Thursday, October 9, 2008

#85: The Last House on the Left


The Last House on the Left
Written and Directed by Wes Craven
Released August 30, 1972

It's funny that Wes Craven would go on to write and direct Scream, a meta-horror movie as much about the story it tells as it is about the trappings and cliches of the horror genre. There's a scene in that movie where a character spells out all of the ways that people wind up becoming victims in horror movies: namely, partying, doing drugs and having sex.

At the beginning of The Last House on the Left, two teenage girls get ready to head to nearby New York City with every intention of doing all of those things. Sharing a bottle of alcohol by a stream, they talk about scoring some grass and fantasize about what it would be like to "make it" with the band they're going to see.

On their way to the city, they hear but ignore a police report about a group of escaped killers, one woman, two men and one of the killers' heroin addict son. I'll give you one guess who the two teenagers bump into on their quest for marijuana before that concert. You don't have to be a horror afficionado to get this one right.

Where Bob Clark may have arguably given rise to the slasher movie as we know it today, films like The Last House on the Left used violence to a horrifying extent in frighten and shock viewers. For its time, Last House was brutal and controversial. The killers don't just use physical violence, but also humiliation and rape. There are points where it seems like even they know they've gone too far.

More offensive than the crimes the killers commit is the constant change of tone in the movie, which I don't think was any accident by Craven. He's playing with post-Hippie America here, vacillating wildly from goofy scenes of comedy, feminism, sexual liberation and inter-generational commentary and even the use of ridiculously silly music, including a hillbilly banjo tune that hilariously spells out plot points in the film.

When the killers seek refuge in the home of one of their victims, things get even more twisted. After one of the killers accidentally reveals who they are, the conservative parents becoming sadistic , deceptive and violent. Sure, they could just call the cops, but when you see how stupid the police are in this movie, you'll understand why a little of the "do it yourself" ethos comes in handy.

Actually, everyone in The Last House on the Left, from the good guys to the bad guys, is pretty fucking stupid. While many people were shocked by the movie upon its release, it's such a goofy movie that it almost plays like some sort of really dark comedy. Watching the the DVD's commentary track, which features Craven and his producer, makes this idea seem even more likely, with Craven interjecting pretty hilarious thoughts every few minutes.

It's notable that Craven even admits that once the film takes its turn into intense horror, even he doesn't feel right making jokes during his commentary. It becomes even too real and merciless for the man who directed it.

Still, the movie is a mess. After everything I've read about what a classic, groundbreaking film it is (it's often mentioned in the same breath with Tobe Hooper's Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which I consider perhaps the greatest horror movie of all time), it was definitely a let down. Maybe I need to take the advice I gave with Black Christmas and consider the era in which the film was made, but for the ugliness on display in Craven's film, it's not really worth such consederation.

For more on The Last House on the Left:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the DVD.

The trailer:

No comments: