“Piss your pants!”
When we think of “Horror cinema” it usually has to do with things like masked serial killers, vampires, zombies, werewolves or other supernatural creatures. With Wes Craven’s 1972 B-movie The Last House on The Left we got to see a vision of some real life horror. On the night before her 17th birthday, a girl named Mari and her friend Phyllis travel into New York City to see a rock concert. On the way they overhear news on the car radio about a psychotic convict named Krug Stillo (David Hess) and his deranged friends who have recently escaped from prison. As Mari and Phyllis look around for some weed on the street before the show, unfortunately they run into none other than Junior, Krug’s dimwitted teenage son. He takes the girls back to his apartment and when they arrive, Krug, his girlfriend Sadie and pal Weasel attack them. Afterwards Krug and his gang take a road trip to the woods near Mari’s home for a more sadistic form of torture. This is where the movie really gets disturbing as we witness the sickening game of cat and mouse Krug & Co play with their human prey.
Based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960) this was Wes Craven’s directorial debut. He had been working with Sean S. Cunningham (who would go on to helm the slasher classic Friday The 13th) on another production which was a moderate success. This got them the chance to make a second movie produced by the same company, Hallmark Releasing. It was originally going to be even more violent (if you can believe it) but if you watch the film today it’s still pretty shocking as it is. One of the highlights (besides the utter nastiness) is star David Hess’ brilliant score which he wrote and performed. The interesting thing is the fact that its so much lighter in tone compared to the harsh, graphic content. You get these beautifully sung hippie ballads and comedic jingles set against the sickest acts of brutality.
Like many exploitation releases of its day, the film had several alt titles including Sex Crime of the Century, Krug & Company and The Men’s Room. Finally The Last House on The Left was chosen for its official name. The mad as hell trailer above is a classic with its memorable slogan “It’s Only A Movie….Only A Movie…Only a Movie” repeated over and over near the end. Although it’s now connected to Wes Craven’s film, the tagline was actually used twice before in the promotional campaigns for Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Color Me Blood Red and William Castle’s Strait Jacket.
I wouldn’t call Last House on the Left a great movie. It’s pretty boring for the most part and is really just an excuse to set up a few excessively violent scenes that will disgust viewers. For Grindhouse film fans it’s become a shocksploitation favorite mainly because of the realistic depictions of people being treated and killed like farm animals.