The Last House On The Left
Year Released: 1972
Writer/ Director: Wes Craven
Country/ Language Spoken: US / English
IMDb Summary: Two teenage girls heading to a rock concert for one's birthday try to score marijuana in the city, where they re kidnapped and brutalized by a gang of psychopathic convicts.
Wes Craven once walked out of a theater showing of Reservoir Dogs exclaiming it was too violent. Tarantino; bewildered, found it ironic that the guy who once made a film as brutal as The Last House On The Left would complain about violence in a movie. Craven rebutted that his film is a demonstration against gratuitous violence while Tarantino's film applauds it.
In 1972 one of the most shocking films your parents ever saw was released to theaters and drive ins across the nation. Depicting a brutal attack on two beautiful young girls at the hand of a group of sick and twisted escaped convicts, Wes Craven debuted his first feature film The Last House On The Left. In a time where the country was stricken with division and protest over the Vietnam War amongst other things, horror films were beginning to reflect the times but pushing the envelope of what was considered to be okay to be screened. By no means was this original cut initially "allowed" to be released, but a fed up Craven decided that after multiple editing attempts, enough was enough and, for lack of a better term, forged an R rating approval himself, unleashing the full original uncut film to unprepared American audiences.
Though some may think in its older age the film may have lost some of its edge but by no means does this one enter the realm of soft. I believe this is an important film to include on this list, early especially, because it is one of the first to really push the limit and make a statement. In my opinion it for sure holds up as a staple in extreme horror cinema and has earned its legendary status. Often coined as "the movie your friend's older brother saw" from director Eli Roth, the film represents something perhaps Americans were becoming all too comfortable with seeing regularly. Extreme gratuitous violence. Whether it be on the news or in the streets, the fallout from the Vietnam war left its mark among society, Through those extreme real life situations, there were films made that represented those types of ideas, which led to some of the controversies which made this movie as appalling as it was.
Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham (who would later go on to direct Friday the 13th) agreed they wanted to push the limit and serve people what they THOUGHT they wanted. They took the approach of an old school uptight dad who caught their teenage son smoking a cigarette, and made American movie goers smoke the whole pack in one sitting. They took this sort of attitude and said "Oh you want to see violence on screen? You want to see horror and atrocity? Well we will show you two virgins being raped and murdered 100 yards from the safety of their parents summer house." It was such an extreme, angry, and mean display of senseless violence but it struck a chord with being real. It was something that could happen to anyone or anyone's child, and that is what made it so unsettling.
While the scenes of violence and sexual assault hold the most weight and are hardest to watch, a specific scene has stuck with me since the first time I watched it, and still continues to send a shiver down my spine every time. After our protagonist Mari is brutalized and sexually assaulted she wanders a few feet away and proceeds to vomit, in a state of shock, trauma, and utter disgust. While she steps away three of the four who all had part in the attack stand around cleaning the blood dirt and grass off of their hands all sharing what looks to be a wave of remorse, disgust, and clarity. It is so incredibly horrifying to see that humanity touch flirt with their conscious for such a brief moment, only for it to leave just as fast as it came.
Now while the first half of the film shows this senseless and brutal attack, the second half and B story through the first half focuses on Mari's parents as they seek help from two of the most useless police officers arguably in film history to find her after she does not come home from her initial night out. While the film shifts into its third act we are shown as Mari's parents ruthlessly prepare to murder the group who have killed her daughter. What the film does best is show that no matter what kind of revenge is taken, whether you win or lose, there is still ultimately loss and grief, and now there is even more emptiness after they have also killed these four people. The final frame showing the sheriff showing up too late as the Collinwood parents have maimed and dismembered three of the four members of this sick little gang, one of which killed himself after Krug's brutal instructions to do so, we are left with what they are. Nothing. The film ends there on that note much like their happy lives have ended, their peace, their ambitions, their future, gone.
The film never holds back on the message it has, cramming its extreme violence down everyone's throat at a breakneck pace, never once easing off the gas pedal. It remains one of the first to truly be considered one that went too far, and earned its way onto the Video Nasties list back in the 70's and 80's, along with earning bans and massive cuts in countries across the world. To this day it is a masterpiece in portraying it's message at heart, showing that sometimes the best way to get the point across is to hammer you over the head with it until you can't take another blow.