Powered By Square1.io
Vile. Repugnant. Filthy. Depraved. Ugly. Disgusting. Gross. Nasty. Horrific. Tasteless. All of these words and more describe horror maestro Wes Craven’s debut feature The Last House on the Left pretty well. It is a nasty film that has been cut, censored, and banned so many times since its release 45 years ago today, that a great deal of it is considered lost. It paved the way for far more disturbing films as well as arguments regarding what should and shouldn’t be shown. It also provoked heated debates regarding violence against women in cinema. It might be ugly but 45 years on The Last House on the Left remains a paradigmatic work.
The film begins innocently enough as Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody) goes off to New York City to celebrate her seventeenth birthday with her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) despite concerns of parents Dr. John (Gaylord St. James) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr). Looking to “score some grass”, the girls approach a man who invites them upstairs to complete the sale. Little do Mari and Phyllis know that the man is Junior Stillo (Marc Sheffler), the son of Krug Stillo (David A. Hess), a serial rapist and killer. Accompanying Krug are sadist Sadie (Jeramie Rain) and Fred ‘Weasel’ Podowski (Fred Lincoln) a murdering child molester. What a crew right? It’s safe to say that things don’t end well for anyone involved.
If you haven’t seen The Last House on the Left my advice is don’t. In fact, to further discourage you from seeing it I’m going to spoil it right here. Krug’s gang kidnaps Mari and Phyllis and after breaking down within a hundred feet of the Collingwood home proceed to rape, torture, and murder the two (seventeen-year-old!) girls. Watching The Last House on the Left is at best uncomfortable and at worst upsetting and quite possibly triggering for victims of assault, sexual or otherwise. Although what more can be expected from two of the filmmakers best known for popularising violence on women in film.
Wes Craven would go on to direct The Hills Have Eyes, Nightmare on Elm Street, and the Scream series among other successful horror films. Producer Sean S. Cunningham would go on to direct Friday the 13th and other less successful horror films. All of these films broke new ground in terms of horror, beginning the much maligned but highly successful slasher genre. Of course, their productions also led to the mercifully brief slew of torture porn films like Saw or Hostel. Thankfully both men would go on to make slightly less extreme films later on but The Last House on the Left remains a black mark on these storied careers.
The film was only properly released in UK after thirty-six years in 2008. Australian distributors never bothered to pick up the film because they knew of the headache it would cause both them and the censorship board. So many cuts were made in America and around the world that many of the film’s worst scenes remain lost. These scenes include two rape scenes involving Sadie, as well as Mari and Phyllis being forced to have sex with one another. Parts of these scenes survive in the uncut version but on the whole, they were likely swept off the cutting room floor and rightfully consigned to the dust bin of history. “But Andrew!” I hear you yell. “Surely there must be something that redeems this obvious pile of trash?” Well valued Headstuff reader, the answer is: almost.
The two bumbling cops of the film serve as a kind of fucked-up comic relief. The aptly named Sheriff and his trustworthy Deputy may as well be in a Cheech and Chong movie for all the good they do here. Oh, isn’t it funny how one’s as dumb as the other is fat? Isn’t it funny how those hippies pretend to pick them up when they run out of gas but then drive off? Isn’t that scene with the caricature of an old black lady and her chicken truck hilarious? The answer to all these is, you guessed it, almost. It would be funny if two very young girls weren’t being tortured and killed in the woods. The same way Krug and his gang’s back-and-forth dialogue would be amusing if they weren’t soulless murderers. Still it’s not a rape and revenge film without the revenge and vengeance is at least bloody and swift.
Krug and the gang unknowingly seek shelter with the Collingwoods due to an unfortunate breakdown right outside their house. Through happenstance and accident Estelle and John discover the gang killed Mari and Phyllis. Like any good suburban couple, they decide to enact retribution in the most brutal way possible. Estelle seduces Fred and while performing fellatio on him proceeds to bite down hard on his nether regions. She leaves him to bleed to death before chasing Sadie down and slitting her throat in the family pool. Junior is manipulated into killing himself by Krug. A chainsaw wielding John then eviscerates Krug just as Sheriff and Deputy tumble through the front door. The police look shocked. The parents look grief-stricken and tired. Very similar to my own and probably any other rational viewer’s reaction.
The Last House on the Left has the odd moment of near-genius. The use of upbeat music contrasting with what happens onscreen would be someway intelligent if what was happening onscreen was not so horrible. Plenty of other films like Free Fire or American Psycho have used the same technique to better and more substantial effect. Nothing redeems The Last House on the Left other than its controversial legacy and the fact that by virtue of its age it is somewhat tamer than the likes of its 2009 remake or other films like I Spit On Your Grave and Irréversible. Nonetheless The Last House on the Left remains vile, repugnant, filthy, depraved, ugly, disgusting, gross, nasty, horrific, and last but not least tasteless.