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Review: Last House on the Left (1972)

Last House on the Left (1972)

Directed by: Wes Craven

Premise: An unofficial remake of Ingmar Bergman’s film The Virgin Spring. Two country girls are abducted by a group of psychotics who torture, sexually assault, and kill them just yards from the home of one of the girls. When her parents discover what has happened they go after the gang.

What Works: Last House on the Left is remembered primarily for launching the careers of Wes Craven, who went on to direct The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and Red Eye, Sean Cunningham, who directed the original Friday the 13th, and Steve Miner, who directed Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part 3. The film has a notorious reputation that is well deserved. Last House on the Left was made ultra-low budget by people who had never made a feature film before and it shows. Oddly, the rawness of the film actually works to its advantage as the picture takes on a documentary look and the violence is staged in ways that were adapted in later pictures like Friday the 13th. As a part of the New Hollywood movement, Last House on the Left was one of the first films to ever commit to showing acts of sadism and violence as explicitly as they are presented here. The images retain their power years later and the casting works very well, with the two teenage girls (Sandra Cassell and Lucy Grantham) capturing the fear of their situation and the villains epitomizing the evil of a post-Manson Family culture, especially David Hess as gang leader Krug. Where the film gets truly subversive is in the story’s final act as the parents of one of the victims become as vicious as the gang members. In the finale, good has not stamped out evil, but rather evil has polluted good and the vengeance is neither triumphant nor righteous. This theme is echoed in such mainstream New Hollywood films as Taxi Driver and Last House on the Left and the other horror films of this period deserve some credit for introducing it.

What Doesn’t: Last House on the Left has not aged as well as other films of the period. Parts of the film are clumsy or shoddily done and the humor of the picture really doesn’t work. In an odd way the gross jumps in tone make the film more disturbing but they also interrupt the story.

DVD extras: The MGM DVD release includes outtakes, a documentary, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Last House on the Left is more interesting as a cinematic artifact relevant to studies of the filmmakers, the genre, and the time period rather than as a film in and of itself. It is important and should be preserved but it is also a nasty little picture that is not intended for all audiences.

Episode: #210 (October 26, 2008)