls are dead, the group blankly stare at each other frowning, evidently repelled by their own actions. The degenerates did not plan any of these incidents; they simply got carried away. These characters are far more frightening than any monster, ghost or psycho ever committed to celluloid because they are emphasised as real human beings. Film director George Romero already brought horror closer to home with his 1969 horror epic film, Night of the Living Dead, by replacing castles, old dark houses and distant lands with familiar everyday settings. Last House on the Left not only followed the example set by Romero, but also released onto the world third dimensional monsters, characters who could possibly be in your own garden.
Aware that 'the cops is closing,' the gang ironically seeks refuge in the home of Mr. and Miss Collingwood, unaware that they are Mary's parents. There is a moment of obvious class division during the scene where the group eats spaghetti in the Collingwood's home. Krug eats open mouthed, Sadie gulps down large glasses of wine and Weasel belches loudly before stating - 'This food is impeccable.'
There is an evident, albeit incongruous streak of comedy throughout the film. There are two deputies who run 'out of gas' driving to the Collingwoods' home and subsequently have to hitch a ride from a chicken truck driver. The fugitive group, when not eviscerating, mutilating and dismembering young girls are also comical. In one scene, Krug pushes Junior to the floor for dreaming about, and impersonating a frog. Another unusual aspect of the film is its soundtrack, written and composed by actor David Alexander Hess. Consisting of banjos and tambourines the 'badies theme' can be heard most of the time there isn't anything particularly gruesome happening on screen. Miss Collingwood notices that Junior is wearing Mary's necklace, then later that evening overhears the group argument -
Junior: Krug, we gotta get out of here. If they found out we killed their kid...
Krug: Shut up! Or you'll wind up in the lake with her.
The remaining scenes of the film consist of the parents extracting revenge for their daughter's death. Miss Collingwood seduces weasel before castrating him. Krug is shot by Mr. Collingwood and then beheaded with a chain saw. Sadie in an attempt to escape runs from the house, but has her throat cut by Miss Collingwood, while Junior shoots himself with his father's gun.
The deputies finally arrive to find the blood soaked couple breathless and recovering from their outburst of madness, resembling the group who were also shocked by their own sadistic actions earlier in the film.
Although The Last House on the Left is undeniably relentless in its effort to disturb and horrify, it does have redeeming qualities. Under the low circumstances in which it was made, Last House on the Left was filmed mostly with hand held cameras, bringing a sense of realism to the film. The acting is somewhat amateurish, but as a debut for, both director Wes Craven and producer Sean Cunningham, this film not only grossed millions of dollars, but also has developed cult status and is constantly referred to as Wes Craven's greatest achievement.
It is suggested that the Manson family massacre was influential for the making of this film. At the time of Last House on the Left's emergence, the hippie era was coming to an end, memories of the Kennedy assassination were still resonant and America could see stomach churning footage of the Vietnam broadcast on the news. The film can be seen as a representation of a nihilistic period and an evaluation of the 'decay of American culture'.
The story of The Last House on the Left was loosely based on Swedish Film-maker Ingmar Bergman's earlier epic The Virgin Spring where a three shepherds similarly rape and murder a young girl before receiving their comeuppance from the girl's vengeful parents. Following the release of The Last House on the Left, a new wave in horror emerged. Hundreds of similarly themed films were produced with similar situations involving turning the tables in the name of revenge, the majority of them blatant rip-offs: House on the Edge of the Park (Ruggero Deodato, 1980); Late Night Train Murders (Aldo Lado, 1974); all very reminiscent of Craven’s film.
Viscerally more intense than any other horror/suspense film, The Last House on the Left will continue to provoke controversy and obtain the hearts of true devotees to a dying genre for years to come.
Ironically, a last house on the left doesn't even appear in the film.