A look back at Wes Craven's 'Last House on the Left'

Thursday, 09 September 2010 11:19 Written by  JimmyO
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Last House on the Left

In honor of Wes Craven’s upcoming release of My Soul to Take due in theatres on October 8th, iamROGUE will be taking a closer look at some of his earlier work up until the film's release.

To start with, you should take this advice given from this film's trailer…

“To avoid fainting, keep repeating, it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie…”

Wes Craven began his illustrious career back with the 1972 exploitation feature Last House on the Left. Along with Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th), the two set out to make a film inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s short The Virgin Spring. Did they succeed?

In the film, much is made about the beautiful Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell). You could call it the destruction of beauty and its aftermath. And while the film suffers from a few poor performances, and some very inappropriate “comic relief” that doesn’t work, there is something shocking and unsettling that still makes the film a powerful cinematic experience.

What is most fascinating is the constant reference to Mari’s beauty early on. When the postman is going through the Collingwood’s mail, even he makes a sort of disturbing reference to the seventeen-year-olds good looks. Suffice it to say, she is beautiful and she is an innocent (for the most part).

To watch her and her friend Lucy (Phyllis Stone) victimized by the films bad guy Krug (David Hess) and his crew is absolutely scary and heartbreaking. At one point, ironically enough, Phyllis prays for “my soul to take” after she realizes that she has no chance for survival. This is where the heart and soul of this movie lies. It is terrifying and grotesque which could be the reason for the misguided attempts at humor.

When Krug, Sadie (Jeramie Rain), Weasel (Fred J. Lincoln) and Junior (Mark Sheffler) are finished with inflicting horror on the two girls, they are left to deal with a broken down car and nowhere to go. The group end up seeking refuge at a local residence. And yes, you all know that the find themselves at the mercy of the parents of Mari.

The parents’ revenge is vicious and fearsome. From chainsaw to knives to oral sex that you will never forget, the vengeance for their beloved daughter falls heavy on the gang. Arguments could be made that what the parents do is just as vile as what their daughters tormenters had done, although it would be hard to imagine many people taking the high road and simply calling the police. Of course, the police in this town are complete morons, so that wouldn’t be a good idea.

Once Krug arrive to meet their fate at the Collingwood’s household the humor is gone and the seriousness of the film remains. Not surprisingly, you begin to notice a few staples in Wes Craven’s future work. You can’t help but think of Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) over at Elm Street while Dr. John Collingswood (Richard Towers) creates a booby trap for the gang. And you could even say that when Casey (Drew Barrymore) is killed in Scream only a few feet away from him parents, it is very similar to Mari’s fate.

While Last House is certainly flawed, it has been an inspiration for many modern day genre filmmakers. It took the safety of home and the security of family and turned all that upside down, even spawning a well-received remake in 2007.

Did you like the original Last House on the Left or did you prefer the remake?

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