The Last House on the Left Review
The year was 1972 and a young Wes Craven put out a film that was deemed very scary for the times. It’s true, it was insanely scary for the time. So if we all jump into our time machine and visit 1972. Last House on the Left is a scary movie but at times it doesn’t hold up that well. However, for this review I’m really going to try and fit my mind into the 1970’s rather than reviewing it in modern tone. It’s a very hard thing for me to do, but I’m going to give it a shot, since everyone has either already seen it, read reviews of it, or holds it up to a mantle as a classic.
The Last House on the Left is a movie about a couple of college girls that go out for a party and end up meeting up with escaped convicts who kill them. The plot thickens when they show up at a house where the girl’s parents live, and the parents find out who’s in their house. Last House on the Left becomes an epic revenge film, and despite it’s hokey ending and stupid song structure, it is revered.
Here’s a trailer for Last House on the Left:
Like I said in the initial paragraph of this review, we are going to have to use our imagination a little and head to the 1970’s. 1972 to be exact, and while some of us weren’t born yet, we know enough about the early 70’s to know what its like. Forget Freddy, forget Jason, forget a lot of the movies that have molded modern horror. Horror before 1972 is not too gruesome, and is not as extreme, so with that in mind lets consider the film.
We know from looking back that the film quality could be huge, but for this film the budget wasn’t very high. The acting was also subpar, and while I liked David Hess as our villain, I couldn’t help but note his striking resemblance to several pornographic stars from the same era. Especially looking a lot like a guy from the epic film “Debbie Does Dallas”, I digress. The movie is still higher quality than a lot of the modern straight to dvd movies that we are being sold these days, and the actual execution of the parts to make a whole are well done and feel like a real movie, at times.
The themes in this movie are harsh. We see urination, humiliation, presumed under age molestation and overall exploitation, and for the time this was severely taboo. For a mainstream film to have these themes was a major no-no and Craven paid for it; the film went on to be pawned off by critics as “exploitative trash” and presumably neglected by mainstream audiences. It’s funny, considering that in 1972, the biggest box office draw was “The Godfather”, which was not light on heavy themes. (like a horse head in a bed) For 1972, the imagination of your average adult and teenager was most likely not as desensitized as 36 years later, and the idea of someone molested and killed in the fashion of this film would be downright appalling.
While some might argue that smut was being sold in those days, you will have to remember that Hustler (one of the harder magazines of the 70’s) didn’t come out until July of 1974. But Jorge, some of you might be pushed to interject, didn’t Penthouse come out in 1965? Yes. You’re right, nice observation, Penthouse did start in the 60’s but while it showed genitalia and pubic hair, it did not show penetration, and it did not exploit its models through humiliation, urination, or forced lesbian sexual themes. Nor did it really flirt with bondage, as Craven does towards the end of this film. In fact, the themes in Last House on the Left and hardcore pornography the likes that we are seeing today didn’t even happen until the early 80’s at the very earliest. So these sexual exploitative scenarios are rough on the 1972 through 1980’s modern man. Remember also that home video is not general common place, so if you didn’t see The Last House on the Left in its theatrical run, you probably didn’t get a second or first shot at watching this film until 1975 when Betamax became a feasible way to watch films. Once again derailing the desensitization of culture and allowing bias to reign on what is and what isn’t exploitation and taboo.
Why The Last House on the Left is scary: Some movies are easy to define as scary, and some others aren’t. This falls into the easy category. However, I am going to go a little left of the bulls eye on the scary notion of this film. Yes, it is scary to get abducted by criminals and abused. Yes it is scary to find that your daughter has been killed and yes it is scary to plot revenge. However, the scariest moments of this film are found in the set up.
People fear a police state right now. I am constantly hit by the media about fear. If it is not the media saying that our economy sucks, it’s the leftist idiot next to me saying that Orwell’s 1984 is correct and Big Brother is going to get us. I don’t believe that, I believe more on the side of Huxley’s argument from Brave New World, that we are not going to get taken over, we are going to willingly give up our freedoms. Don’t believe me? Think about the Iphone, the biggest selling phone. It has gps, it has internet, and it’s easily tracked. You willingly give up your freedom for the phone…and no one gives it second thought. That said, consider the police in this film. The police see a weird looking car broken down on the side of the road, and they know that there are criminals on the loose. However, instead of investigating the situation, one officer calmly says “We have better things to do”. Oh really? Police negligence is now a standard in horror films. It seems that the Police never believe that anything is wrong, and it becomes the crux of 80’s horror. (Jason Series, Nightmare on Elm Street Series, Halloween) and of course tribute films: Cabin Fever, Death Sentence, Saw, Dead Silence, and of course House of 1,000 Corpses, each present a familiar stench of police carelessness or disbelief of sorts. None greater than this film’s stupid cops letting escapees go without a warning; the scariest thing to me is not police brutality, but more over the fact that the police might get so tired of people calling them out on things that they won’t help us when we need them, even if it doesn’t look like we need help initially. Sure, some might say that the small move at the beginning of this film isn’t scary, the bigger picture of cops not caring is something that is scary. The subtle negligence of the cops leads to a far scarier world for the women involved and even at the end…a scary moment in film cinema and oftentimes unnoticed by callous reviewers.
The second scary thing in this film is much more subtle then the first. I would like to call this part the “what now” part of the film. The parents exact their revenge, things get out of hand and the police finally show up, but are way too late and stupid anyways, but the parents are left with the “what now” stare as the film closes. What now is right! You got your revenge, you have avenged your daughter’s death, you are a big man right? You’re big, right? NO. You dumb idiot, you are just like them, sadistic in your revenge, horrible in your return of violence to those that harmed you, and that is scary. Human emotional response is so hard to swallow if the implied reaction to losing a loved one is to kill the villain! Seriously, think about that for a moment. If you lose someone to a tragic murder, and actually get them back, you don’t feel justified, you don’t feel good. Do you? I don’t know. The look on the parents faces at the end of the film tell it all, and Craven could’ve done a great deed with allowing the camera to fade and give us a sad musical number at the end. Instead, we get some hokey country song and stupid television show credits. The scary part of the film is how extreme the revenge is. We’re talking about gore, and extreme chainsaw action! This is pre-Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 by the way) and while we don’t see the overtly gorey situation, your imagination runs forward and you imagine the gore take flight; which is a scary thing on its own. What’s scarier, the gore effects of the actions? Or the fact that these people are so quick to react in this fashion; at no point do they call the cops, they just go for the gusto, and win! But nobody wins, and maybe that’s the broader message.
Now let’s get back to our own time.
Looking back this film is not overtly extreme. It doesn’t show you a lot of gore, it doesn’t give you the whole enchilada (mmmmMMmmm) right away. Seriously, it’s not that bad. We’ve seen far more gore in our recent years than ever before, and by today’s standard this film isn’t that good. It has it’s moments. It gets extremely scary when the lights go out and you have the dad with a shotgun trying to kill the captors! The lighting and shadows of that scene are still stirring after you finish watching the film, and it’s more scary to not see the sequence, then to have it well lit.
The Last House on the Left is going to get a remake, and after seeing the original again, maybe it’s not so bad to get it remade. The film quality is not all there and it really can use an update, assuming they don’t change the script. I wouldn’t mind a frame for frame update like Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho” is. It might not go down like that, but it wouldn’t be so bad if it did. I highly recommend The Last House on the Left. View it twice, once with the mindset of someone that isn’t desensitized by horror, and then again with your modern eyes.
As a bonus, check out the VHS cover of this film. The director of Friday the 13th was a produce on Last House on the Left, just to clear that up. Not bad huh?
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