The Last House on the Left (1972)
It rests on 13 acres of earth over the very center of hell...!
Year of Release: 1972
Also Known As: Krug & Company, Grim Company
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 84 minutes (1:24)
Director: Wes Craven
Sandra Peabody ... Mari Collingwood
Lucy Grantham ... Phyllis Stone
David Hess ... Krug Stillo
Fred J. Lincoln ... Fred 'Weasel' Podowski
Jeramie Rain ... Sadie
Marc Sheffler ... Junior Stillo
Richard Towers ... Dr. John Collingwood
Cynthia Carr ... Estelle Collingwood
Marshall Anker ... Sheriff
Martin Kove ... Deputy
Steve Miner ... Hippie Taunting Deputy (uncredited)
The tale begins when two young girls go on a careless hunt to buy some marijuana - and end up as captives of four maniacal prison escapees. The girls are subject to obscene brutality... tortured, and left in the woods to die.
After the criminals escape through the woods, they end up at an isolated house, where they are befriended by the owners. The homeowners are waiting for their daughter to return for her Sweet Sixteen party... and it's only a matter of time before the truth is found, and the girl's raging parents have their chance for vengeance of their daughter's tormentors.
The Last House on the Left, remindin' us why it's so important to carry a second set of clothes when you work in the mayhem business. It just makes good, practical sense. Cause if you can't be sure when you're gonna turn psycho an mutilate some teenage girls, you simply can't afford to get stuck on the side of the road tryin' to hitch-hike wearin' somethin' from the Helter Skelter collection. An speakin' of well endowed women in danger, Sadie Bonebreak, Billy Hilliard an I decided to go ice fishin' out on Lake Gunkamucka this past weekend, only this Antarctic blizzard kicked up while we were inside Walleye's Topless Dancin' and Bait Shop, an right about that time we realized that if God wanted us to fish in the winter time He prolly wouldn't have turned the entire county into a snow globe. An in case that wasn't obnoxious enough, I never did get around to puttin' the studded tires on the Topaz, so we got pretty well snowed in an forced into watchin' psychologically damaged runaways shake their naughty bits til it let up. On a side note; if Sadie's girlfriend's readin' this, I'd like to go on record as statin' that the stripper from Gunchnub, Nebraska with the popcorn string underpants came onto HER, an that she only went along with the SIMULATED candy cane sex act to help drum up business amongst the after church crowd. But anyway, we were just mindin' our own business, sittin' next to the Titsmas tree endulgin' in some liquid cheer, an watchin' the Topaz be slowly reclaimed by the elements, when Shanghai Muttley's nephew (Feng "Brokeo Nohs" Muttley) came in an sat down at the end of the runway. Now in case you dunno Feng, he's you're basic tool shed who got his nickname by shoutin' it at the drunken bar patrons he sucker punches for fun. I noticed Tetnis (he works as a bouncer in the winter months when the black market health care industry slows down) slip on his knuckle buckles within about five seconds of the guy comin' in the door, so it was pretty obvious that there was about to be a whole heapa trouble.
Anyhow, Feng sits down an calls this gal who goes by the name of "Cherry Springer" over an... well, let's just say his Chinese to English translation was a little lacking, an he ended up plantin' a kiss under the camel-toe. So now Cherry's P.O.'d, an she pulls out a can of mace from God knows where an tries blindin' Feng, cept he's too quick for 'er an she ends up sprayin' Tetnis, who was about a half second from puttin' the guy in the Million Dollar Dream, an pretty quick Feng's jumpin' from table to table like some kinda maitre de Bruce Lee while Sadie's tryin' to stab 'im with a broken beer bottle an Billy's launchin' a barrage of haymakers that're all about one second behind their target. I wasn't about to get involved cause I didn't have any bail money, but then the guy starts goin' into his Chickity China the Chinese Chicken routine tryin' to bait me into the fray. Course, I was still watchin' Cherry cause I'd seen the rest of this act before, since it happens anytime Feng goes anywhere, an I noticed she'd gone back behind the curtain an put on 'er six-inch stiletto heels. So I figured she musta had somethin' in mind an I decided to distract the little troll by askin' 'im why he'd go an do a thing like that since he wouldn't know what to do with Cherry even if she had a diagram shaved into 'er pubic hair. That got 'im so P.O.'d that he dropped his guard just enough for Cherry to unleash a Lui Kang bicycle kick right into Feng's pagodas, which dropped 'im faster'n the sets of prepubescent testicles on the kids who watch 'er routine from the bay window out front. Looks like Feng's gonna be spendin' Christmas with the shanks over in the Chawspittle County clink, which serves 'im right, cause Cherry prolly hadda spend half an hour scrubbin' the scent of Stridex pads off 'er hoo-ha after he got all up in 'er business end like that. Aside from those shenanigans, it was kind of a dull week.
