Welcome back to another edition of Late to the Party! This week, I finally watched Wes Craven’s 1972 debut film, The Last House on the Left.
For the uninitiated, The Last House on the Left tells the unfortunate tale of two young girls who head to “the city” for a concert. They get caught up with a gang of recently escaped convicts who tear them away for a brutal and horrific escapade. But that’s just the beginning; it continues on in a dark and vaguely-Straw Dogs inspired tale of vicious vengeance that truly satisfies.
Right from the start, I was taken with the film’s opening. The mailman’s monologue (dialogue, if you consider the fact that he’s talking to a dog I guess) immediately establishes the age, name, and popularity of young protagonist and future victim Mari (Sandra Peabody). It personalizes her, so even though we don’t spend a lot of time with her character, we connect with her as a “real” person who others care a great deal about.
As Mari and her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) begin their joyful jaunt to the city, the car radio warns them of the sinister escapees. As the audio plays, the shot cuts to each character as they are mentioned in turn. We are given a confirming glance at each of them, providing the harsh details of their capabilities.
The real MVPs of The Last House on the Left are Mari’s parents, John (Richard Towers aka Gaylord St. James) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr). While Estelle connects the dots and discovers their daughter’s fate, John is kind of an O.G. Kevin McCallister, building a series of sophisticated booby traps using household resources. Estelle has a fantastically gnarly moment of manipulation, using her feminine wiles to go hard on one of the criminals in his most vulnerable state. It’s great.
The Last House on the Left was hugely successful, grossing over $3 million domestically on a humble budget of $87,000. Most critics found it too disturbing and didn’t quite know what to make of it – except Roger Ebert, who unexpectedly gave it three-and-a-half out of four stars.
Due to the controversially violent nature of the film it was broadly censored. The United Kingdom actually banned the film, adding it to their list of “video nasties” (which – in its own way – is a kind of status symbol). Over the years, The Last House on the Left has gained an impressive cult following. A sequel was planned, but never came to fruition, though a remake was released in 2009.
Although there are a few soundtrack choices that don’t quite age well (they create a contrast to the film’s overall tone and acts on screen, but perhaps the music is a touch too relaxed), The Last House on the Left is an absolute classic. It’s a shocking revenge tale that holds up over time.
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Featured image via Chris Fischer