After kidnapping and brutally assaulting two young women, a gang unknowingly finds refuge at a vacation home belonging to the parents of one of the victims: a mother and father who devise an increasingly gruesome series of revenge tactics.
A New York University professor returns from a rescue mission to the Amazon rainforest with the footage shot by a lost team of documentarians who were making a film about the area's local cannibal tribes.
On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Mari Collingwood tells her parents that she is going to the concert of underground band Bloodlust in New York with her friend Phyllis Stone. She borrows the family's car and heads with her friend to a dangerous neighborhood in the city. Meanwhile, the sadistic and cruel escapees Krug Stillo and Fred 'Weasel' Podowski are hidden in a hideout with their partners Sadie (Jeramie Rain) and Krug's addicted son Junior Stillo (Marc Sheffler) after killing two guards and one shepherd in their runaway. The two girls seek marijuana near the theater and meet Junior that offers some Colombian grass to them. They go to his apartment and are subdued by the criminals that rape Phyllis. On the next morning, they hide the girls in the trunk of their convertible and head to Canada. However, they have a problem with the car's rod and they stop on the road close to Mari's house. When Phyllis tries to escape, the gang stabs her to death and shots Mari after ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Two future Friday the 13th directors worked on this film, Sean S. Cunningham and Steve Miner. See more »
When the killers first pull out Phyllis's severed arm to show Mari, the fingers are moving. See more »
Hello, Cassie! Hiya, girl! Hello there! Now, let's see.
[looks through mail]
Ah, it looks like Mari's getting cards from half the civilized world. Mari Collingwood. Mari Collingwood. Mari Collingwood. You'd think she's the only kid to reach the age of 17. Of course she is probably the prettiest piece I've ever seen.
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In the 1980s, the American video versions contained additional text after the film had ended, reading: "Coming soon to a theatre near you. From the producers of Last House On The Left, and the director of Friday the 13th Part V, ... The Last House On The Left, Part II. You won't believe your eyes!" (No sequel ever materialized) See more »
A bit over-hyped, but fairly good and certainly important historically
While I think that people tend to get a bit hyperbolic when they talk about The Last House on the Left, I do think it's a fairly good film, especially given what the filmmakers were trying to do and considering their lack of experience, the era and the budget. Also, despite a filmic precursor, it just may be the earliest example of the horror subgenre of "brutal, realist tragedy" (that's more a description than a name, but I haven't spent much time trying to come up with a catchy moniker). However, it has flaws that would be difficult to overlook in a "distanced" (rather than "objective" or "unbiased", neither of which I think are possible) assessment of the film.
The story, although claimed as true, is an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's Jungfrukällan (aka The Virgin Spring, 1960). Roughly, it is the story of Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel). We see Mari at home with her almost-hip parents. Mari is about to head out to a "Bloodlust" concert in New York City with her new friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham). Mom and dad are harassing her about her clothing, which is thin enough to show off a bit of flesh, but they're not so un-hip as to make her change. Meanwhile, we learn from a radio that four convicts--"murderers, dope-pushers and rapists"--have just escaped from prison. At the same time, director Wes Craven slowly reveals the quartet--Krug Stillo (David A. Hess), Junior Stillo (Marc Sheffler), Fred "Weasel" Podowski (Fred J. Lincoln) and Sadie (Jeramie Rain). They're holed up in a New York City apartment. Sadie seems to be group property, and that causes some tension. It is suggested that they look for a couple more women. Mari and Phyllis end up at the wrong place at the wrong time. They're kidnapped, and mayhem ensues. But there's a twist that arrives when the convict's car breaks down in an ironic location.
"Frightening", "disturbing", "sick" and various other terms are frequently employed when describing Last House on the Left. Since I find no films scary, I can't vouch for the first term, but the other two would perhaps apply proportionate to how many horror films you regularly watch, and just what kinds of horror films. If you're not used to the genre in its grittier and gorier post-1960s instantiations, you'd likely find The Last House on the Left shocking. If you've seen a large number of films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and so on, don't pay too much attention to the hype. You're not likely to be very disturbed by anything you see here.
That doesn't mean that you'll not enjoy this film. After all, it has been a major influence on the films mentioned above--there is even an important chainsaw scene here. That's especially remarkable when we consider that it was only Craven and Producer Sean S. Cunningham's second film. They had been approached by a consortium of exhibitors who said that they wanted "something as appalling and exploitable as Night of the Living Dead (1968)".
Maybe largely by accident, Craven and Cunningham (along with others, such as assistant producer Steve Miner, who later became much bigger "names" in horror--between these three, we have the helmers of a number of films in the three major 1980s/1990s franchises--Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street) happened upon an unusual cinema vérité style that made the horrific situations depicted seem much more immediate and real. Combined with occasionally graphic and always intense situations of violence and control, the final effect is akin to watching a home video/snuff film. In fact, it was promoted as such in some areas, and the effect was disturbing enough in its time that the film initially received an X rating and was banned for many years in some locales.
But again, focusing on that amounts to hype now, and shouldn't be taken too seriously, lest it lead to inflated expectations. Just as surprising on a first viewing is that The Last House on the Left has an intermittent goofy sense of humor and a "groovy" attitude that is firmly mired in the early 1970s. The two policemen are really comic relief characters (and very funny at that), but there is also a lot of humor surrounding the criminal quartet--this almost becomes a "black comedy" at times. These sensibilities even extend to the music, which has a frequent hillbilly edge and lyrics that supply ex-positional material. Surprisingly, Hess, who plays Krug, wrote the music.
Despite the simplicity of the story and the fact that the 2002 MGM DVD release is the "most complete cut ever" according to Craven, there are problems with the story, whether due to the script or the editing. Too many segues between major plot points are "jumpy". The chase(s) through the woods seems a bit random. It's not very well explained how the convicts end up at a home looking as they do. Two characters find another who was missing, and it seems more like a dream sequence because of its arbitrariness, and so on.
But overall, the story is effective enough. Although many subtexts can and have been read into the film, the most interesting theme to me was that it's largely a "tragedy of happenstance". Craven seems to be expressing a strong belief in chance and coincidence and focusing on the dark side of it. Under that reading, we can maybe excuse some of the narrative jumps more easily.
Although there are a number of similar films that I think are better than The Last House on the Left, including Ruggero Deodato's House at the Edge of the Park (aka La Casa sperduta nel parco, 1980)--also starring Hess in a similar role, curiously enough, this is a must-see for serious horror fans because of its historical importance.
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