The Last House On The Left (1972)

Dir: Wes Craven, 1972

9/10

last_house_on_the_left_1972_poster

A remake of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” Wes Craven’s version of the story is visceral, hard, sleazy and brilliant.

It’s Mari Collingwood’s seventeenth birthday and to celebrate she and her friend Phyllis are going to see a rock concert by a band called Bloodlust. Her parents are worried about her being out late at night.

Scouring the streets for some marijuana they happen on Junior Stillo who promises them the best grass there is.

Following him to a flat, they are introduced to Krug Stillo, Weasel Padowski and Sadie. Unbeknownst to the girls the quartet are escaped criminals. Junior is Krug’s son and is controlled by his dad with his heroin addiction.

After stealing a car the gang take the girls to some woods. There Mari and Phyllis are raped, tortured and murdered. Before her death Mari gave Junior a necklace she received as a birthday present in an attempt to convince him to let them go. Despite his association with the others he has a conscience and hates what the group are doing.

Looking for a place to stay the criminals arrive, unknowingly, at Mari’s house. Her parents welcome the gang offer them refuge.

The parents become suspicious after their guests act strangely the stories don’t tally. Seeing the necklace around Junior’s neck their worst fears are confirmed.

Laying the house out with booby traps the parents get revenge on the convicts.

Originally scripted as “Night Of Vengeance”, Craven’s film was imagined as a pornographic horror film. Sean S. Cunningham was brought on board as producer and the wheels were set in motion.

With it’s scenes of necrophilia it was clear that, as it stood, the script could not be filmed and certainly wouldn’t be distributed so had to go. The hardcore sex was removed but the violence remained.

Shot with a very low budget on 16mm the graininess adds to the overall dirty feel of the film. It exacerbates how grimy the movie as a whole is. The 2009 remake was filmed on 35mm and lost so much of it’s power it muted what made the original so great.

Being Craven’s debut the film is a little haphazard. The acting isn’t up to much, the script is amateurish and the comedy interludes don’t work. They don’t add anything to the plot

Most of the cast are unknowns and never were’s. David Hess as Krug achieved cult appreciation for his roles in low budget horrors. Before LHOTL, Hess had a little success as a songwriter. One of his most famous hits was the Pat Boone single Speedy Gonzales and wrote for the Elvis Presley vehicles Frankie and Johnny and Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Sadly, Hess died in 2011.

Before playing Weasel, Fred J. Lincoln was a porno director and actor. After this film he went back to making adult films. He died in 2013.

The biggest star in terms of success goes to Martin Kove as a deputy. His credits include the original The Karate Kid trilogy, Cagney and Lacey and Rambo: First Blood part II.

Both Lincoln and Kove have voiced their dislike of the film finding it to be too violent.

Kove and Marshall Anker play deputy and sheriff, respectively. The sole purpose of their role is to provide the comic relief from the heavy outgoings and visual assaults on the viewer. As two bumbling cops with a broken down car their intention is to get the Collingwood’s home. Along the way, they encounter anarchic hippies and Ada, a black woman carrying chickens in her overloaded truck.

This particular scene gives way to slapstick as the overweight sheriff and deputy are forced to sit on the roof of Ada’s car but are too heavy causing it to stall and throwing them to the floor.

Scenes such as these don’t belong in a film that’s only intention is to shock and appall. Maybe if they were actually funny I’d feel different but, seeing as they’re not, they bring the film down a level.

As an exploitation piece is great. Sometimes it’s good to feel filthy. Experience the dark side of cinema and get your hands dirty.

Forced lesbianism, disembowelment and rape are just some of the sadism inflicted on the two innocent girls. But, despite it’s reputation, is not as colourful as you might think. The lurid bloody scenes are brief and concise and a little OTT.

The film is not without it’s controversy, however. Rejected a certificate in the UK the film was continually denied a release. It was banned or censored in many other countries as well. With VHS being in it’s infancy and totally unregulated video distributors were able to pick up films in bulk at a relatively low price. Replay Video was one such company.

last house on the left promotional poster
UK promotional poster for the Replay Video release

Like a lot of rejected films LHOTL was made briefly available on home video by Replay Video in the early 80’s. Oddly, though, the version distributed was shorn of several minutes, most notably the interaction between the police officers and Ada and the end credits. The violence was still intact.

last-house-on-the-left-the-6772l
UK VHS release

With the advent of the Video Recordings Act 1984 and losing several obscenity prosecutions the film was withdrawn from circulation.

It wasn’t until the year 2000 when Southampton City council overruled the BBFC and issued it with an uncut ’18’ rating. This meant that the film could only be shown in cinemas and in Southampton only. Leicester followed suit.

The BBFC still asserted that they would not be issuing an approval, effectively meaning the film remained banned.

In 2002, though, distributors Blue Underground were successful in getting the board to agree to a rating if they cut 16 seconds of cuts to sexual violence. Blue Underground refused to do this and appealed to Video Appeals Committee. Even though it had been shown uncut, legally, in Britain the VAC sided with the board that the release required cuts. What is surprising is that, in a rare decision, the committee felt that the board had been far too lenient in asking for cuts and doubled them. The board passed the DVD of The Last House On The Left ’18’ after 31 seconds of cuts. One of the primary reasons for the cuts was the previous convictions. The board understood that they couldn’t pass a film uncut when it had a recent winning conviction that was less than 15 years old.

The scenes removed were shots of Phyllis’ crotch after she is made to wet herself and Krug carving his name into Mari’s chest. Regrettably, the cuts were not implemented very well but, to be fair, they are difficult shots to cut. Several noticeable jump cuts are evident highlighting where the BBFC used their scissors. The same cuts were reissued for the rarely seen alternate print of the film titled Krug and Company, which can be found on the two disc Anchor Bay UK release. Strangely enough, the cut footage is viewable as a series of still frames on the DVD. An Easter egg on the disc gives you an email address where you can watch the censored footage.

last house on the left 2 disc 2 (2)
First ever BBFC approved release. Censored 2 disc special edition with censored Krug and Company.

In 2009, a remake was made produced by Craven and Cunningham. Although, not as violent or explicit as the 1972 version it was still an enjoyable romp. It was passed uncut by the British censors as was the extended version.

In response to the positive reception to the remake, new distributors of the original, Metrodome, tried their luck with the uncut version. In light of the board passing the ’09 film uncut and other, more sadistically violent scenes of “torture porn” such as Saw and Hostel advancing through the boards doors uncut, LHOTL (1972) was awarded an ’18’ certificate, uncut, with “all previous cuts waived”. The alternate edit also had it’s cuts thrown out. The board was also advised that they erred on the 15 year conviction rule and didn’t have to take it into account.

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Uncut UK DVD release with Krug and Company also uncut.

Hess provides the music for the film and it’s amazing, specifically the “Baddies” theme. A banjo led jaunt through the plot of the film it’s redneck feel sits comfortably with the movie’s setting of people living in the backwoods of America where everybody seems to know each other, regardless of it’s occupants being middle class. In 1999 the soundtrack was finally released, mixed in with dialogue from the film.

soundtrack
1999 first ever release of the soundtrack

Sean S. Cunningham is a master of marketing and the genius tagline to sell the film has been used and ripped off too many times to mention.

For me this is Craven’s best. The roughness and grain adds to it’s appeal. To fully appreciate you have to see it on non remastered VHS or, even better, the cinema. Bathe in it’s coarseness, grab a kazoo and hum the “Baddies Theme”. It’s an amazing film.

And, don’t forget to keep reminding yourself “it’s only a movie. Only a movie. Only a movie…”

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