johnlink ranks THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

I saw a few scenes from the remake of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT when we had it at the theater in 2009. It looked slightly different from the standard torture porn flick, especially since it was the heroes doing most of the torturing. I’d watch that if I came across it, and likewise reminded me that I should see the controversial original film if I got the chance. This 1972 feature is the writing and directing debut of legendary horror filmmaker Wes Craven.

I watched THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) on 5.17.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

Not that I had pictured this film much in my head, but my impression of it from the box art and what I knew of the story was that this film was about some homicidal freaks raping some girls and then having one of the girl’s parents fight back. I had that right, except my thought was that it all happened in the titular house, when in reality the story doesn’t get back there until the final act.

This is a brighter and more jovial film than I had imagined, even if those impressions are undercut by brutality. And this film is brutal. The emotional and physical duress the four villains put the two teenage girls through is absolutely disgusting. And while Craven doesn’t choose to show all of it, he shows enough to really make the proceedings hard to watch.

When the parents find out what has happened to their daughter, and that they suddenly have access to these perpetrators, they fight back. What the father does feels realistic, what the mother does feels exploitative. In fact, the exploitation of women in this film is as extreme as mainstream film gets. While the women all do bravely fight back, the fact that their only weapon seems to be sexuality belies the strength they are supposedly given.

The performances are born form a variety of talent levels. The girls are pretty good but not great, the villains aren’t bad even if they often appear randomly motivated. Two comic relief cops are not good at all, and don’t seem to ever have acted before. The parents are the most effective in the film, creating some nice chemistry and being believably effected when they learn what has happened to their daughter. Craven doesn’t get great performances out of people, but he does manage to give the film a mostly level feel (except for the cops and one scene involving a woman driving chickens).

Rape as entertainment doesn’t work for me. In the 70s, this rape-revenge story-line was fairly prevalent. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is certainly on the exploitative side of the line, along with films like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. On the other side of that line is something like DEATH WISH, which I can watch much more easily on a purely entertaining level. Yes, the rape in DEATH WISH is brutal and hard to watch, but the sense it gives is that of a means to an end. The story is truly about what lengths a man will go to when driven to emotional extremes. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is much more interested in the rape. Yes, it is marginally interested in what it does to its victims, and ultimately the parents get their revenge. But the amount of time spent with the crimes themselves lead me to believe that Craven was more interested in the crimes than the victims. While he made a nicer looking film than I expected, and he has an admittedly solid script in terms of building tension and payoff, I just couldn’t get on board with the purpose, or with the themes of the film. I respect it, I don’t hate it, but I certainly don’t like it, and I don’t see why I would ever watch it again.

SCORES

FILM: 5; MOVIE: 3; ACTING: 5; WRITING: 7; BONUS: -1

The negative bonus is given for the music in this film. It often feels entirely disjointed from the movie both lyrically and tonally. Several times I was pulled out of the gravity of a scene because of the choice of music.

5+3+5+7-1=19

FINAL SCORE: 4.75

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~ by johnlink00 on May 18, 2012.

4 Responses to “johnlink ranks THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)”

  1. Wasn’t expecting this one to be evaluated. I’ve never had such a feeling of desperation for a shower until I viewed this film way back when. 🙂

  2. […] didn’t expect to watch both of them. After I respected, but did not particularly enjoy, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, I stumbled upon THE HILLS HAVE EYES. This one I have seen the remake of, but was not particularly […]

  3. Oh man, the chicken scene! Those cops were horrific! How Craven went on to make such a good horror/comedy mashup as the Scream series would have been beyond me had I seen this film first. Thanks for stopping by my site, and I’m looking forward to reading more of yours, as well! As a bit of quid pro quo, vis a vis “Groundhog Day,” here’s my review of the film: https://viewerscommentary.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/review-the-last-house-on-the-left-1972/

  4. […] much entertainment in rape. The original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, Wes Craven’s 1972 version which I reviewed a couple of years ago, falls on the side of the line which is not really for […]

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