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The Test of Time: The Last House on the Left (1972)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this here column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: Wes Craven
Starring: Sandra Cassell, Lucy Grantham, and David Hess

 

Like every film fan, I like to think that I’ve seen every horror movie, but that’d be…well stupid. But that’s the great thing about a column like this. It doesn’t matter if I’ve seen a classic or not, it’s all about if it stands up today, if it remains “entertaining”… entertaining being a loose term. However, I’ve seen probably 98% of the late great Wes Craven’s work (someday I’ll see that Meryl Streep violin movie), but one that somehow I never caught was his first work. For whatever reason, I never stumbled across it on TV, but after seeing it, well…it’s obvious why TBS doesn’t air it right after Seinfeld reruns. Anyway, does Craven’s first film hold up against the Test of Time?

Under the examination: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

Bad guy here.

THE STORY: Two cute and hip teenagers, Mari (Sandra Cassel) and Phyllis (Lucy Grantham), leave the safe comfort of family life to head to the city for a rock show. They need drugs because, you know, they’re teens and it is 1972. During their search, they encounter what’s known as shit luck, meeting a group of truly sick felons on the run, consisting of Krug (David Hess), his son Junior (Marc Scheffler), Weasel (Fred J. Lincoln), and slutty Sadie (Jeramie Rain). They capture the girls, then beat, stab, and rape them. And then as (shit) luck would have it, they end up at Mari’s house…where even worse things happen.

Eh...no joke here.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: With a budget of around $90,000, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was made by a 30-something Craven and produced by future FRIDAY THE 13th king Sean S. Cunningham. And while FRIDAY or SCREAM entertain even the most stuck up or yellow people, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT isn’t an easy flick to recommend for a lot of reasons. For one, it doesn’t exactly fall into the “mainstream” category, and it’s not one to bring over to a dinner party. It’s not a horror flick, but exploitation…the kind the 1970s did best. Why? Because not only is the film raw, the violence inflicted plays raw. People often bitch that today’s entertainment is too damn violent. Obviously, these folks avoided movies like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE because violence defines them. I wouldn’t call it entertaining like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. No, this is shock violence, the kind that’s made to offend and push the boundaries of movie making, which is what art is supposed to do. 

She's not having a bloody good time (again, hard to make a joke here)

That’s what stands out most -- the pure sadistic nature of it all. Mean, horrible bastards have existed in film before and after THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but Kurg and company are the worst kind because they feel real, authentic. This is the type of shit that actually happens out there and you’re a liar if you say it doesn't scare you. It should.

And Craven, for better or worse, shows us that dark side of humanity. He doesn’t bother with a lot of character detail because we really don’t need any. Two teens abducted by sadistic assholes tells us enough. And things only get more violent from there once Mari’s folks get involved as a chainsaw, suicide, and the most painful kind of dismemberment come into play. In fact, the pain never stops until the credits…or when the sheriff and his deputy (freakin’ Kreese from KARATE KID) appear to lighten up the movie.   

At least Kreese didn't have to battle Daniel this time. 

WHAT BLOWS NOW: I’m not sure when the older sheriff and goofy deputy craze started, but I guess Craven threw their subplot in there to break the tension. But it’s terrible and changes the tone when it doesn’t need changing. It’s like someone cut outtakes from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and pasted them into the most brutal sort of horror movie. It’s just weird. 

Speaking of weird, one of the oddest elements about THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT comes from the music. I know its 1972 and on zero budget, but I’ve seen many zero budget movies that didn’t have horrendously distracting music, which is what this film has. It’s part silly comedy music, part folk music. It doesn’t work. Maybe it did in the 1970s, but not now. More than anything, it’s distracting and confusing. I don’t know if a scene is being played for a goof or not when the score kicks in (Krug himself provides much of the music). Even worse is when lyrics are included, sounding like a bad Cat Stevens impression that only dates the entire production. 

The villains!

Even with the nothing budget, the editing and cinematography are still rough, which again makes sense considering it’s a first effort. It actually seems to improve as the movie continues, but it’s still distracting after we’ve all been spoiled by that HD shit. 

THE VERDICT:  Don’t watch THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and expect any resemblance of a Wes Craven movie. This isn’t NIGHTMARE or SCREAM. No. This is in the vein of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (I know it came later). It’s bloody brutal and honestly not much fun to watch even if it does try. It’s a bold, mean movie, but it's not one that I'd label as entertainment. A classic for the Craven and the violence, but not for much else. 

GET THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT BLU RAY HERE

GET THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT DVD HERE

At least someone had fun.  

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