There's a lot that can be said about the 1972 classic The Last House on the Left, both for good and for ill. But what is most important to note is that, as much as it has an important place in history and as much as it has a cult following, it is not a very good movie. At all. It's a mess. A gratuitous, bloody, hyper-sexual piece of filth intended to shock America -- however few audience members they thought would see it.
Shot for a paltry $90,00, first-time filmmaker Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) teamed up with producer-turned-filmmaker Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th) to shoot a film, effectively, in their backyard. And little did they know they were making history.
Once in a great while a group of people who have zero idea what they're doing stumble blindly into genius by the sheer happy accident that they didn't know that they weren't supposed to do what they would end up doing. In this case, Craven and Cunningham thought they would rip off the plot of a brilliant Ingmar Bergman thriller, but take a documentary-style approach to the violence, and refuse to let the camera cut away from the violence. Instead the film revels in it, not for the sake of enjoyment, but to turn the stomach of the audience and revolt them at the sheer brutality of the crimes being committed.
Despite being tonally all over the map, despite terrible attempts at comedy and stretches of even worse acting, despite a score that feels like it's from a different movie,Last House on the Left was a tremendous success. It broke America: If there was one film that truly redefined horror in the '70s, this was it. It paved the way to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the brutal psycho-sexual films of the '70s, and opened the door for a young Wes Craven to learn to make truly fantastic works of terror.
Newly re-released on DVD, you can now relish in the awfulness of it all -- both intentional and unintentional. But most importantly, you can dive into a fantastic series of special feature documentaries on the various topics of making the film. These features give us a truly unflinching look at how the film was made, giving a stark contrast to the bright, shiny puff pieces of most modern DVD releases. Showing every blemish, every speck of dirt of the film's troubled history, you get great moments that include Craven admitting he knew nothing of filmmaking (nor does he revisit this film), admissions by the cast about what they loved and hated, and even lengthy interviews with a cast member ashamed that he made it (despite a long subsequent career in pornography) and loathes it. The docs all seem to equally celebrate the film's place in history while being more than willing to dig into its seedy roots.
The film also sports some raw, soundless footage of the infamous rape sequence, an interesting watch as it shows the actors cracking up, messing with one another, and occasionally creating some truly disturbing moments. There are also several reels of a never-completed Craven film (also without sound) that had never seen the light of day before this release. Finally, there is a single deleted scene so awful that it never made the film. It almost hurts to watch it.
The Last House on the Left is a brutal piece of film history that should be seen at least once by any film history or horror buff. It was groundbreaking at the time and changed the way movies are made today. This fantastic look at an iconic film is available now from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.