Sandra Cassel - Mari Collingwood
Lucy Grantham - Phyllis Stone
David Hess - Krug Stillo
Fred J. Lincoln - "Weasel" Podowski
Jeramie Rain - Sadie
Marc Sheffler - Junior Stillo
Wes Craven - Director
Sean Cunningham - Producer
Wes Craven - Screenwriter
Victor Hurwitz - Cinematographer
Troy Roberts - Special Effects
David Hess - Soundtrack
After working together on the pseudo-documentary porno film, Together (1970), which was extremely successful commercially, relative newcomers Sean Cunningham and Wes Craven were given $90,000 by their delighted backers and told to go and make a "knock-down, drag-out horror movie." The result was The Last House on the Left, which raised a storm of controversy (some scenes were reportedly cut for the sake of an R rating, but this is a film about which legends abound) and millions of dollars at the box office. Cunningham and Craven went on to make Friday the 13th (1980) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) respectively. Meanwhile, a host of opportunistic retitlings resulted in the likes of The New House on the Left (1978) and Last House on the Left II (1978).
The story concerns two teenage girls (Lucy Grantham and Sandra Cassel) who, on their way to a rock concert, stop to buy some dope. The dealers are David Hess and Fred Lincoln (two escaped sex murderers), Hess's girlfriend (Jeramie Rain) and his drug-addicted son (Marc Sheffler). He lures the girls back to the gang's hideout where they beat and rape Grantheim. The next day the gang set out with them by car for the Canadian border. When the car breaks down in some woods the girls attempt to escape and are killed by the gang. Then, in a bizarre plot twist (in fact borrowed from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, 1960) the gang take refuge in the house of Cassel's parents (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr).
Last House has been the subject of so much invective on the one hand and fulsome praise (mainly from Robin Wood) on the other, that it's hard not to lapse into either simply defending or attacking the film. It's certainly extremely gruesome, but it must be said that the violence is never presented in a romanticized (a la Sam Peckinpah) or simply pyrotechnic (body-count) fashion--which is why it's so shocking. As Craven himself put it:
Last House was really a reaction on my part to the violence around us, specifically to the Vietnam war. I spent a lot of time on the streets protesting the war, and I wanted to show how violence affects people. It blew away all the cliches of handling violence. Before that violence had been neat and tidy: I made it painful and protracted and shocking and very human. And I made the people who were doing the killing very human.
This, again, gives the film an extremely disturbing quality, for the characters never cease to be recognizably human, like de-romanticized Bonnie and Clydes who, at the climax of the disembowelling of Grantham , clearly feel disgust at what they have done. (It should be pointed out that Hess as Krug makes a horribly convincing psychopath, a role he recreated with even greater force in the not dissimilar The House on the Edge of the Park, 1980.) The unmannered acting, the lack of posturing, the attentive ear for dialogue and nuance, the refusal to resort to Friday the 13th style special effects wizardry for the gruesome scenes all help to explain the film's peculiarly upsetting ambience.
It has been argued that the film displays a puritanism every bit as oppressive as the more recent women-in-jeopardy series (what might be called the "Don't cycle): when the girls meet their killers they are trying to score some dope on their way to a gig by a band called Bloodlust who are renowned for their on-stage violence, and one girl's bedroom is plastered with posters of early seventies parental hate figure Mick Jagger. This reading is borne out by the advertising campaign mounted by the film's producers in the wake of widespread criticism of the film, part of which read:
Violence and bestiality are not condoned in The Last House on the Left--far from it! The movie makes a plea for an end to all the senseless violence and inhuman cruelty that has become so much a part of the times in which we live . . . This fact is already borne out by the number of parents who have taken their daughters to see the film. These parents regard this movie as a perfect deterrent to this type of behavior.
--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films, 1986
A selection of Last House on Left films.
Find Last House on Left on eBay
A selection of Last House on Left books.
History of Horror
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