The Last House on the Left (1972)
Directed by: Wes Craven | 81 minutes | horror | Actors: Sandra Cassel, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Fred J. Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, Gaylord St. James, Cynthia Carr, Ada Washington, Marshall Anker, Martin Kove, Ray Edwards
For Wes Craven, known for directing films such as ‘Scream’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, the making of ‘The Last House on the Left’ was a therapeutic experience to deal with his strict religious upbringing in which thoughts of violence whether sex was banned and movies were banned. By devising as many atrocities as possible and going as far as possible with portraying sadistic violence, he hoped to make a film as horrific as possible.
He succeeded in this with ‘The Last House on the Left’, because although this film is not of recent date and the average (horror) viewer is now used to something, this film manages to evoke the same kind of feelings in the viewer as ‘ The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ from 1974 does. Whereas in ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ most of the horror was caused by threat, suggestion, madness and despair, this 1972 film focuses on the humiliations, mutilations, rapes and murders that are shown to the viewer in full regalia .
The horror in this film is caused by the sadistic, lustful and perverse practices that two girls imprisoned in a forest have to undergo at the hands of a group of psychopaths who have captured them. The girls are reduced by the psychopaths to mere utensils that are humiliated, tortured, raped and finally murdered. The images of these atrocities, in addition to the perverse nature of the various sadistic practices themselves, are made all the more intrusive by the deliberate, ruthless, and lecherous acts behind them on the part of the psychopaths. In combination with the defenselessness and fear of their victims, this creates literally horrific scenes.
What also evokes a depressing feeling of defeat in the viewer is the ultimate outcome of the barbaric practices that the psychopaths indulge in on their victims. Craven, in terms of effectively evoked horror, that is, makes the right choice by making it appear that the two victims will manage to escape from the hell they have fallen into. However, the hope that is mercilessly crushed in the viewer’s mind makes the images of the murders of the two girls all the more gruesome and penetrating.
What contributes to the horror content of the various atrocities is working with contrasts. The images of the torture that the girls have to endure are repeatedly accompanied not only by melancholy hippie songs, but they are also interspersed with familiar scenes of a domestic nature. However misplaced this may seem at first, it quickly increases the effective horror in this film because the viewer is all the more forced to face the contrast with the crimes committed.
As successful as the first part of this film is in terms of effective horror, things start to collapse in the second part of the film. Unlikely enough, the psychopaths end up in the house of the parents of one of the murdered girls. After discovering that their daughter has been murdered, they battle the psychopaths for revenge. A clear choice has been made herein to effectively repay the psychopaths in the same coin for their misdeeds in a manner as merciless and brutal as they have applied to their victims. As a result, the necessary tension and various appealing scenes are created, but they are only partly or not credible and not very convincing. This is because revenge on the psychopaths is due in large part to luck and is also partly caused by the illogical actions of the psychopaths themselves.
Consistently maintaining an oppressive atmosphere, something Craven succeeded in doing in his later thematically similar film ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, is therefore not possible, so that the characteristic quality level of the first part of this film is no longer reached at a later stage.
The low-budget quality of this film is repeatedly apparent, but rather than detract from it, it enhances a contribution to the horror it evokes. It is especially the scenes in the forest that come across as documentary-like and therefore all the more realistic, also because they contribute to the idea that the events presented are not as unimaginable as they may seem, something that has been proven in practice. The performances of the various actors also contribute to the effective horror content in this film. It is especially the performances of Fred J. Lincoln as the ruthless and indifferent Weasel and David Hess as the menacing gang leader Krug that are successful.
In addition, it is especially Sandra Cassel who, in her victim role, manages to increase the poignancy of the torture by convincingly conveying fear, despair and finally apathy. In contrast, what seems misplaced are the appearances of the two police officers, who apparently have to function as a kind of comic relief in the story with their simple mutual dialogues and dull behavior. The usefulness of working with contrasts repeatedly emerges clearly in this film, but the actions of the agents are portrayed in such an exaggerated sense that it does not contribute in any way to the creation of the horror in this film, but only misplaced and superfluous. happens.
Despite the shortcomings that are clearly apparent in the second part of the film, Craven manages to leave the viewer defeated at the end of the film. It is true that revenge has been taken on the psychopaths and the viewer’s sense of justice can then be satisfied, but what predominates above all is the memory of the atrocities they committed and the realization that the suffering and death of their victims cannot be undone. .
In this regard, the closing images of the parents of one of the murdered girls also speak volumes. In its entirety, watching this film may therefore turn out to be a very gloomy experience. In terms of effective horror, this film delivers what can be expected on the basis of its reputation and can therefore be called a must for the horror enthusiast, but for many viewers the images of the various atrocities committed will literally be too repulsive. in order to actually appreciate the horror it evokes.