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The Last House on the Left (1972): MOVIE REVIEW

If a friend asked me, “Hey, Tommy, can you recommend a good slasher movie?” Off the cuff, I’d typically guide said friend to one of the many wondrous titles under the Friday the 13thfranchise or Nightmare on Elm Street. If they wanted obscure but tasteful, I’d most likely say The Prowler or The Burning. Those looking for something for date night, I’d recommend Scream or perhaps Silence of the Lambs. If I wanted to sound like an intellectual or one of those real classic film guys, I’d suggest Psycho. But if I were really brave…if i wanted to take the risk, if not in losing a friend and all credibility in recommending slasher movies, but also risk being looked at (at worse) like some weirdo pervert, well…if i didn’t care about that, then I would totally recommend THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).

This isn’t to say that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (TLHOTL) is a horrid movie. Its not. Its actually quite amazing. Raw. Brutal. Shocking. And truth be told, not entirely that fun of a film. Just how slasher flicks really ought to aspire. TLHOTL doesn’t wear a mask to scare you, it removes the mask, and in so doing is utterly terrifying. There is no pleasure in the depravity, except for perhaps towards the end when the protagonists’ parents exact revenge (more on that later). In Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or even Halloween, we’re (mostly) rooting for the killer, “Yeah! Murder those dumb stupid teenagers!” But in TLHOTL, those very scenes are sickening and uncomfortable to watch. 

Before we continue, here’s a taste from IMDb:

“Two teenage girls head to a rock concert for one’s birthday. While trying to score marijuana in the city, they are kidnapped and brutalized by a gang of psychotic convicts.”

And in a nutshell, that’s pretty much it. Mari Collingwood and her friend Phyllis are as her parents tease at the beginning “part of the love generation.” Mama Collingwood also goes on to remark how she doesn’t understand why said “love generation” has become so violent. Its an off the cuff remark Mari simply giggles at, “Oh, ma.” And its also a remark the director (Wes Craven), in his first of many great films, plays throughout the movie. As the girls leave and vacate the isolated rural town for the city, on the way to a concert they look into scoring some marijuana (spelling out makes me sound old) for the show. Thinking they’ve found a dealer, they’re led to the safe house housing three escaped convicts. Things take a quick turn for the dark as we’re introduced to the villains of our tale: Sadie (a chick oddly enough), Fred ‘Weasel’ Podowski, and KRUG (all caps for dramatic effect).

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What’s interesting and slightly heartwrenching about these beginning horror scenes is how Craven juxtaposed the sinister kidnapping, torture, and rape against the more happier scenes of Mari’s parents getting the house ready for a surprise birthday party for Mari’s return from the concert in the city. As for the torture, don’t expect SAW level gore, this isn’t the Second Era of Savage Cinema of the 2000s. As per usual Craven style, less is more. Same goes for the rape scenes, though the usual slimy uncomfortable feeling is there, even with less is more…because there are some scenes you just can’t get away from.

After a night of unpleasantness, KRUG and company decide to make a run for Canada. They toss the girls in the trunk and begin the journey north. Along the way, the getaway car breaks down. And as fate would have it, they break down not far from Mari’s house. In the confusion and wanderings through the woods and more torture and sexual implications, Mari’s friend Phyllis tries to make a run for it, leaving Mari behind with KRUG’s doped up son, Junior. Unfortunately, Phyllis doesn’t make it very far and ends up (SPOILERS) getting stabbed and disemboweled by KRUG & Company. Shortly thereafter, the killers decide to cut loose Mira, but before they do they have a little fun with her, and when I say “fun” I’m feeling all sorts of dirty on the inside. There is another what we call “thought provoking” moment at the end of this yet another horrid rape scene. Finished, the three killer stand in a semi circle giving strange glances at each other, picking grass off their bloodied hands, looking almost…regretful, as if maybe they’ve gone too far? It’s an odd scene and wonderfully placed.

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Before being shot, Mira staggers to a pond. Falling in, she floats to the banks near her parent’s house. The gang plus Junior change clothes and take refuge in…you guessed it, The Last House on the Left. The Collingwood’s take them in, believing they are traveling sales people, but after Mama Collingwood see’s Mira’s peace symbol necklace on Junior, and both Ma and Pa overhear the killers talk about their heinous crimes, Mira’s folks soon discover her body just before she dies. Distraught. Shocked. Full of malcontent, the parents decide to take revenge upon KRUG and his not-so-merry band of thugs.

Throughout the entire movie, the local Sheriff is made to look like a bumbling fool. Thinking Mari’s disappearance to be nothing more than teenage shenanigans. And not thinking twice about the strange car parked on the side of the road near the Collingwood’s house, or at least not thinking about it until it was too late. That last scene shows deputy and sheriff barging into the house, and it is mesmerizing. The scene the lawman sees before him and the expression on his face is one of those chilling cinematic moments I will not soon forget. It begs the question, about the purpose or usefulness of violence. We saw it on the face of KRUG, Sadie, and Weasel. We saw it on the face of Ma and Pa Collingwood. Insatiable despair.

My rating: 4/5 stars 

Now on Audible!

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