Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
Starring: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David A. Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, Marshall Anker and Martin Kove
The Last House on the Left celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. In the years since its release the film has been upstaged by the controversy that it’s caused. The film involves the graphic torture, rape, and murder of two teenage girls, Mari (Sandra Peabody) and Phyllis (Lucy Grantham). Right from when the film was first released it received a polarising reception from horror fans and critics. It’s only relatively recently that the uncut version has been widely available in the UK. It received a ton of cuts throughout the years to the point that due to how many censors cuts the film received, there are some scenes that are lost to history.
Watching the film fifty years on and it does not live up to the hype surrounding it. At the time this must have been incredibly shocking and grotesque, but there is a lot worse out there now. The violence is a lot tamer than the reputation would lead you to believe. It also holds a significant place in the history of horror films. It inspired countless films, such as Mother’s Day and I Spit on your Grave. More importantly it’s the directorial debut of horror mastermind Wes Craven, who would go on to direct The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the first four Scream films. The film was also produced by Sean S. Cunningham who would later go on to create the Friday the 13th series. The film should deserve a lot of respect for kickstarting both of their careers.
While the film is tame compared to modern horror films, it’s still not for the faint hearted. It’s incredibly low budget, even for the time, which makes it feel very raw and real. It’s gruesome at points and the abuse is still stomach churning and hard to watch. It’s not just a ninety-minute torture flick, instead, there are well written characters and one of the better moments is when the villains realise the heinous acts they’ve committed and clean themselves in a river as if to give themselves a second chance. It’s a strange turn of events that isn’t typical of the genre.
The stranger part of the film is the second half, after the two girls are murdered and the brutality is paused while the villains find themselves seeking shelter in a house, that happens to be Mari’s home. Her parents discover that their guests have murdered their daughter and get their revenge. They set up traps, in almost Home Alone style sequence, and proceed to murder the group as revenge. The final sequence involves a chainsaw, and it looks like the shot was incredibly dangerous and something that wouldn’t be made in the same way today.
Running alongside the main events is a pair of bumbling police officers, who act as comic relief, played by Marshall Anker and Martin Kove, who would later star as the villain of The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai. It’s a strange tonal shift that does give you a few moments to catch your breath before the horror starts again. Again, the fact that there’s some funny scenes in the film is something that isn’t as well known about the film.
While it may be diluted by half a century of horror being pushed to the extreme, Craven’s film, which was inspired by The Virgin Spring, as well as a reaction to the Vietnam war, is still shocking. It works as a horrific story, and while it won’t be loved by all, it’s significance can’t be ignored.
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