The Last House on the Left (1972)

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*. I assumed the title referred to the address of the Collingwood home, and that it was probably so designated in an early draft of the script. Not so. A number of early titles had failed and someone involved in marketing the film suggested Last House on the Left just as an idea to play with. It is not identified with anything in the movie.
*. A true story? When Tobe Hooper put this at the beginning of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre he said he did it because he had just seen a similar notice at the beginning of The Legend of Boggy Creek and thought it worked. Unlike Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Boggy Creek, I’ve never heard any mention of the “true story” this movie is based on.
*. Nothing screams exploitation like a girl in the shower, which is where we begin here. And it’s a fair knock against this film’s origins. Cunningham’s previous experience was with porn, and he seems to have seen the two genres as commercially near allied. The link between sex and violence is something horror mavens have always liked to dance around a bit, but it’s there.
*. This could have been a violent porn film, and indeed a number of cast members were porn actors. The original script was also far more explicit (e.g., a victim is “impaled on cocks like meat on hooks”; Sadie cuts Phyllis’s breast off and eats it). Much of this had to be talked down during shooting, and some of the more exploitative material from the rape scene was shot but later cut.
*. A remake of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, which was itself a grim fairy tale based on a 13th- century folk ballad. The rudimentary nature of the plot, its improbabilities, stock characters, over-the-top wicked villains, and crude dialogue, casts the whole thing as a kind of modern fable, which is something Craven was aware of.
*. Krug is a drug-pusher, rapist and murderer who killed two nuns and a priest and hooked his own son on heroin as a way of controlling him. We are told he even killed a dog while escaping prison! Weasel, meanwhile, is only guilty of assault and child molestation. Fred Lincoln, on the commentary as the rap sheet is read: “what imbecile wrote that shit?”
*. I don’t think the script is that bad. The dialgoue isn’t remotely realistic but it belongs in the same fairy tale universe I mentioned above. Most of the written script (there was a lot of improvisation) just pounds home the theme or is used as foreshadowing.
*. Even the ridiculously obsequious welcoming of the gang into the home — here are your rooms, you can join us for dinner, “bacon and eggs in the morning all right?”– is part of the same almost archetypal design. The bad family are the cuckoos threatening to take over the nest.
*. On the subject of rape-revenge, one could find symbolism in Phyllis’s disembowelling being represented by condoms stuffed with blood. But I won’t go any further.
*. Influences? Clockwork Orange had just come out the year before and there must have been a connection with Sadie belting out “Singin’ in the Rain” in the tub. The home invasion also strikes me as an obvious echo, as the good liberal household discovers the true nature of the evil it has taken in.
*. Another movie I can’t help thinking of is Witchfinder General. The endings are very similar.
*. Turning to look the other way, what sort of influence did this movie have? I’m not sure it was that essential to the whole slasher genre. In a lot of different ways this isn’t a slasher film. And it certainly didn’t invent gore.

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*. Craven had a thing for family feuds. As he would again in Hills Have Eyes, here he consciously set out to describe “the clash of two families”: the upright bourgeois Collingwoods and the “anti-family” of Krug’s gang. Kim Newman characterizes Krug’s gang as “representing the forces of destructive anarchy and normative repression,” with “the only possible contact between the two [families being] . . . psychopathic violence” with undertones of class war.
*. The end of the summer of love. It was John Waters who said the Manson family killed the hippie generation. This film may be taken as a dramatization. Mari and Phyllis just want to smoke some weed and listen to some music, but that peace symbol won’t save them when Charlie/Krug and his gang come calling.

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*. The music is insane. There’s actually a ballad of Krug and his gang (composed by David Heff himself), sung to the same sort of jangly up-tempo rhythm as attends the crude yokel humour of the sheriff and his deputy.
*. Speaking of those two, I suppose the comic relief is necessary, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t find it jarring.
*. Virtue out of necessity? Craven has spoken of the “documentary” style the film was shot in, but I think this just means it was crudely photographed. In fact, he seems to have had no idea what he was doing.
*. He was, however, a fine instinctive editor, and you can really see that here. I love the cut away to the dog when the final shots are fired at Mari. Also, though I hate the comic subplot with the two bumbling lawmen, the comic timing of the cuts during the cake business are very well done.
*. There are a couple of scenes that show his eye as well. Mari floating in the pond looks very good, and the close-up on Weasel’s bound hands as he is emasculated is a nice touch.

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*. I find Krug’s command to Phyllis that she piss her pants probably the most disturbing and unpleasant scene in the film. There are different stories as to whether it was real or not, though I don’t care and can’t see how it makes any difference. The point is it feels real.
*. Given what we’re told about Krug and Weasel, and all that they’ve done leading up to Mari’s rape, I find their silent withdrawal into what may be self-awareness and horror at their murder of Phyllis to be completely unconvincing. I’m not even sure why Craven tried to go there.
*. It’s odd that one of the few scenes that hint at where Craven would be going in the genre, Weasel’s dream of some very rough dentistry, came courtesy of Fred Lincoln. But whatever the source, it’s clear Craven was learning.

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