Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Last House on the Left (1972)

The Last House on the Left (USA, 1972) - Color, Director(s): Wes Craven
MPAA Rating: X
[UK: 18]
Approx. 84 min.

Z-rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

To kick off our week long tribute to Wes Craven, we have the film that first introduced the world to him. This low-budget exploitation flick, inspired by a Swedish film called The Virgin Spring, was produced by Sean S. Cunningham (who would later go on to direct Friday the 13th) and was heavily censored upon its release, even banned in some countries. The home video release would make it onto the UK's infamous Video Nasties banned list. Despite all of this, the movie was a commercial success, making over $3 million at the box offices. There are various cuts of the film and some scenes remain lost to this day due to copies being edited before they were shown.

The film is about two girls, Mari and Phyllis, who are headed to a concert in the city for Mari's 17th birthday. Along the way, they try to buy some pot and are kidnapped by a gang of four recently escaped criminals. Led by Krug (yeah, like Freddy Krueger) played by David Hess, they gang rape Phyllis while Mari watches on in horror. Meanwhile, Mari's parents are planning a surprise party for her back home. The next morning, Krug and the gang drive the girls out into the woods where they strip, torture and rape them again. After leaving the girls in the woods, they unknowingly end up at Mari's house and pretend to be traveling salesman. Mari's parents take them in for the night but then discover what they've done to their daughter. Now the parents want revenge!

As far as shocking violence goes, I personally feel like it pales in comparison to films today. At the time of its release, however, the film was given an X-rating by the MPAA despite Wes Craven cutting up to 20 minutes worth of footage from the film. Supposedly Craven added it all back in and got an R-rating through a friend of his on the film board. Surprisingly, the film remained banned in the UK for 28 years until the uncut version finally received an 18 rating in 2002. In Australia, it was banned for 32 years until it finally got a DVD release in 2004. Without mentioning movies like A Serbian Film, I Spit on Your Grave, and the Guinea Pig movies, I feel like mainstream hard-R horror films contain more violence. I can understand how this movie might've been shocking for its time but it was rejected and banned in the UK as recently as 2001.

Nudity: I feel like doing some Joe Bob Briggs Drive-In Totals for this: 6 breasts, 2 bare buttocks, 2 hairy muffs, 2 instances of oral sex, forced lesbian rape, and implied gang rape. Aside from the nudity, most of the sexual sequences happen offscreen or are implied.

Gore: Multiple stabbings with a switchblade, shooting, throat slitting, castration via mastication, death by chainsaw, arms roll. Not explicitly violent when compared to movies like Saw, but I'm sure it was all pretty shocking for its time.

Awesome: Not very, I feel as though the reputation of this film precedes it. I can see why it's historically significant, ushering in an era when violent exploitation horror films became popular among grindhouse patrons. Making it onto the UK's Video Nasties list only helped further its reputation. However, with much of the sexual activity happening offscreen punctuated by awkward comedy scenes involving a couple of cops, the film's tone is inconsistent at best. I personally expected more from a film with the reputation this one has. In 2009, there was a remake produced by Wes Craven and was the first project of his new studio Midnight Pictures. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the new film upped the gore factor in the wake of films like Saw and Hostel. Between the two, I would probably recommend the remake as it would be more in line with the expectations of today's audiences.