I thought another list was overdue and wanted to do something slightly different. So over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a review of one of the five major groundbreaking horror movies of the late 60’s through early 80’s. The movies on the list are: The Night of the Living Dead (1968); The Last House on the Left (1972); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Halloween (1978) and The Evil Dead (1981). These movies set the templates that have been used to make and remake hundreds of horror movies of varying quality for the last 30+ years.
The first movie reviewed is The Last House on the Left. For no reason other than I lent my copy to a mate at work and when he gave it back to me I watched it again on the weekend.
On the eve of her birthday, Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) and her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) borrow the family car to go to a concert in New York. They head to a seedier part of the city to score some marijuana before the show and it’s there they meet Junior (Marc Sheffler) who says he has some back at his apartment. The girls agree to go back with him. At the apartment Junior introduces the girls to his father Krug (David Hess), Weasel (Fred Lincoln) and their apparently shared partner Sadie (Jeramie Rain). Krug and Weasel are escaped convicts, dangerous and sadistic; they abuse and rape Phyllis in front of Mari.
The next day they put both girls in the car boot and head off to the country. They take the girls into the woods where their ordeal is about to get much worse. They dehumanise the girls, making them strip, soil themselves and touch each other, then they murder and dismember Phyllis. Krug cuts his name into Mari’s chest before he rapes and murders her.
The killers head to the nearest house under the guise of a family on the road, they say that their car has broken down and they need somewhere to stay. The house belongs to Mari’s parents (Gaylord St James and Cynthia Carr) who discover what has happened to their daughter… they wreak savage revenge on the gang one at a time.
Last House was directed by Wes Craven who went on to make ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Scream’ and was produced by Sean S. Cunningham who made the original ‘Friday The 13th’.
The reason that this movie retains such a reputation almost 40 years after its release is not only due to the savagery of the violence but the way it is portrayed. Craven said that he wanted to represent violence in the movie the way that he was seeing it on the TV news in shocking footage from Vietnam. The violence therefore is shot in a documentary style without any score, it looks and feels real. Craven then intercuts the violence with blissful scenes of the parents preparing Mari’s party and comedic scenes of two hapless policemen (Marshall Anker and Martin Kove) looking for the missing girls. The gang are shown enjoying the violence then becoming bored by it. The movie is also accompanied by an odd late 60’s style score by actor David Hess; it lyrically tells the story as it unfolds and throws those scenes off kilter with the feel of the rest of the movie. None of this should work, but intercut together in the verite style it combines to make the violent shots feel worse… and it works.
The movie is brutal, shocking, disturbing, sickening, depressing, sadistic, intense, tragic, and legendary and of course it’s groundbreaking. To avoid fainting keep repeating, it’s only a movie… only a movie… only a movie… only a movie.
The best DVD version is the UK 3 Disc Ultimate Edition. It contains 2 uncut versions of the movie and some excellent documentaries: Celluloid Crime of the Century and Krug Conquers England as well as outtakes and trailers. The real bonus is the 3rd disc which contains Going to Pieces: The Rise & Fall of the Slasher Film, a feature length documentary on the slasher film genre.
Quotes from the documentary: “It was a film very much on the edge” Wes Craven; “We didn’t know what we didn’t know” Sean Cunningham; “What you’re seeing in her face is real fear” Fred Lincoln; “It never gets so bad that it’s funny, it’s just so bad” Jeramie Rain
5 out of 5 stars