Dead leaves crunch underfoot and the shadows of gnarled trees and circling crows fall across fields and cemeteries. Prepare yourself for costumes pulled from fever dreams and candy taken from strangers and a Halloween Countdown from the Bureau.

We’re starting this October with a double-feature, a call on a pair of houses, the last ones on the left.

Trick or treat. Want some candy?

To avoid fainting, keep repeating “It’s only a movie… It’s only a movie….”

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Written and directed by Wes Craven.

Cast

Sandra Peabody (aka Sandra Cassel) as Mari Collingwood
Lucy Grantham as Phyllis Stone
David Hess as Krug
Fred Lincoln as “Weasel” Podwoski
Jeramie Rain as Sadie
Marc Sheffler as Junior
Richard Towers (aka Gaylord St. James) as Dr. John Collingwood
Cynthia Carr as Estelle Collingwood

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb

Available at at Amazon.

Premise:

A pair of teenage girls encounters a group of brutal, sadistic killers, led by a maniac named Krug. After Krug and his deranged band dispatch the girls, they take refuge in the titular home: occupied, as fate would have it, by the parents of their principal victim.

High Point:

The second act is painful to watch, but its ugliness makes a point about real-world violence that slicker, less controversial films rarely manage, and this carries through to the conclusion. Despite its many inept moments, Craven has conceived his brutal revenge picture with an intelligence rarely found in grindhouse.

Low Points:

The local cops apparently trained with Keystone Studios. While the movie occasionally mixes horror and humor in a successful and shocking manner (the appropriately inappropriate score, for example), these segments seem badly conceived and misplaced.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. The film, incredibly, took its inspiration from Ingmar Bergman’s Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring), itself based on an ancient folk ballad. Craven gives the plot new, if repulsive, life, and ushers in an age of boundary-pushing horror and torture porn. I leave individual readers to decide whether this constitutes a good thing.

Effects: 4/6. Some of what we see looks disturbingly believable, however few effects are involved. Other scenes feature acts of violence that are clearly faked, without the saving grace of style.

Story: 3/6. The film begins with a slow-paced first act of the sort that can go a long way towards establishing character. This would require, however, strong actors and dialogue. As it stands, The Last House on the Left moves, at the start, in a painful and slow way. Far-fetched twists mark its later development. In the end, the story exists only to serve the filmmaker’s largely exploitative ends.

Acting: 4/6. The girls give their best performances under tortuous pressure; one wonders if they weren’t, as has been reported, just genuinely disturbed by the experience. David Hess has moments as Krug. The good moments, alas, clash heavily with several amateurish performances.

Production: 3/6. Craven does comparatively well with a low budget, and gives him film a low-rent aesthetic. It would be hard to miss, however, that this film has very little money behind it.

Emotional Response: 4/6. The more horrific scenes, the humiliation and brutalization of the girls, provoke a very strong visceral response. Much of the film, however, is drawn out and dull, the police scenes badly off-tone, and aspects of the revenge sequences so far-fetched as to be laughable, rivaling as they do the plotters’ machinations in Mark of the Vampire. As with the films it birthed, Last House is more miserable and distasteful than scary or suspenseful. Time and worse horrors have lessened its ability to shock us—and I see little other reason for this film to exist.

Overall: 4/6. The Last House on the Left, brutal, cheap, and contrived, can be understood in the context of 70s exploitation cinema. Several elements contribute to its success. A clever advertising campaign caught the public’s attention, bringing in viewers who might otherwise avoid horror and shocksploitation. Wes Craven’s potential, certainly, shows through in the overall conception of the film, and the execution of some scenes. Last House also has a historical context. Films were testing and breaking past boundaries, and those that did so successfully drew a crowd. Like other low-budget horrors and shockers of the era, Last House channeled the shock and gore of the evening news into a kind of art. The film, along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead, established and popularized the cheap exploitative horror film. Whereas Chainsaw Massacre and Living Dead still have much to recommend them, I regard Last House as one of the most overrated films of the 1970s.

In total, The Last House on the Left receives 25/42.

Additional Comments

1. The similar names of this film’s chief psycho and Craven’s most notorious villain allegedly derive from the name of a bully who harassed Craven back in school.

2. I have a friend who loves this movie and says she’s looking forward to reading my response. Uh…. Sorry. Keep repeating, “It’s only a review…. It’s only a review….”

Bureau42 Halloween Countdown 2009

October 3 Double Feature: The Last Houses on the Left (1972, 2009).
October 10: Zombieland (2009).
October 17: Creep (2004).
October 24 Double Feature: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1959).
October 31: Into the Mouth of Madness (1994).