The Last House on the Left (1972)
Review by Jude Felton
When I first saw The Last House on the Left a few years ago I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Sure, I’d heard stories about it and read numerous articles on it, but still, you never quite know until you see the movie itself. Being as this was another victim of a ban in the UK I had to wait longer than I would have liked. However, reading all that I did couldn’t quite prepare me for what I did see up on the screen. Yes it is a nasty, cold movie, but it is also one of incredible contrasts. Contrasts that I for one was not expecting.
The main story has been borrowed from Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring and follows the ordeal of two girls that head to the big city to take in a concert. Whilst in the city they make the unfortunate mistake of trying to procure some drugs from Junior, who happens to be part of a vicious gang of murderers and rapists that is led by Krug (David Hess).
Things go from bad to worse as the two girls are subjected to the gang’s brutal beatings and even nastier rapes. This is not a glossy Hollywood movie, this is low budget and downright nasty, and is all the better for it.
One thing that did surprise me about the movie is the tone of it. One minute it is as dark as night, as you might expect from the subject matter, but you will have David Hess’s wonderfully cheerful music playing over the scene which plays with your emotions as you are watching the horrors unfold. The movie will then cut to an idyllic scene with one of the girls parents as they prepare for her birthday, or to the two police officers that add a little light relief.
The whole time though your focus will be on the suffering of the two girls, regardless of what is happening on screen at that particular moment in time. For a debut picture Wes Craven nailed this one spot on.
The gang themselves are wonderfully portrayed by the actors. David Hess being the focal point, menacing, yet charming. Personally though I thought the character of Weasel (Fred J Lincoln) was the more disturbing of the gang, although not quite as nasty as Krug, there is something very wrong with him, a wonderful performance played with great subtlety. Not that subtle is a word that can be easily used to describe anything about this movie.
Aside from the gang, the performances of the two girls were phenomenal, from happy-go-lucky girls out for a good time, to the suffering they endure, every emotion is portrayed perfectly by the two actresses.
The rest of the cast are also played perfectly, from the loving parents to the comedy cops, each performance adds another layer to what at first may seem to be a very one dimensional movie. Although one dimensional is so very far from the truth of the matter.
For an obviously low budget movie the special effects are quite decent, and very shocking, especially considering the age of the movie. In all honesty though this isn’t a movie that relies on, or needs, special effects, as it is the performances and the cinematography that make the movie so damned effective.
I must, once again, mention the music of David Hess (yes the same David Hess that plays Krug), which plays throughout the movie. Although at first it seems quite light and easy listening it helps add so much to so many of the scenes that unfold here. Even a relatively innocent shower scene, towards the beginning of the movie, is given an air of dread, as if warning us of the horrors to come later on.
Great movies are so often the sum of all their parts, and if that is the case then this truly is a great movie. Of course there is the odd minor technical flaw here and there, but that doesn’t take away from the movie as a whole. It is very rare for a horror movie to have every area performed with such skill, and credit must be given to Wes Craven for bringing this all together in this wonderfully nasty little movie.
When is comes to extreme cinema The Last House on the Left must be the benchmark to which all are compared. It may not be the most violent, or the goriest, but the atmosphere here is as dark as it gets.