David A. Hess - Krug
Fred Lincoln - Weasel
Gaylord St. James - Dr. John Collingwood
Marc Sheffler - Junior
Sandra Cassell - Mari Collingwood
Lucy Grantham - Phyllis Stone
Jeramie Rain - Sadie
Cynthia Carr - Estelle Collingwood
Marshall Anker - Sheriff
Martin Kove - Deputy Harry
Genre - Horror/Revenge Flick/Backwoods
Running Time - 84 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
I'm glad to have been raised in a big metropolis. Sure I may have to deal with rapists, murderers, sexual deviants, and that one girl who wants to get in my pants although I'm allergic to crabs. But I'm happy as hell that I'm away from that backwoods region where spouses are related to each other and possums are scared to travel. After watching movies like DELIVERANCE, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and especially THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, I'm literally afraid to stumble into some town miles away from civilization, sweating that I'll be someone's dinner.
Add Wes Craven's debut directorial film, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, to that list. Having not seen this film in many years, time has given me a new perspective on this classic cult film. It's not as good as I remembered it to be but it's still a very uneasy piece of cinema. With a remake on the horizon in a few months, let's put out the welcome mat and see if it's worth catching the original 1972 version again.
Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is a free spirit, refusing to wear bras [I see raisins] and getting ready to go with her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) to some rock concert being played by a band called Blood Lust. Her parents (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr) are worried about Mari, afraid she'll end up in some bad neighborhood and around some bad people. Mari goes anyway, as she and Phyllis explore their surroundings before heading to the concert.
Unfortunately Phyllis is a pothead and needs her daily blunt to listen to Blood Lust [they're not much of a band, are they?]. Phyllis and Mari meet some stoned kid named Junior (Marc Sheffler), who promises hem drugs but instead takes them to his criminal father's apartment. The girls realize they've been tricked, totally humilated and abused in every way by Junior's father, Krug (David A. Hess), his girlfriend Sadie (Jeramie Rain), and their friend Weasel (Fred Lincoln). The vicious gang are heading to Canada to escape from the police, taking Mari and Phyllis hostage.
On the way to Canada, the villains' car breaks down and they're stuck in the wilderness. Apparently bored and having no idea of time management skills, the group decide to rape, torture, and even murder the two girls. Cleaning themselves up, Krug and his crew head towards the nearest house they see for shelter, not knowing it's really Mari's house. Her parents take them in, not knowing what happened to Mari. However, they do find out eventually, seeking revenge for their daughter. Some crazy shit is gonna occur at THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!
While DELIVERANCE really turned backwoods horror on its head back in 1971, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT took it a bit further, giving an unsuspecting audience a taste of realism when it comes to horror movies. I don't think THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is as great as a lot of people make it out to be. There are obvious flaws with this film technically. But where it does succeed at is how intense and in-your-face the scenes of torture and sexual abuse are. The tagline wanted the audience to remember that "It's only a movie". But things like this really do happen in real life, yet we barely hear anything about these sadistic crimes. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is just a reminder of how ugly humanity can be.
The story in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is a great one. Loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's VIRGIN SPRING, it's really simple, but there's also social commentary hidden deeply between the lines if one really looks close enough. Wes Craven really wanted to use the film as his reflection on his feelings towards issues at the time, such as The Vietnam War, the disillusion of the government, and the rise of feminism. The fact that Mari doesn't wear a bra, Sadie is pretty equal to the men in Krug's crew by holding her own [she's never a sex object and refuses to be treated as such], and the cops being bumbling idiots illustrates these things. The last one is pretty important, as the cops' lack of protection causes the parents to take the law into their own hands. In older flicks, the police were the law and the carriers of justice. But the 1970s were different times and the police weren't seen in this light anymore. So the parents had to be the police, dishing out justice in their own sadistic way. It blurs the lines between the victims and the killers, switching roles very quickly. Are the parents justified in their actions? Or are they just as bad as the killers themselves? Is this adaptation at its finest or at its worst? The changing political and social climate of the times began changing the cinema climate as well, unfolding a revolution that not many were able to handle until years later.
The story wouldn't be memorable if it weren't for those scenes where the violence takes place. Alot of people considered THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT a gory film, but that could not be further from the truth. There's actually little gore here. But the violence is so brutal and harshly implied that one could imagine the horrible events that happened to many of the characters involved here. From the rape sequences, to the "pee on yourself" scene, to the stabbings and shootings and castrations and chainsaw slicing - this is one violent film. The fact that it's also raw and unpolished also raises the film's effectiveness and power. It's a hard film to sit through because of these scenes. Sometimes reality is a bit too real for some. Definitely not an entertaining story in any sense of the word.
However THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT has its flaws. The main gripe for me was the soundtrack by David A. Hess. Now, it wasn't bad at all. As a matter of fact, Hess sounds great singing folky songs and it fits with the times. It just doesn't fit at all with this movie. I don't want to hear some John Denver-like twangy music while people are getting tortured. And what was up with that ballad after Mari gets raped? I'm not sure if this soundtrack was done to give the film a sense of surrealism or to give a striking contrast with the actual tone of the film. But it didn't work for me at all. I couldn't stop laughing at how silly it was listening to really upbeat music while bad shit is going down. Totally takes much of the power of the scenes away for me and if the film isn't as effective as it should be, I start to lose my level of likeability for it.