An if you think that little incident was unpleasant, there ain't a single five minute stretch of this flick that ain't got somethin' ten times more vile'n that in it. I've chosen Last House on the Left to be the second in my countdown to 200 reviews (in which I'm payin' tribute to ten of the classic Video Nasties) because if you're the kinda pantywaist that advocates in favor of censorship to fix everything, it actually sorta makes sense to ban this one. Last House on the Left is easily the most difficult to digest among all of Wes Craven's features, an even after cuttin' TWENTY MINUTES from the run time the MPAA still wouldn't give 'im an R rating, so Wes finally told 'em where they could put the their criticisms and released it with an X. Which is exactly what those turkeys at the MPAA deserved after refusin' to accept that level of compromise, cause Wes up an released a real gut churner on an unsuspectin' public that definitely wasn't ready for it. So if you're lookin' down on us, Wes, I'd like to show my gratitude for your gutsy filmmakin' prowess by sharin' a few things that your nastiest video taught me. First, addin' comic relief cops to a rape/revenge flick takes the edge off of the brutality about as well as a Flintstones chewable vitamin takes the edge off of a gunshot wound. Second, in the early '70s you could get an actin' gig on the strength of your frog ribbitin' skills alone. An third, a human torso is not an effective tool for bracin' a door when the guy on the other side has a chainsaw.
But there is one funny thing about Last House on the Left that I wanted to mention, an that's the fact that Roger Ebert actually had the guts to give it three and a half stars. That's not really the funny part though, what's funny, is that 6 years later, when I Spit on Your Grave was released, he referred to it as: "a vile bag of garbage that is so sick, reprehensible, and contemptible that I can hardly believe it played in respectable theaters." Now, I don't wanna stomp on Roger's memory too hard, after all, any mainstream movie critic who gave Critters two thumbs up can't be all bad, but aren't Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave basically the same movie? There're really only two differences; first, I Spit on Your Grave is a whole lot more graphic in its depictions, an second, the victim survives the ordeal to carry out her own revenge, rather than being avenged by her parents. That's it. Other'n that, same exact movie. I Spit on Your Grave is definitely a whole lot harder to sit through because of how graphic it is, but the only way I can understand a guy givin' one an almost perfect rating (besides a healthy fear of damaging his reputation) is because in his mind, there's a certain *level* of rape that's acceptable for a movie. I dunno about anybody else, but ANY rape scene pretty well jostles my contents, an yet, this guy's gonna praise one movie an decry the other, even though they feature the same content? I'll agree that Last House on the Left is the better movie, but I Spit on Your Grave was a whole lot more genuine in its attempt to show people what a traumatic experience a rape is, where Last House on the Left seems to use it strictly to demonize its villains. I wouldn't call either one "enjoyable," because they're both extremely unpleasant to watch, but I'd say that both are well made, an that both feature an honest depiction of some seriously disgustin' events, without pullin' any punches. Well, look at me, I sound like a goll durn Public Service Announcement all the sudden. I guess all I'm tryin' to say is that; to like one an hate the other is hypocrisy at best, an downright creepy at worst. Then again, we're talkin' about the man who gave Cop and a Half three stars, so there's really no tellin' what went on in the mind of a man who was that off kilter.
