The Last House On The Left (1972)

Directed By: Wes Craven
Written By: Wes Craven
Starring: Sandra Peabody
  Lucy Grantham
  David Hess
  Fred J. Lincoln
The Last House On The Left

The Last House On The Left has had an unfortunate life. Refused release and banned in a multitude of countries, only very recently becoming available in it’s most uncut form. I say it’s unfortunate because due to the notoriety it’s gained through rumours and reputation, many people will be expecting a much better, probably much more shocking film than they’ll actually get when they finally watch it.

It’s a simple story which revolves around a pair of young girls; Mari and Phyllis, one of whom is celebrating her 17th birthday when they are taken hostage by a gang of four ruthless criminals, lead by Krug and his junkie son. Their crimes range between child molestation, rape and murder and it soon becomes clear that once they’ve finished having their own particular brand of fun with the girls, that they’ll be dispensing of them in typically remorseless and sadistic fashion. When they are forced, due to a broken down car, to take shelter in a nearby home, they quickly learn that they are in one of the dead girls’ homes. When the owners of the house, Mari’s parents, realise who they are harbouring, they decide to exact some DIY vigilante revenge.

This movie has the distinction of being Wes Craven‘s first time behind the directorial lens and it shows. He clearly had a flair for horror, even back then (some might argue, more so than he does now) but he lacked the money to pull it off. The budgetary constraints show at every turn and some of the acting is truly terrible but somehow the film still retains an indescribable watchability and makes for inexplicably compelling viewing. 37 years after it was made, the events that unfold on screen still have the power to make me feel a little uncomfortable and they still haven’t lost that infamous, galling ‘shock’ factor.

A lot of people in the past have made mention of the occasionally jarring soundtrack. It was composed in part by lead antagonist; David Hess and while it might be an achievement in his own musical career, most of it has no place in this flick. He might be a master at the snarling, avaricious psychopath roles he’s so famous for but he shouldn’t have scored this movie.

I can understand that Craven might have been aiming to show a juxtaposition between the scenes of the unrelenting brutality carried out by our villains and the bewildering scenes showing the sheer ineptitude of the local Sheriff and his equally bumbling Deputy but it just doesn’t work. The latter are set to an almost Benny Hill-esque tune and look more like something from Keystone Cops than a serious torture and exploitation flick. I can never work out whether Craven should be admired for including them and aiming for something innovative or rebuked for ruining sections of his own, otherwise good movie.

It’s a shame that while many people are still searching for that elusive uncut master, they’ll never find it. Apparently, over the years (and it has been almost four decades!) some of the missing scenes have simply been lost. Rumour has it that when submitted for theatrical release, some projectionists even cut some scenes out themselves leaving it an almost impossibility that we’ll ever get to see the movie the way that it was intended to be seen. It might even be that certain scenes are a complete fabrication, the result of Chinese whispers but unless the makers spill, we’ll just never know.

It’s also a sad fact that without the hatchet style editing and complete removal of pivotal scenes, it might be a far superior experience in terror. As it stands, it’s a work of obvious ingenuity, many might even say it was the precursor for the ‘torture porn’ sub-genre that exists today and for that it should never be ignored. It’s a hugely flawed film that somehow manages to work on many levels and will always remain my favourite of all the previously banned ‘video nasties’. Long may it reign. Oh, and always remember to keep repeating “it‘s only a movie, it‘s only a movie…”

You can read the Gorepress review of the remake of The Last House On The Left here.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

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