By Jerome Reuter
In the past week, many of us have been mourning the loss of Wes Craven. His films are instantly recognizable, and have left a solid legacy. Some of his later works are forgettable, but still have a dedicated following. In my opinion, his greatest work will always be The Last House On The Left. A work that still stirs controversy, even today.
However, I feel there’s more to this film than what’s on the surface. True, it’s an exploitation film, but it’s also social commentary. It’s violent, graphic, and could be considered by some to be disturbing. Whatever one might say about it, it’s one that’s bound to be talked about. It’s a story of murder, rape and revenge. So, what is beneath the graphic exterior?
Well, the first thing you have to consider, is the time period in which it was released. By 1972, the youth movement had degenerated into a sea of violence and murder. The crimes of the Manson family, the Vietnam conflict, and growing civil unrest were on everyones mind. The illusion of peace and love, had only grown thinner and thinner.
The films first act does a great job of touching upon that. The Adolescent children, leaving the safety of their suburban home, for an urban setting. Craven played upon an what some parents feared at the time. There innocent children, lured away to the seedy world of drugs and rock music. Exploring the danger that might occur, when one leaves the safety of the nest. The promise of marijuana, lures two girls to a shady apartment. This becomes the beginning of the end, as they are abducted by some escaped criminals.
Sometimes, it’s a good idea NOT to depend on the kindness of strangers.
Now the films second act, is also the most remembered. The young girls, being swept off into the woods. A lot of these sequences, are very graphic, and not for those for the faint at heart. The best way to describe them, would be visceral and unnerving. Much like other exploitation films at the time, there’s a lot of simulated rape and torture. I almost see why this was done. It almost seems to mirror the manipulation of people like Charles Manson. The ones hiding in the shadows, ready to take full advantage of the youth.
It’s the way these scenes are set up however, that makes me think. Some of the more extreme sequences, are interspersed with scenes of lightheartedness, and comic relief. These include, one of the girls parents baking a cake, and bumbling keystone cops falling off a truck. A good film contrasts, to alter the atmosphere at a drop of a hat. (a la Ingmar Bergman)
There’s more to it than just that, however. This is essentially a satire of American television during the Vietnam conflict, as well as the time period. On a nightly basis, graphic images would grace television sets all over suburbia. When that wasn’t being shown, it was upbeat music or optimistic television, trying to distract people from the bigger picture. This is one of the many films, that brought a new brand of horror to the quiet American suburb. Much like the events it mirrored in the outside world, this is a time where the horror film would change forever.
As we look back at the life of Wes Craven, there’s quite a bit to remember. For generations he scared us, and crept into our minds, film after film. The Last House On The Left reflects a time period long gone. To this day, it reminds us true horror could be lurking right down the street, or where we least expect it.