The 1970s kicked horror into a whole new gear as the films became grittier, and a new school of up and coming filmmakers began to make their mark.
The 101 Horror Movies brought the first film by Wes Craven into the list, and this film is brutal and terrifying.
Produced by Sean Cunningham, how would later bring us the Friday the 13th film series, the film was considered so brutal in its violence when it was first released, that Craven couldn’t get another film made for 5 years!
The tale is told in two parts, the first following young Mari (Sandra Cassel) , who has just turned 17 and her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) from ‘the wrong side of town,’ as they head out for a concert featuring a band named Blood Lust. They never make it to the concert, but their abductors satisfy their own need for blood and lust.
Approaching a character called Junior, they want to pick up some grass before the show.
Unfortunately for them, Junior (Marc Sheffler) is the son of one of a recently pair of escaped rapists and murderers, Krug (David Hess) and Weasel (Fred Lincoln) who have Sadie (Jeramie Rain) in tow. They are trapped and beaten, Phyllis is raped before dawn while Mari watches.
These scenes are intercut with Mari’s mother, Estelle (Cynthia Carr) and father, Doctor John Collingwood (Gaylord St.James AKA Richard Towers) being a loving couple, getting the house ready for Mari’s birthday, hanging a sign, and baking a cake, a horrific counterpoint as the two girls endure the night.
Come morning, the girls are tossed into the trunk of the gang’s car, and Krug and company make to leave town.
Finally making it to a rural area, in a moment of terrifying serendipity, the car breaks down on a stretch of road right alongside the Collingwood household.
Pulling the girls from the trunk of the car, they decide to have their fun in the woods, that are literally in the back yard of the Collingwood’s something Mari recognizes.
Putting your mind of the character that makes it all the more terrifying, knowing you are so close to home, but unable to do anything about it. Unable to escape.
Both young women are beaten, humiliated, tortured, and raped. Phyllis seizes a moment and makes a break for it while Krug returns to the car for something a little hardier than a switchblade.
Weasel and Sadie chase Phyllis, leaving Mari to try and persuade Junior to let her go, and gives him one of her birthday presents, a peace sign on a chain.
Things of course go wrong for both young women, and they are brutally murdered when Krug and company are done with them.
While trying to sort out what to do, they quartet take shelter in the Collingwood home, until Estelle recognizes the present and the two parents recover the body of their daughter.
Then they exact their vengeance, with penis-severing, electrocution, slashing, and chainsaw mutilation. That is Vengeance with a capital V.
The film is tough and brutal, but Craven also knows how to balance it. He intercuts the horror with a pair of police officers, a sheriff and a deputy, almost a Laurel and Hardy couple. The deputy is played by Martin Kove, and as soon as I saw him on the screen I literally yelled, “Sweep the leg!!”
Kove’s character is a bit of a dunce, and happily provides some much needed comic relief, Craven, even as a first time writer, director, and editor on this film, knew to balance the dark with the light.
The film is shot almost like a documentary, and has that gritty feel that permeates 70s genre films, yes, you can tell the interiors are sets, but that doesn’t stop the impact of the Collingwood parents taking their revenge on the people who killed their little girl.
A violent, horrific film that was the first film to use the line “Keep telling yourself it’s only a movie” as a tagline, Last House On The Left rightly holds a spot on the list of 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die.