The Last House on the Left (1972)
Synopsis of The Last House on the Left via IMDb:
A pair of teenage girls are headed to a rock concert for one’s birthday. While trying to score marijuana in the city, the girls are kidnapped by a gang of psychotic convicts.
Anyone reading this knows how much of an impact Wes Craven had on the world of horror. He was a legend, spawning not one but two genre icons in the form of Freddy Krueger and Ghostface. But many years before he terrified mainstream audiences, he hit it big with a nasty little piece of work known as Last House on the Left. This was Craven’s first film, and was a collaboration with Sean S. Cunningham - the man who went on to create the Friday The 13th franchise.
Made in a time when cinema was breaking all sorts of boundaries, Last House was originally intended as a hardcore film. During early production, Craven and Cunningham came to believe the project would be able to stand on its own legs without needing the support of adult cinemas, and they toned down its content before they began production.
While they may have toned down the sexual content, they certainly didn’t shy away from nasty torturous violence. Many films lose their shock value over time as standards shift and audiences become more jaded. This phenomenon doesn’t affect Last House at all. It’s still just as grimy and unpleasant as it was back on release. The old adage applies here: they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
The film as a whole is amateurish, but there are shining moments of real terror here, and that’s why it’s had such a lasting effect and influence on everything that followed in its footsteps. The grainy film stock and cinéma vérité style lend to the filthy atmosphere in a way that slick, modern digital simply can’t replicate. David Hess is excellent as Krug. Chillingly cold and intimidating. His co-horts played by Fred Lincoln and Jeramie Rain are equally unsettling, and their performances are good enough to make us forget they’re not actual sadist criminals.
But even with all of that praise, it’s hard to call it a good film. It wasn’t exactly made with noble intentions. It’s an exploitation film, and not a fantastically well made one. It has many of the same drawbacks as other low budget movies of the time. The writing isn’t particularly good, and there’s a completely out of place subplot featuring bumbling cops that could have been transplanted from a goofball comedy. The bizarre folk-ish music (written and performed by David Hess) is odd and distracting, even though it’s certainly unique and is part of its time. It just doesn’t gel with the film’s brutality.
On a technical level, the film is poor, but it doesn’t really feel fair to criticize it on that platform. It is what it is, and its modern day audience will appreciate it for that. If nothing else, Last House on The Left can be thanked for introducing the world to both Craven and Cunningham - men who went on to essentially run the slasher genre throughout the 1980s alongside fellow horror alumnus John Carpenter. It’s an incredibly important classic, but it’s a rough one in every single way.