The movie begins with this nekkid gal (Mari) who wears 'er makeup in the shower admirin' 'er nekkid self in the mirror, til she heads downstairs an hasta explain to 'er Mom that nobody wears bras anymore cause all the women from the previous generation who wore those torpedo tops got their knockers turned into 18" long KKK hats. Then she heads out into the forest with 'er bad influence friend (Phyllis) that 'er parents don't like because she does all the same stuff as their daughter, but doesn't have the decency to hide it from 'em. So basically we got babes in the woods suckin' down some Jim Beam that Phyllis keeps hidden in the creek where all the grizzled old prospectors won't find it, til they hop in their car to go see about findin' some sex at a rock 'n roll concert to complete the hat trick. Meanwhile, there's this gang of escaped criminals (Krug, Weasel, Sadie, an Junior) hangin' out in a Motel 5 smashin' cockroaches with their fists, til Krug goes after Sadie's groceries an she ends up givin' this big women's rights speech about how she don't owe nobody nothin', an that this gang of theirs has more sausage than a barbecue grill at Oktoberfest. Krug concedes that she may have a point, so he sends Junior down to hang out in front of the motel to recruit for Sadie's clam bake, an pretty quick Mari an Phyllis show up to inquire about some doobie snacks an whether there're any openins in the drug pushin' trade. So Junior tells 'em he's got enough grass to start his own dairy farm upstairs if they wanna come up with 'im, cept once they get there, Krug locks 'em in an all the sudden the scene keeps swappin' back an forth between Mari's parents settin' up for 'er birthday party an Mari's horrified reaction to Krug an Sadie violatin' Phyllis like a fraternity pledge. The next day, Krug an Company load the girls into their trunk to the sounds of an unused track from The Dukes of Hazzard, an drive out into the country while Sadie bounces up an down on Krug's pogo stick. This was back in the good ole days when doin' the backseat boff while drivin' wouldn't get you fined for not wearin' a seat belt, so it's kinda nostalgic when looked upon in the proper perspective. Unfortunately, it ain't long before the car gets so disgusted about what's bein' dripped on its upholstery that it attains sentience an puts itself out of its misery, forcin' the gang to pull the girls outta the trunk an drag 'em into the woods to play some of the most heinous party games witnessed outside of Roman Polanski's house.
First, Krug threatens to commit some pretty serious Mari-time offenses on Mari's person if Phyllis doesn't wet 'er pants like a Muslim tryin' to return a defective clock at Wal Mart, an once that stops bein' funny he makes Phyllis an Mari get physical in a poison sumac bush, even though all the bad '70s hair an knife strokin' has pretty well killed their libidos for the rest of recorded time. Then Krug heads back to the car to see what kinda props he's got that he can use to MacGyver together another series of humiliatin' Jigsaw sex traps for the girls, only once he's gone, Phyllis takes off through the woods like there's a gut-shot bear on 'er trail an ditches Weasel an Sadie like a coupla Gamergate stalkers at Blizzcon. Elsewhere, the local police farce're playin' checkers, til a report comes over the radio about how the dead car they drove past earlier belongs to the escaped criminals an they start feelin' real guilty cause they'd fully intended to stop an plant some drugs in that car, but just never got around to it. While that's goin' on, Sadie finally catches up to Phyllis an tries to convince 'er to come back to the party cause they're gonna roast some marshmallows later, cept Phyllis is still real P.O.'d an ends up rockin' an rollin' Sadie with a chunka limestone. Next thing you know, Phyllis is so close to reachin' safety that she can actually hear Iron Eyes Cody cryin' about all the litter on the side of the highway, only before she can get there Krug blocks 'er path an the three of 'em surround 'er like a Black Lives Matter protester at a Donald Trump rally an knife 'er to death. Meanwhile, Mari's back at camp givin' Junior hippie necklaces an tellin' 'im that 'er Dad's a doctor an that she can get 'im higher'n the interest rate on a payday loan if he'll help 'er get home (which is actually just up the road apiece). Unfortunately, by the time she's able to win 'im over with Percodan laden promises, Krug an the rest of the loose screw crew catch up to 'em, at which point Krug carves his name into Mari's chest like a dyslexic emo kid an... well, as for what happens next, let's just say that if Mike Huckabee were here, he'd insist that Mari carry Krug's offspring to term. Then things get real uncomfortable as the psychos almost seem to develop somethin' resemblin' a conscience, while Mari wanders off like a shell-shocked Vietnam vet an eventually ends up walkin' out into a lake where Krug puts 'er out of 'er misery like Old Yeller. Elsewhere, the cops've run outta gas en route to the gang's car an hafta try hitchin' a ride with this sassy chicken farmer who makes 'em sit on toppa the roof of 'er pickup so she can flick 'em off like a coupla boogers at a kindergarten talent show.
