Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Remembering Wes Craven: "Last House on the Left" Review

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 156 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Last House on the Left (1972)
Running time:  84 minutes (1 hour, 24 minutes)
PRODUCER:  Sean S. Cunningham
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Victor Hurwitz (D.o.P.)
COMPOSER:  David Alexander Hess

HORROR/THRILLER with elements of crime and drama

Starring:  Mari Collingwood, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, Gaylord St. James, Cynthia Carr, Marshall Anker, and Martin Kove

Last House on the Left is a 1972 horror and exploitation film written, directed, and edited by Wes Craven.  The film was inspired by the 1960 Swedish film, The Virgin Spring, directed by Ingmar Bergman and written by Ulla Isaksson.  Last House on the Left focuses on the murder of two teenage girls by a quartet of psychotic criminals and the subsequent vengeance of one of the girls' parents.

Horror master Wes Craven’s (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) first film, Last House on the Left, is nothing like his later work.  A film of unflinching brutality, it is shocking in the immediacy of its horror, and it is matter-of-fact in the way it portrays murder.  As a horror film, Last House on the Left is not supernatural, nor does it have any of the conventions of the “slasher flicks” that would grow to mass popularity in the late 70’s and into the late 90’s, including films that would be the work of Craven.

Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is celebrating Sweet Sixteen with her rebellious friend, Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham), when the pair encounters a gang of sadistic criminals.  The evil bunch  kidnaps them, and when the girls try to escape, the gang members hunt and kill them.  They disembowel Phyllis, and the lead thug, Krug Stillo (David Hess), rapes (in probably the sloppiest and most pathetic rape scene in film history) and shoots Mari.

Later, the gang unwittingly stumbles upon the home of Dr. William (Gaylord St. James) and Estelle Collingwood (Cynthia Carr), Mari’s parents, and become their guests.  When the parents discover that their daughter was murdered at the hands of their guests, the couple quickly and savagely begins to slay their daughter’s murderers.

The acting is nothing short of remarkable.  Combined with Craven’s documentary style of filmmaking, Last House on the Left seems very real – kind of jerky, shaky and bloody.  Watching it is like being in the middle of some crazy incident and then having to run madly from one corner to another to find safety.  From the prolonged torture of the teenage girls to the speedy dispatching of the bad guys, Last House on the Left is a jolt of a violent voyeurism.  Part crime drama and part thriller, it is a horror movie like no other.  Disquieting, it is a shunned corner in the mirror of its time – the dirty and worn ends of the hippie era.  At times, it seems too raw and too unpolished, but the movie still leaves you shaking your head and saying, “What the hell…”

7 of 10

Revised: Monday, August 31, 2015

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