Saturday, October 3, 2009

30 Days of Fright - 02: The Last House on the Left

Over the years I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff, mostly off the Internet. Videos and pictures of things that you’d genuinely wish you could un-see. 90% of the objectionable material out there is fake, staged to shock, but knowing this in no way lessens the bad feelings such things create.

The Last House on the Left (1972) is, quite frankly, what once would have been called a video nasty. The film follows two girls, Mari (pronounced Mary) and her friend Phyllis as they travel into the city one night to attend a concert. On route they decide to get their hands on some drugs and approach a likely looking character on the street. The man they ask is part of a gang of psychopaths who kidnap the two girls and over the course of the evening subject them to a raft of physical and psychological abuses. The next day they bundle the girls into the boot of their car and drive them outside the city. The car breaks down in some woods so the gang continue the abuse of the girls there.

In the woods the tortures get progressively worse. Phyllis tries to escape and the gang give chase leaving one of them to guard Mari who tries to talk him into letting her go. Phyllis is hunted down and murdered in an alarmingly graphic manner and the gang then turn all their attentions on Mari, raping and finally killing her.

The gang head back to the car and seek assistance from the people living in the house near where they broke down, the “last house on the left” of the title. It just so happens that this is Mari’s parents place. Being the hospitable folk they are they offer to put the gang up for the night so they can get the car repaired in town the following morning. During the night, Mari’s parents figure out what has happened to their daughter and that the gang are responsible so they exact a terrible revenge on their daughter’s murderers.

Most people pull this face during a viewing of Last House

The Last House on the Left is, in terms of content, one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen. As I watched the film I seriously considered removing it from the list and dropping in a substitute as I felt a real concern that someone might read this and want to see the film and I don’t know if I want to be responsible for that. However, Last House is one of those films that should be openly discussed as it kicks up questions about censorship and artistic value and how films are classified, especially as the film was one of those banned in places like the UK for years. There are scenes in Last House that are not torture porn, they’re just pornographic. Scenes of teenage girls forced into sexual acts on each other are not entertaining or shocking, they’re sickening and could only be of interest to those with a sexual attraction to such material.

Like “adult movies” Last House doesn’t have much of a storyline and the film makers only seemed interested in moving from one scene of depravity to the next. The real shock of the movie is who the director is: Wes Craven, the guy who brought us A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream series, movies that, while horrors, had a sense of humour and a human side, and if nothing else a hero you could cheer for. The humour that’s attempted in Last House doesn’t work at all and doesn’t bring any relief from the graphic violence. Even the features of 1970’s horror movies that we’ve come to love like the moralising over teenage behaviour and how it leads to a fall are of little consequence in the film, you never care about what the girls had done to deserve their fate as you are bombarded with one terrible image after the other.

Last House is nothing like Craven’s later work and we should be thankful he distanced himself from whatever demons possessed him to make it, but Wes Craven is not the only seriously troubled person working in Hollywood as Last House on the Left has been remade – someone out there saw this film and felt it so good that it deserved updating. Thankfully, the remake seems to have skipped the cinemas and gone straight to DVD where it likely belongs.

And so, as to my rating of the film we have a first, I have created a new rating especially for this film – The Last House on the Left gets no thumbs – I won’t rate it as it’s beneath contempt.

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