But back in the woods, the gangbangsters're still hangin' out at the lake washin' off an gettin' dressed up like they're goin' to a $50,000 a plate fund raiser dinner for Hillary Clinton, so they'll look presentable while they scout out a place that allows heels to kick up their heels. Fortunately, since nobody well dressed has ever done anything questionable in the history of the world, the crooks easily find a place to crash, cept when they're shown to their room they spot pictures of Mari plastered around like they're inside the physical manifestation of a teenager's Instagram profile, an they all look at each other like they're debatin' whether to break into a rousing chorus of "It's a Small World After All." Then Krug, Weasel, an Sadie head for the dinin' room to eat with Mari's parents, cept about that time Junior starts havin' accomplice's remorse nightmares an screamin' apologies for his entire existence, til Krug hasta go cover his mouth before he starts sleep snitchin' on 'em like Julian Assange an blows their cover. Later that night, while Junior's blowin' drug withdrawal chunks in the can, Mom comes in to put 'im back to bed an spots Mari's hippie free love necklace around his neck, an once he goes back to his room she ends up overhearin' the splat pack talkin' about what they did to Mari an Mom gets this look on 'er face like she just ironed 'er pinky finger. Course, by the time Mom an Dad run down to the lake an find Mari's bloated corpse they're madder'n a rhino with rectal rash. So they scoop Mari up an take 'er back to the house where Dad heads for the basement to load up his double barrel shotgun with vengeance seekin' missiles, while Mom starts comin' onto Weasel an lures 'im down to the lake with 'er mommary glands. Unfortunately for Weasel, just as Mom's about to finish romancin' the bone, she starts chompin' at the bits til the guy ends up deboned an rollin' around on the ground screamin' like a stuntman who forgot to put on his fireproof britches. The noise rouses the rest of the gang inside the house, cept by that point Dad's already rigged up the house with a series of death traps like Macaulay Culkin an gone into their room so that the first thing they see when they jolt up in bed is a coupla cobalt steel blue eyed barrels starin' 'em straight in the face, an a decidedly displeased Daddy with an itchy the trigger. Gonna cut it off here, cause the last 10 minutes is as good as anything ever produced in the horror genre.
Alrighty, well, no real surprise that this one was gonna end up on the Video Nasties list given that Wes Craven tried cutting twenty minutes out of it an still couldn't get an R rating, even in the slightly less sissified United States. I'm not at all an advocate of censorship, but if you happen to be one of those passionate defenders of what you personally perceive "good taste" to be, it's not too surprising that they'd go after this one, because it really is one of your more gut-wrenching flicks in the history of the genre, even 43 years after the fact. It's pretty easy to imagine how upsetting it must have been for an audience that was definitely not prepared for what they were about to witness, especially since unlike my first Video Nasty tribute title, Blood Feast, Last House on the Left actually played in regular theaters, rather than being relegated strictly to the drive-in. And like Blood Feast, it also pulled in a heck of a return on a budget of just $87,000, having grossed over 13 million one year after its initial release. Of course, being the huge success that it was, it launched the careers of Wes Craven, Sean Cunningham, and Steve Miner, who would all go on to become legends in the industry, despite the fact that none of them would ever make another movie with as much visceral impact as Last House on the Left. I certainly wouldn't say that Last House on the Left was Craven's best movie, but it's far and away his most brutal, and really, once you've made an infamous movie that grants you a certain reputation, it's financially intelligent to tone it down a little and begin to making movies that're less controversial. That's not saying you have to sell out completely, because The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street certainly had their share of shock value as well, but they're both a lot less unnerving. I think "unnerving" really is the perfect description of it, because not only does it contain a level of explicit content seldom witnessed up to that point in cinematic history, but it also has the bizarre comic relief cops running around screwing up everything in sight like something out of The Dukes of Hazzard episode. That part of it really doesn't make any sense at all, and I don't think that it helps the movie in any way, shape, or form. Nor do I understand why they opted to include something like that in an otherwise serious and disturbing movie. It kinda seems to me that those comedic parts don't come off as damaging as they should to the movie's overall score *because* the rest of it is so horrifying. You're so on edge due to the sadistic violence that it doesn't seem to register what a stupid idea it was to include the comedy, and for whatever reason, it doesn't lessen the impact the movie has on the viewer in the same way it did in say, Halloween 5, where they do the exact same thing.
