Last House on the Left (1972) Movie Review
When birthday girl Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) and her Manhattan friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) head out to see Bloodlust in concert, they plan on a simple celebration. Unfortunately, they are kidnapped by a group of insane killers while trying to score some pot. Locked in the trunk of a car and carried out into the woods, there are systematically tortured, raped, and murdered. After cleaning themselves up, hoodlums Krug (David Hess), Junior (Marc Sheffler), Sadie (Jeramie Rain) and Weasel (Fred J. Lincoln) then show up at the Collingwood home. There, they are taken in by Mari's doctor dad (Richard Towers) and doting mother (Cynthia Carr), the couple not knowing that the foursome is responsible for their daughter's death.
At its core, Last House on the Left is nothing more than a standard sadistic revenge flick. A group of casual criminals violates a couple of hapless honeys, and when the parents discover the desecration, out come the chainsaws. But in some ways, Wes Craven's drive-in quickie is much, much more. It's a valuable lesson in hype over honesty, a similar scary movie tactic making the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre gorier than it really was. While the director admits to trimming the film excessively to achieve an R rating, the truth is that early '70s effects were not up to the autopsy like levels that Tom Savini would soon start exploring in collaboration with George Romero. In that regard, Last House is less gruesome and more gratuitous than modern audiences will acknowledge.
There are also some interesting nods to the era's political times in the film. Craven was fascinated with the POV documentary style coming out of the press, especially in light of the ongoing war in Vietnam. He incorporated some of this approach during the woodland confrontation between our victims and their violators. Also, there were nods to the Establishment's suspicions about the counterculture, a subtle shout-out to the Manson case, and the overall view that contemporary youth (by post-Peace Decade standards) were no longer loving. Instead, they were a murderous lot just ready to pounce on the innocent nuclear family. Always the provocateur, however, Craven turns the tables on the bad guys. When the Collingwood finally get their revenge, it's the squares who end up being the most sadistic and mean.
With its amateurish acting and on-the-job directorial training, Craven's Last House on the Left is more of a curiosity than a classic. Unlike Tobe Hooper's genre-changing Chainsaw, this feels more like a vicious variation on the standard "women in jeopardy" grindhouse format than a true terror gem. No one can doubt its ferocity, or mood of inhumanity and cruelty, but there is not much more to this movie than said brutality. Thirty-six years ago, audiences weren't used to such onscreen atrocities. Today, they are part of every Saw style torture porn rip-off. Last House on the Left may have an unusual foundation and a sensational marketing ploy. It's gruesomely good, and that's about it.
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