Saturday, 22 November 2008

Last House on the Left

Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
USA, 1972

In interviews Wes Craven expresses regret about some aspects of his first feature, feeling it was too coldly horrific. I agree there are problems, but the middle section of the film, which views the brutal torment of two female victims of a criminal gang with impressive detachment, isn't one of them.

Rather his pussyfooting around the subject, expressed in cuts from the violence to the victims' families and annoying comedy policeman sequences, detract from the cold, drawn-out torture and murder of the two young women which makes this film such a classic. It is only in the final stages of their long suffering that the stupid music and pointless scene cutting finally stops, and it is testament to the power of the scene that it is the one the film is remembered by – in beautiful Autumn woodland, pathetic physical dominance of man over woman is rendered with the unflinching attitude to violence it deserves.

Much talk of Last House on the Left concentrates on its retelling of Ingmar Bergman's “The Virgin Spring”; but this is a distraction, a directorial flourish that has little to do with the film itself. More interesting is Craven's insistence on placing a female character in the gang that carries out the misogynistic murders – Why? Is this a way of distancing himself from what goes on in his film? It doesn't make sense. She is only there to salve the director's conscience and deflect the inevitable criticism films like this receive.

Craven's strengths as an action horror director are revealed in the later revenge scenes, where chainsaws and cut-throat daggers are wielded in quick-fire cuts of exciting physicality. This is the director who made “A Nightmare on Elm Street”: action filled, fun and gory. It's a preview of eighties Hollywood slashers in all their daft glory.

Last House on the Left is a mess, but interesting all the same. The actual horror is horrific and deservedly notorious, yet infused with a strange reluctance on the director's part. The action of the final scenes is effective and Craven seems much more comfortable with that style of film. But given the power of that Autumn woodland scene, who knows what a director of his skill could have come up with if it was the other way round.


Derek said...

I've never seen this film, but I intend to one day. I watched the trailer on 'You Tube' the other day and it looks like it could be an interesting (if cheap) 70's horror.

What DVD would you recommend, I guess the UK version is now fully uncut? Which region has the best extras?

Ben said...

I bought Metrodome's newly released uncut version from Amazon UK for just over a tenner, but the print quality actually wasn't as good as the (cut) Starz version I already had, which is part of the "Box of the Banned" DVD box set.

It's up to you which one you go for, but personally I preferred the cut Starz version. The film quality is beautiful - it oozes colour - and it's only cut by 30 seconds anyway.

"The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film" documentary on the Metrodome version is very good. I haven't seen the rest of the extras yet.

Metrodome version.

Starz version.

Box of the Banned