In any event, let's sink our teeth into this thing and see if it's too bitter to swallow. The plot itself is very simplistic, and in no way original. If not for all the sadistic violence involved, you're basically looking at a crime caper. So it isn't really the big picture that determines the level of success the movie garners, but rather, the innovative details, and Craven's willingness to push the envelope, that has given it such a lasting effect. In short, the plot actually contributes less to the movie's score than any other aspect. The acting, despite being a little unpolished throughout much of the supporting cast, is perhaps its biggest strength, because the primary cast members are all exceptional. The criminals, in particular, are some of the most vile characters ever put to film, but they only come off that way due to the exceptional performances of the actors involved, and a script that allows them to reach those previously unseen levels of cruelty. David Hess is of course the driving force behind the entire movie, as he gives as disgusting a performance as you'll ever see in any movie, and it is he, more than anyone else in the cast, that generates the emotional response from the audience. Sandra Peabody would of course be in a close second, even though during the earlier mundane events, her performance is a bit wooden. But that changes completely once the she and Phyllis are captured by the gang, as she completely turns to mush and delivers the kind of sympathetic performance necessary to make the gang come off as evil as they do. Lucy Grantham (Phyllis), Fred Lincoln (Weasel), and Jeramie Rain (Sadie) are effective as well, but Hess and Peabody just play off of each other so well that the other three primary characters are almost unnecessary. Here's who matters and why: Sandra Peabody (Voices of Desire, Legacy of Satan), David Hess (Swamp Thing, House on the Edge of the Park, Cabin Fever, Smash Cut, The Absence of Light, Zombie Nation, Body Count), Martin Kove (Reality Terror Night, Silent But Deadly, Savage 2009, War Wolves, Immortally Yours, Revamped, Fallen Angels, Glass Trap, Alien Lockdown, Curse of the Forty-Niner, Trance, Crocodile 2, Final Equinox, Future Shock, Bloodtide, Death Race 2000), Jonathan Craven (Shocker), Steve Miner (Lake Placid, Halloween H20, Friday the 13th Part III). Martin Kove would be best known to people who'd never read this review as Kreese from the Karate Kid trilogy (the super evil karate trainer who does the unthinkable and instructs his students to "sweep the leg"), Ericson in Rambo II, and for his portrayal of Victor Isbecki on Cagney and Lacey. Fred Lincoln, interestingly, went on to make a career for himself in the porno industry, having directed over 300 titles prior to his death in 2013. So there's another exceptionally significant director in the movie business, even if you may not have heard his name nearly as often as you do Wes Craven's.
The special effects, while not especially elaborate, are pretty well executed. The biggest thing that I'd like to point out about Last House on the Left's special effects is that, despite having been made in 1972, it actually manages to get a good color and consistency into all of its blood. You've prolly heard me bitch about that terrible vibrant red crap that most movies from the '70s use before, but Troy Roberts (a guy who only ever worked on three movies including this one) finally managed to bring us some blood that looks real in a flick from the 1970s. So if they've got a decent internet connection up in heaven, lemme just say; outstanding job Troy. It's too bad that hardly anybody else figured out how to do this for almost another 10 years. Other than the blood though, there really isn't much to speak of, just a severed hand that gets about a second of screen time, making it pretty safe from criticism. Some people might complain that all the scenes with any serious potential for a some major gore are done from a point of view that doesn't really allow you to see the final result, although I think that's to the movie's benefit, given how small the budget was. I don't think they were chickening out, I just don't think they had the money to do it effectively, so they didn't show it.
The shooting locations are really good too, and it's the serene nature of, well, nature, that adds another layer to the disturbia inherent in the flick. The forest, where most of the more brutal stuff takes place, creates a really bizarre atmospheric contradiction between the brutality you're witnessing, and the tranquility of where the acts take place. It gives the movie an even greater level of strangeness and makes it feel even more unsettling than it did when the horror was taking place entirely inside a dingy motel. The motel is another location that comes across very effectively, as well as utterly authentic, while the titular house is really just a residence that adds very little to the movie. But generally speaking, excellent selections for the shooting locations. The soundtrack is downright goofy much of the time, which only adds more atmosphere to the disturbing events you're watching, because it gives the impression that what's going on is just another day for our villains, which is more or less the truth. I don't feel like the goofy Dukes of Hazzard-esque music hurts it the way the comic relief cops do, but it's still pretty strange. Then you've got a couple other songs ("Wait for the Rain" and "The Road Leads to Nowhere") help to convey another level of sadness to contrast against the goofier "Sadie and Krug" theme I mentioned a moment ago. All the music was composed/performed by David Hess (who played Krug), and are really pretty enjoyable tracks even when judged outside the context of the movie itself. Hess was actually a pretty talented song writer who wrote quite a few pieces that more popular artists ultimately took credit for, including Elvis. And although he was an exceptional character actor (who also directed here and there), Hess primarily considered himself a music man, which is why I wanted to take the time to mention his contributions to what is (for the most part) a pretty good soundtrack. Overall, Last House on the Left is one of the rare, ultra low budget flicks that managed to be a huge success, change the face of the horror genre, and stand the test of time. It's also not the type of movie that one recommends to people they don't know, due to its graphic depictions of senseless violence, and its ability to viscerally affect the audience. It's also not a fun movie to watch, but if you have a strong stomach, it's an absolute must see.