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Tuesday, May 10, 2011



The Last House on the Left is a 1972 horror film that served as the debut feature for Wes Craven, who wrote and directed the movie. On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody) chooses to go to a concert with her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham). When the two try to score some cheap marijuana, they fall prey to a group of escaped convicts and their accomplices. Led by the sex-crazed Krug (David Hess) and the violence-prone "Weasel" (Fred J. Lincoln), the group kidnaps the girls on their way to the Canadian border. When their car breaks down on the middle of the woods, Krug and Weasel take the girls into the forest where they commence to rape, torture and kill them in rather graphic fashion (for the 1970s, at least). After the crimes are committed, the group finds a local home to stay the night. Little do they know that the home-owners - John (Richard Towers) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr) - are actually Mari's parents...

I feel like I've known about this film for ages, but it was definitely thrust back into the public's collective consciousness when the 2009 remake was issued. I remember the film being called one of the sickest ever made, and the sadistic part of me was definitely intrigued by the prospect. The fact that it was Craven's first venture into feature filmmaking also spurred my interest, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.

The film was shot with what looks to be a low-budget camera, giving the movie the feel of a home video, but not in the vein of more recent releases like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. It just looks grainy, and it gives the film a more visceral appeal. It's almost as though everything that happens really happened - an idea alluded to in the opening with a note that says the events are true but the names have been changed. It adds to the overall draw of the film, giving a sense of realism that's difficult to find in movies of any generation. Craven was smart to utilize such a tactic, especially considering other aspects of the film worked in so-so fashion.

There's not much of a screenplay of which to speak. We have a basic story of an unthinkable crime exacted almost immediately with a bit of vengeance, but it's relatively straight-forward. You never have much of a question as to where the film is going. The dialogue is a little bit forced and overly ridiculous in the early going, but it starts to settle down as the film progresses, becoming a tad more believable. However, there will be plenty of eyes rolling in the first ten minutes or so - the lines are just that bad.

Because the dialogue is so bad, I have to wonder whether the acting was equally bad or just a result of what they had to work with. I want to say it's a mix of both, but I honestly can't be sure. There are some pretty bad performances here, with the worst coming from Marc Sheffler, who plays Krug's illegitimate son Junior. However, no one else is delivering anything spectacular. Still, be on the lookout for a familiar face in Martin Kove, whom most of you will remember from the first two Karate Kid films.

I did like the pacing of the film. For the first seventy-five minutes, we have a slow and methodical look at the events on-screen, adding to the visceral and almost real-time experience (at some moments). You're almost forced to take everything in because it's all moving along so slowly - you have to find a way to remain captivated and engaged, and the only way to do that is to give your focus to every minute detail. In the final ten minutes, however, we switch to a bit of a frenzied finish that's predictable but entirely necessary. In a way, everything before the switch serves as a build-up of tension that's ultimately relieved in the climactic moments. It's nothing over-the-top or brilliant, but that release of tension is the only way that the film could have ended successfully.

Overall, I'm a little bit torn on how I want to review The Last House on the Left. Is it a good film? Not really. By today's standards, it's a little rote and cliché, and the dialogue and acting are definitely sub-par. It's also not all that shocking considering what else we've seen in the past ten years, from a man named Jigsaw to human centipedes crawling around. But is this film watchable? Totally. Is it important? Definitely. It launched the career of one of the masterminds of horror, and that alone should give it credence. The Last House on the Left has stamped itself into the annals of horror film history, so if you're a horror fan and you haven't seen it, you should definitely give it a chance.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: D
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