I also thought the cop characters didn't add all that much to the story. I understand it was part of the social commentary, but they were such idiots that it felt like I was watching a comedy instead of a thriller. It reminds me of HALLOWEEN 5 and those idiot cops with the clown music. I didn't find the humor in these scenes at all. No wonder one of the cops [Marvin Kove] became an evil karate teacher in the 1980s [a KARATE KID reference for you guys out there]. I would have accepted these characters as assholes rather than morons. I'm surprised people survived as long in this town as they did with those bozos running the show. Yeesh.
Wes Craven, who would later create some classics like THE HILLS HAVE EYES, SCREAM, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, and the undeniable A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, is a different director here than he would be later on. Some will say the direction is horrible. I mean, it's just shot in a really uncoordinated way. The pacing is off at times. The editing is rough. The voice dubbing is pretty visible. It's just a very ugly film to watch at times. But then again, that's probably the point. Craven shoots this film as if it's a documentary, giving us a raw protrayal of this horrible crime and its aftermath. Sometimes [when that stupid soundtrack wasn't playing], I would forget that I'm actually watching a film here. It actually looks like a snuff film. So while not Craven's best work, the visual style actually benefits the film in making it more effective as a product.
The acting is good here, fortunately. This film wouldn't have worked if it wasn't. David Hess is probably the best actor here as the unforgettable Krug. Here's an actor so believable in his role that if I ever met him in real life, I'd probably stay away. He plays Krug so ruthlessly and viciously that it's actually quite scary how much he got into the role. He also plays Krug as this suave and almost charming individual that borders on imtimidation. It's just an unsettling performance and I have to believe that Krug is one of the best villains in the history of horror cinema - maybe in all of cinema. This pretty much typecasted Hess in these kind of roles, but that's because he's that good in the role.
The other actors are good as well. Sandra Cassel as poor Mari gives a perfect performance of a young woman who's innocence has been gone through the ringer. Her fear and her hysteria got to me. I can't really say the same for Lucy Grantham as Phyllis. I thought she was okay but for a woman who's been raped and humilated, she was pretty calm about the whole ordeal. It was like she had been through this before. I guess people have different ways of dealing with things, but I wasn't totally convinced by her performance. Fred J. Lincoln as Weasel was pretty funny at times. Totally charming and he actually looked kind of like a weasel. Even though he was a sleaze, I still felt bad about his blowjob scene with Mari's mom. As a man, I have to sympathize with that revenge tactic. Lincoln did a nice job. Jeramie Rain was also very cool and sexy in an ugly and vicious sort of way. This was not a broad to be messed with and I'm sure Rain would appreciate that. Marc Sheffer was good as Junior. I was convinced he was stoned with his performance. Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr were okay as the parents. I thought St. James was the better of the two and I could feel his pain when he found out about Mari. Carr was a bit more of a sleepwalker when it came to her acting but she didn't bother me really. Less said about Marshall Anker and Martin Kove here, the better.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE NEVER GOING TO A BLOOD LUST CONCERT EVER AGAIN
- Mari claims no one wears bras anymore. If I had a nipple for every tramp who has said the exact same thing, I'd be rich. Or poor, depending on how much I would have to pay for her services. Not that I have ever done that or anything...
- Mari and Phyllis plan on seeing a band called Blood Lust who dismantles chickens on stage. That's horrible. I find more pleasure in choking my chicken than hurting it.
- The girls are looking for drugs and are enticed by the Columbian "good stuff". I know that from experience. Everytime I see Shakira shake her hips, I know that the "good stuff" is from Columbia.
- Sadie can't look at the Grand Canyon anymore without the need to close her legs, due to Sigmund Freud. Paris Hilton doesn't have that problem since her "Grand Canyon" is constantly being invaded by "tourists".
- The killers forced Phyllis to pee her pants in the middle of the woods. Well golden showers do bring May flowers...
- The killers showed what was left of Phyllis to Mari, limb by limb. Man, that girl was a real cut up!
- Some lady was driving with a bunch of caged chickens. I don't think there's been so many cocks at one place since Clay Aiken's coming out party!
- Men don't like their penises being called "little fella". It'll just destroy them to the point where they become a joke and a mess. Just ask Chyna all about that one.
- Krug tried to lean against a wooden door so Mr. Collingwood couldn't kill him with a chainsaw. Yeah, because a metal chainsaw surely can't cut through wood!
::slaps self on the forehead::
THE FINAL HOWL
While I can't praise this film as highly as some, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is still a pretty effective film that fails to entertain, which is the point. If you're willing to see a brutal and violent film that brings realism to a whole new level, then by all means check this out before [I'm sure] the tamer remake. This is a film that'll leave you feeling something after it's done. And that's exactly what a film should do when it ends. So take a trip to THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I just hope you survive the experience.