If you’ve read some of my reviews, you know I value survival fear as one of the greatest fears. When used well in a film, it far surpasses other fears. And while many think survival fear is present in all films because the characters are always trying to survive, some movies focus on it far more than others and just do a damn good job making the viewer feel like the characters. The Last House on the Left, released in 1972 and written and directed by Wes Craven, is a film based solely on survival fear. There are no spiders or ghosts. Death is not stalking the characters. They are simply trying to survive by any means possible.
The movie revolves around two teenage girls who encounter a group of rapists and serial killers just escaped from jail. Three men (two convicts and a son of the convict) and one equally as evil woman forms this pack and they seem to have zero problem capturing, torturing, raping and killing both girls. Through a series of events (and no assistance from the police force), the criminals wind up staying in the house of one of the girl’s parents. When the parents discover just who is under their roof, all hell breaks loose. This film is vintage Wes Craven. It’s before Freddy and even before The Hills Have Eyes. Craven is a master of conveying survival fear and that definitely translates in this film. Banned in several places throughout the world and given an NC-17 rating originally, The Last House on the Left is extremely graphic and difficult to watch. There is no excessive blood and gore, that’s not what this movie is about. This movie is about real violence, not the gashes Freddy gives you when he haunts your dreams. The plot is realistic and haunting; I had no trouble believing it.
The upbeat, peace/love/happiness soundtrack is a perfect foil for the violence you’re watching. And the nonchalant attitudes of the criminals is certainly a commentary on desensitization. What bugged me was the nonchalant attitude of the parents. It seemed nothing could elicit an emotional response from them, which was incredibly frustrating as a viewer. Perhaps a clinical tone is what Craven was going for, perhaps he wanted the viewer to be not only horrified, but frustrated as well.
In the end, I liked the idea of this film more than the actual film. There are a lot of great pieces (the soundtrack, the low budget vibe), but the negatives (slow pace, lack of emotional depth, awkward transitions) kept me from truly engaging in the movie. I love Wes Craven, I do, but I struggled with this one. The graphic nature is sure to leave a mark, but what else does?
This group of serial killers is a pretty evil bunch to add to horror and I certainly wouldn’t want to cross paths with them. Now I’m onto the 2009 remake to see if they’re just as evil 37 years later...
If you liked The Last House on the Left, you might also like The Hills Have Eyes.