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22nd November 2012

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The Last House on the Left (1972)

Starring: Sandra Cassel, Lucy Grantham, David A. Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler

Screenplay: Wes Craven

Director: Wes Craven

It’s weird to think of this trash classic being 40 years old now. It’s based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, but only loosely, and it has no pretensions towards art, though it’s definitely unique.

Mari (Cassel) goes to celebrate her 17th birthday with a loose friend, Phyllis, at a rock concert. She lives with her parents in a home out in a rural, wooded area, the house of the film’s title. On the way to the show, which apparently is near a slum, they try to score some weed from a young man (Sheffler) hanging out on a stoop. He leads them to his apartment, where he then locks them in with his gang. He’s Junkie, the son of the gang’s leader, Krug (Hess), who apparently got him hooked, and then there’s Weasel (Lincoln), a nattily dressed molester, and finally, Sadie (Rain), the bisexual sadist. 

After what we can assume was a night of gang rape, the girls are locked in a car trunk and taken out to the country. Our gang are fugitives and know they need to get out of town. By an incredible coincidence, they park across from Mari’s house. Her parents and the cops searching for Mari both fail to look into the fugitives’ car, and then the two officers’ car runs out of gas, leading to lots of would-be comedy, while Mari and Phyllis undergo more torture and try to survive. Phyllis makes a run for it while Krug is looking for wood, leaving Weasel and Sadie to chase after her and Mari try to convince the not-yet-irredeemable Junkie to let her go. Surprisingly, neither make it, and the film takes a surprising turn, as Krug & Co spend the night with Mari’s kind parents. The mom comes to realize these fiends killed her little girl, and the parents concoct a surprisingly elaborate revenge.

Craven’s an entertaining filmmaker, even here, with little budget. It’s an exploitation film, starting off right away with a shower scene and then making a big deal about Mari’s budding sexuality, but there’s at least some point to it. In a scene with her parents, they discuss not only how much Mari is becoming a woman but how the peace and love generation had gotten darker, foreshadowing the depravity to come. Craven makes some mistakes, such as the parents’ revenge, which has a more gimmicky tone than the grimly realistic rest of the main story. Another flaw is the goofy bits of business with the bumbling cops, and these scenes and some others are scored with corny, upbeat music not suited to a thriller. Other parts of the movie feature sensitive singer-songwriter stuff from Hess, the same guy who plays the monstrous Krug. The songs aren’t particularly good, but do differentiate this from most horror movies.

It’s kind of interesting what happened to the cast of this unassuming film. Lincoln had a long career in porn, Hess has been a musician and director, and Rain was involved with Bob Dylan and John Belushi, and was married to Richard Dreyfuss. 

Tagged: Horror MoviesWes Cravensandra casselfred lincolndavid a hess

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