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Wes Craven's cinematic debut
Last House On The Left (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
Last House On The Left (DVD)
Disadvantages: Torture porn
Teenagers Mari and Phyllis have been to a concert to celebrate Mari's 17th birthday, when they stop off to score some hash. They are promised some, but find out all too late that it is just a ploy to kidnap and rape them on the part of a criminal gang. The girls are bundled up and stuck in the boot of a car. However, their desire to live is still strong and, once released, they try hard to escape from the gang's clutches, which, considering the gang is made up of three men and a woman, is hard work. Eventually, the girls are faced with the possibility that they are certainly facing rape, if not death. Will they be able to escape alive and reach Mari's parents, who live nearby? Will the police or Mari's parents be able to do anything to help them?
Perhaps shockingly, considering I am a fan of horror films, this is the first time that I have seen this film, which also happens to be Wes Craven's first film, made in 1972. However, watching it, I was immediately sure that I had seen a film with a very similar story - and I soon proved myself right - it is very like The Night Train Murders, an Italian video nasty, directed by Aldo Lado. The latter, made in 1975 (three years after The House on the Left) is, apparently, based on The House on the Left - in fact one of its nicknames is The Second House on the Left. This did take away a little bit of the thrill of the film for me, just because I had a good idea what was going to happen. However, it is still a good film, albeit with some wooden acting, and is worth watching for any fan of horror films.
The acting is not brilliant; nor is it surprising when you consider that a number of the actors are from the porn industry. For its time, this film must have been incredibly shocking and finding well-know actors to take on the roles must have been very difficult. Sandra Peabody plays Mari, and despite her innocent looks, I was interested to see that her last role was in a film called Massage Parlour Hookers! She gives a reasonable performance, looking truly terrified at times, but it is no surprise that her acting career didn't go all that far. The same goes for Lucy Grantham, who plays Phyllis - this was her first and last film performance.
The actors who make up the 'gang' are well-cast if only for their looks - they look exactly like people you would expect to see in a criminal gang. David Hess plays Krug Stillo and is very scary - he is full of testosterone and looks incredibly aggressive. He was certainly the one I feared the most. Fred J Wilson plays the other gang leader. He is creepy in a very suave way and has a porn background, something that is not difficult to guess. The woman of the group is played by Jeramie Rain, who was married to Richard Dreyfuss - her acting is not exactly top-notch, but there are times when she is watching the girls being raped when her lack of concern is chilling. Finally, Mark Sheffler plays Junior - he is child-like and probably the most likeable of the group - certainly he doesn't want anyone to get hurt.
Mari's parents deserve a mention, although they don't really come into the story until the end of the film. Gaylord St James (or Richard Towers as he seems to be more commonly known - I wonder why?!) plays Mr Collingwood. He appears to be another porn industry actor. His performance is weak and wooden, but thankfully, he doesn't have as much of a role as Cynthia Carr, who plays his on-screen wife. She is actually quite good (in a B movie sort of way) and I did find myself cheering her on. Then again, this is a horror movie, and often there isn't that much difference between the good characters and the bad!
There are some deeply unpleasant parts to this film. Torture porn is a phrase that only seems to have been bandied about recently, but this really is torture porn, with plenty of rape, torture and murder. It is not in the least bit titillating, however - there is something about the way it is done that is very disturbing. We don't actually see anything other than naked breasts though, at least not in the version that I have, so it is more the presumption of what is going on that is disturbing rather than what we actually see. I think what actually disturbed me the most was the way the girls seemed to be just tossed around - it was almost as if they were bags of something rather than human beings. I am not a person who is easily disturbed by horror films, but there is something about the mix of rape and horror that I find uncomfortable.
Considering the age of the film, the special effects are excellent. Most of it is just blood splashed around everywhere, but the colour is exactly right and the way it pumps out of wounds is deeply unpleasant. There is the occasional chopped off limb though, and again, this looks very realistic and surprisingly made me flinch. It most certainly is not something for the underage - the UK classification is 18 and I think this is absolutely right. It took a great deal of time to get it released in the UK at all - for years it was banned and it is only in the last few years that it has been available on DVD. Even so, there are parts that have been cut, presumably because of the goriness.
There are some odd comic moments that are interspered with all the gore and violence. This comes in the form of two police officers who are chasing the gang. We see their car run out of petrol, so that they have hitch a lift on the top of a truck full of chickens. All this is done to a tune similar to the one that accompanies The Dukes of Hazard. I'm not entirely sure why this slapstick was put in - it isn't really necessary - but perhaps the director wanted to lighten the atmosphere! The music in general is quite strange - it was written and partially sung by David Hess, who plays one of the gang, yet it does oddly seem to fit in.
There is a whole host of extras. The most important is a forty minute featurette about the film, which includes interviews with Wes Craven, the producer Sean S Cunningham and most of the main actors. It gives an interesting insight into the reasons for making the film in the first place and to putting it all together. Then there's a brief featurette with David Hess about the making of the score. Hess is actually a talented musician, so it is interesting to hear about his thought process while putting the score together. Then there's a collection of trailers, including, for some reason, the German one, as well as the ad campaign on TV and radio - this is where the famous 'To avoid fainting keep repeating....It's only a movie...It's only a movie...It's only a movie...'. Then there is a collection of written cast and crew biographies - only worth a look if you're interested. Finally, there's a collection of stills from the filming and production of the film - only for massive fans of the film I think.
From the point of view of the shock factor, I think this film is good - it is certainly a lot better than much of the rubbish that is produced these days. The new version of the film is apparently out, but I haven't seen it yet - although judging by reviews, it isn't all that good. However, I will watch it at some point, if only because Wes Craven and Sean S Cunningham are involved on the production side. I think the 1972 version is definitely a must-see for fans of horrors, but if you are at all squeamish, you will want to stay well clear. Personally, I found it a little close to the bone at times, but it still deserves three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £3.99.
Running time: 81 minutes
Summary: Not for the faint-hearted (or all that many others)