Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #22
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: 30 August 1972 (USA)
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Wes Craven
Producer: Sean S. Cunningham
Screenplay: Wes Craven, Ulla Isaksson (Uncredited)
Special Effects: Troy Roberts
Cinematography: Victor Hurwitz
Score: David Hess
Editing: Wes Craven
Studios: Lobster Enterprises, Sean S. Cunningham Films, The Night Co.
Distributor: Hallmark Releasing Corp, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (DVD), Vestron Video (VHS)
Stars: Sandra Cassel, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, Cynthia Carr, Gaylord St. James, Marshall Anker, Martin Kove, Ada Washington, Steve Miner (uncredited)
Suggested Audio Candy
David A. Hess “Promised Land”
Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left has long been a viewing experience which I have held at outstretched arm’s length. In truth, I didn’t actually watch it until I was in my early thirties due to its notoriety keeping it out of my sweaty little feelers and, on reflection, I think that may have turned out for the best! This is not the movie you play a wide-eyed child who still believes in the Easter Bunny let me tell you.
I recall luridly that first enlightenment, not because of any notable element of the film itself but because the following sunrise I felt compelled to ‘cleanse myself’ with the somewhat frothier and less austere Serendipity. I had never felt the urge to revisit it until this juncture. Certain exploitation flicks leave something of a metallic tang in the palette and Last House is one such perpetrator, the ratio of enjoyment is just a tad too squat given what is endured to make for date movie material.
Arriving on the coat-tails of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, Last House on The Left created similar furor, being point-blank refused classification in the UK in 1974 whereby in its native lands Craven locked horns with the MPAA long and hard before slapping his own R-rating seal on it and releasing it regardless. It pre-dates Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders by three years and Meir Zarchi’s homogeneous I Spit on Your Grave by six, and in Keeper’s opinion would make for a fairly joyless double-bill.
The first thing which becomes quickly evident upon secondary inspection is that it hasn’t aged quite as favorably as many of its contemporaries, from an audio standpoint at least. John Shaft had that rousing Isaac Hayes composition to accompany its idol whereas here young upstart Martin Kove has to make do with some cheery banjo licks to make his entrance. I feel a hootenanny a brewing and can’t wait to grab myself a slice of Aunt Lucile’s apple pie. Yee-haw!
Loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 movie The Virgin Spring, the plot revolves around friends Mari and Phyllis, who head off together to a concert in New York. The pair unwittingly arouse the attention of delinquent Krug Stillo, his cousin Fred ‘Weasel’ Podowski, bisexual girlfriend Sadie and drug addicted son Junior who use their finite social skill-set to stymie the girls into tagging along. Before long they are subjected to the most heinous violations in a protracted scene of debauchery which robs us, along with Mari and Phyllis, of our innocence. Modern day films such as Irreversible and A Serbian Film may have taken their depravity of new levels but, considering this is over forty years old now, it packs a shattered-glass strapped punch to the kidney.
The scene is particularly unflinching, with the girls cornered into demoralizing acts with one another while the gang gibe on. Whilst sadistic and mean-spirited to the extreme it still manages, in one stunningly choreographed and potent instance to be truly fragmenting. The moment Mari’s limber corpse slides under the surface of the water is also the film’s most striking and is captured exquisitely by director of cinematography Victor Hurwitz who died a year after filming.
From hereon in we have the exclusive pleasure of spending downtime with the ubiquitous deviants as they dim-wittingly stumble onto the Collingwood estate where the penny drops with Mari’s hospitable parents and they get positively medieval with their asses. The perpetrators, led by an effortlessly sleazy David Hess have absolutely no redeeming qualities and feel no remorse for their actions therefore the audience yearns for their impending reprisals throughout the second half of the feature. Any “enjoyment” to be gleaned from Craven’s film is shoe-horned into the final act and any of us who are parents ourselves are right alongside Dr Collingwood as he revs up his thousand-toothed death-bringer.
Is it deplorable? Yes. Did it deserve its banned status? You could see why at the time, given that one extensive and brutal depiction of inhospitable cruelty. Does it glorify violence? Not in the slightest. Indeed it does the exact opposite, showing how deplorable and repellent it is and doing so by bending boundaries. For this Craven should be applauded and this is easily one of his most vital works.
A very difficult piece of celluloid to critique, Last House on The Left is undoubtedly a hard-hitting and controversial affair and Wes Craven’s credentials are there for all to see. As a cautionary piece of seventies exploitation it works well for the most part, but as a piece of art which you will hold with any type of affection it becomes a tough beast to adulate.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: It is only now that Craven’s feature can be viewed in its entirety and granted it is deeply unsavory. Having said that there isn’t what you would call an overabundance of grue. The rape scene and, in particular, the carving of Krug’s initials on Mari’s chest is still as uncomfortable viewing today. But like Zarchi’s equally notorious I Spit on Your Grave, it’s the disagreeable tone which truly lingers longest.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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