Written by Puño Estupendo
Most people that I discuss horror films with are surprised whenever I say that I'm not a big fan of Wes Craven's movies. I know, I know, he's this big deal legend of horror and all that, but I just don't like his films. I generally think they're either boring or they just don't do anything for me. Sure A Nightmare on Elm Street was awesome when it came out (before it turned into the ridiculous franchise that it did) but I outgrew it. The Scream movies were anything but horror in my opinion because they didn't scare me, and I always thought that the actors and actresses in them treated the movie like they were intentionally slumming in the genre just to be "cool."
In having this conversation many times over the years, I save the most surprising fact until the moment is right. After going round and round about my non-fan status, I drop the bomb by saying "Except for The Last House On The Left; that one is awesome!" Even the most desensitized of people are known to not be able to watch that one. An unflinching tale of rape, torture, murder and revenge, Last House has a disturbing level of true horror that is only topped by the feelings you're left with after the movie has ended.
Two young women run into the wrong group of people while trying to buy some weed before going to a concert. They're abducted and subjected to every sort of nightmare that people fear when they think about that situation happening. The perpetrators of this crime later find themselves in the home of the parents of one of their victims. The parents realize what has happened and (in facing their horror) seek revenge against their guests, unleashing a ferocity all their own.
What you can't sum up in a plotline is how visceral and grotesque the feelings of this film are. Originally released in 1972 and shot with a very grainy, amateurish look and style, this movie hits beats and emotions that I don't believe I've ever seen matched before or since. It's very simple to throw the phrase "disturbing" around when talking horror, but this one earns it. I'm hard pressed to think of a film (other than documentaries) that bring the emotional strength of how repulsive and soul-crushing true violence is.
You are witness to these acts, voyeurishly standing outside them and unable to intervene. Last House holds the camera and stares at the events when your conscience wants you to look away. Maybe it's gratuitous, maybe it's even violence to the point of pornography, but maybe that's it's true lesson. The film seems to possibly have reached this point accidentally in some ways (as explained in the supplementals) but what gives the final product validation for its excesses is that it never glorifies the violence. It's heart-wrenching and brings up feelings that you might not know you had inside you.
Everytime I've seen this movie, my brain is reeling long after it's over. The tagline of "Repeat to yourself…it's only a movie" may have been used to drum up business when it was released, but it ends up speaking volumes about it overall. Yes, it's only a movie. They're all actors on the screen and what you're seeing is not real. What's real are the emotions that are brought to the surface in the viewer, giving you pause about what you thought your opinion about violence was.
The DVD presents the film in a 1.85.1 widescreen ratio and, though it's cleaned up, still has its original homemade look to it (which I loved). Featuring a commentary track by some of the film's actors and several featurettes, I found that I enjoyed the disc quite a bit. Wes Craven is interviewed (as is producer Sean Cunningham) and explains the events leading up to the filming of Last House and I found that it really did shed a lot of light on this movie. The featurettes with Craven and the actors almost satisfy the conversation you want to have with them after watching the film. It was also nice to see star Davis Hess get some well deserved interview time. His face has become iconic to horrorphiles and I welcomed his chance for some screen time through the interviews.
At the risk of overstating the obvious, this isn't a film for the timid, but I think it has more than earned it's mark in cinematic history and should never be dismissed because of its subject matter. Even though it's not something that warrants repeated viewing over and over again, this is a great disc to have and I'm glad it's out there.