Saturday, October 30, 2010

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) Movie Review


Review by Tom Parnell

Maybe it’s an indictment of the desensitizing of modern audiences, but I find that most films which were banned or heavily censored decades ago would probably attract no more than a PG-13 rating today. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is not one of these films.

Made in 1972, it was part of the BBFC's infamous Video Nasties list. It wasn't until 2002 that this film was officially allowed to be released in the UK, and then it wasn’t until 2008 that a fully uncut version was passed by the BBFC. The film is still banned in multiple countries around the world.

If LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT had been about killer monsters or aliens I don’t think it would have had half the problems passing the censors, or half the impact on the viewer. However, the horror which director Wes Craven creates here is one that is so despairingly human that it becomes difficult to watch and for once I can understand why the BBFC might have wanted to protect certain people from seeing it.

The film tells the story of an ‘as American as apple pie’ family who live out in the sticks, and begins with their celebration of daughter Mari’s sweet seventeen. Much to the concern of her protective parents, Mari is heading out to the big city to watch a rock band with her rebellious friend Phyllis. What’s going to happen to them?

Meanwhile nearby, escaped criminals Krug Stillo and Weasel Podowski are holed up with equally disturbing partner Sadie and Krug’s junkie son Junior.

On their way to the concert our young protagonists meet Junior in a shop and are lured back to the gang’s hideout on the premise of buying some drugs. So begins a horrific ordeal, both psychological and physical, which sees the girls kidnapped and driven out into the countryside, where their torment continues.

LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was horror big-hitter Wes Craven’s directorial debut, and even though it is of the same genre it is far from the cartoonish violence of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or SCREAM. The film is also arguably more intelligent than Craven’s later work, as the viewer is faced with a series of escalating nightmarish scenarios and we get a real feeling of the girls’ powerlessness in the hands of their captors.

Craven also successfully uses Junior as a vehicle for a more human, nearly sympathetic witness to the girls’ torment, building a bridge between the viewer of the film and the character and pointing out the impotence of both in their ability to change the course of events.

This is not the ludicrous and tasteless realms of more recent ‘torture porn’ horror trend, as seen in films like SAW or HOSTEL. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT’s last act causes the viewer to turn from revulsion at the acts of the psychotic criminals to practically cheering on Mari’s middle class parents as they perpetrate similar horrors, which leaves you on very thin moral ice and is a powerful statement about the fragility of society.

LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is a difficult film to watch, but it is also an intelligent, thought-provoking film, which makes it a rare gem in the horror genre.


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