“The Last House On The Left” is an important film to me. Though I was still young the first time I had viewed it, I was already versed in the horror universe. My first taste of horror came at the age of 3, watching the original Friday the 13th on home video. I quickly became obsessed, and would spend almost the entirety of my childhood either in front of the TV, or perusing the aisles of local video stores. There was something different about this picture though. Up until that point, my exposure to horror was almost exclusively limited to the slasher films, and other slapstick entries into the genre. “Last House” left me feeling differently than any film before it. It wasn’t a fun movie to play when friends were over. It was actually a rather grueling experience. It was one of the first times a motion picture provoked a response from me, other than sheer entertainment. I was left with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, it may have been the first time I truly felt disgust.
In “Last House” we follow the seemingly innocent teenage Mari Collingwood, as she and her friend Phyllis venture of into the city for a rock concert. The girls have decided that they would take a trip to the seedy underbelly of NYC, in order to score some cannabis. This leads to an encounter with Junior, who as it turns out, is the obviously “slow” son of the sociopathic fugitive Krug. Junior professes to have “Columbian grass” on the cheap, so the girls follow him indoors. As soon as the door opens, you begin to feel a sense of dread, even before Junior slams the door behinds them and latches the padlock. We’re now introduced to Krug and company, who emit a nimbus cloud of wrong-doing. The sexual assault begins almost immediately, as the gang displays their intentions to have their way with the girls, and ultimately end them.
Moving from the city to the nearby wooded area where Mari is from, the situation begins to escalate. The girls are trying their hardest to talk their way out of the situation, but Krug is focused on the task at hand. If you were to ask genre fans what the most uncomfortable scenes of sexual assault in exploitation history, they are likely to say the rape-scene from “I Spit On Your Grave”. In many ways, I feel like the rape/assault scene in “Last House” is far more disturbing. Yes, the rape is graphic, and uncomfortable, but more than the rape, the sheer humiliation that they put these girls through before actually beginning the rape is highly disturbing. Forcing them to take remove their clothes and fondle one-another, and even forcing one to urinate in her pants. Rape is disturbing to begin with, but taking away someone’s humanity before you even begin the process is in a whole different league. Seeing an opportunity, Phyllis takes a chance and makes a run for it, hoping that this would create an opportunity for Mari to do the same. As Krug and his sleazy band of cohorts race through the woods to re-capture Phyllis, Junior is left to keep an eye on Mari. As mentioned earlier, Junior is quite possibly mentally handicapped. Possibly realizing this, Mari tries, and eventually succeeds to talk him in to not only help her escape, but escape with her. Meanwhile, the hunt for Phyllis is about to come to a dreadful end, in what I consider to be one of the most disturbing on-screen deaths.
Returning battered and bloody from their altercation with Phyllis, the time has come for Mari to be dealt with. I want to stop here for a moment, and discuss the fact that this film was remade into a glossy Hollywood film. While the rape was definitely brutal, and hard to watch in the remake, I felt that the actions of the parents lost a smidgen of justification when they decided to let Mari live. In the original, they brutalize, humiliate, rape, and murder Mari, leaving her corpse in the lake for her parents to later discover. They intend to murder Mari in the remake, but fail to do so. Now don’t get me wrong here, what was done to Mari was definitely a tragic, terrible thing, but the idea originally was, the parents have lost their only child, and in avenging her death, they perhaps become as villainous as her murderers. By allowing Mari to survive, it feels to me that the punishment didn’t suit the crime. These people committed a horrendous act, and should no doubt be punished, and probably put to death via the penal system, but the way the situation was presented in the remake, it just felt like their reaction outweighed the crime. I’m in no way minimizing what Mari was put through, but the series of events provoked less sympathy from me than the original managed.
Getting back to the topic at hand, After the murder of Mari, Krug and company head off into the woods to find shelter, and perhaps a vehicle. As fate would have it, the seek refuge at the house of the very parents of the girl they just left dead in the lake. A discovery of Mari’s bloodied clothing stowed away in a suitcase will alert the parents to this fact, and they begin to plot their revenge. Using only household items to set traps, the battle for survival, and for vengeance begins. Even though what the parents are doing is almost as depraved as what Krug is guilty of, you find yourself cheering them on. If someone caused suffering, torture and the end of life to someone that you love, can you say that you wouldn’t at least consider doing the same thing? I’m not entirely sure if I would go to the extent of sawing someone to pieces with a chainsaw(One of the first chainsaws in horror history I believe), but I would definitely consider causing death in some way. When everything is said and done, the Collingwood’s have their revenge, but in the grand scheme of things, Mari is still dead, and now they’re left to deal with not only that fact, but the fact that they just brutally murdered several people. It’s the ultimate down ending. Nothing is really resolved, and the pain and suffering still very much prevalent.
How did “The Last House On The Left” come to be on that infamous list of 72 films criminalized by the video nasties scandal? This is a case where reality is much less interesting than what those of us with the gift of critical thinking could speculate. The sad truth of the matter is–the fundamental structure of any movement by a conservative entity to suppress art is always ignorance. Religion teaches it’s followers to fear that which they do not understand. The core component necessary to maintain a successful religion is faith, a concept that relies heavily on fear and ignorance. I am not trying to alienate anyone of faith that may happen across this writing, you are certainly free to believe what you wish, I am just stating how I, and people like me, perceive those of you that feel so strongly about your chosen belief structure that it’s no longer enough for you to have the freedom to practice said belief. The need to force your moral values upon others is not something that will ever be understood, nor will it be tolerated. If you feel like a piece of entertainment is offensive, it would be a good idea for you to avoid it at all costs. Crafting a movement to prevent others from deciding on their own if it suits their sensibilities is censorship of Hitler like proportions. I personally wouldn’t want my son watching something like “Last House” until he’s at least 15 or 16, and has a strong grasp on reality, but that is my decision to make. It’s not up to you to teach my kids values, or vice-versa.
I’m not educated enough on politics over-seas to know what the litmus test to be considered a conservative would be, but I do know enough about American politics to speculate. We’ve had several attempts to muffle the voice of various types of artists here in the states. Leading the fight in every event was a member of the religious right. To this day, our own censorship board for films, the MPAA works closely with members of Clergy, and other various religious groups to help decide what is appropriate for American kids to consume. This is an activity that is counterproductive to the constitution, both by infringing upon the freedom of speech, as well as our freedom FROM religion. One of the loudest proponents for the banning of videos was Mary Whitehouse, a woman who openly admitted to having never seen one of the films she was campaigning to make illegal. Her reasoning was that she didn’t have to watch one of the films to know what was in it. It’s that very arrogance, that ignorance that leads to dangerous happenings like this.
Before I sign off, I would like to have some fun, and discuss reasons that I personally feel could have possibly secured “Last House” a spot on the nasty list. While there are graphic scenes of brutal torture, rape, mutilation, and murder in the film, that’s not what disturbed me the most. At the time that I was able to see this flick, I had already seen plenty of gruesome gore and violence in other sub-genres of horror. What had the most impact on me as a young viewer, was the nihilistic tone of the film. This underlying sense of dread that slowly unravels until you can sense it deep in your gizzard. A film like “Last House” is most definitely a product of both it’s time, as well as the political environment the filmmakers are surrounded by. Whether it’s a conscious thought during the film making process or not, that artist’s reaction to the world around him is still spilled over into the film’s content. “Last House” was the first film to make me realize I had just witnessed something dirty, but it made me feel dirty to have shared in the experience. A viewer that lacks the ability to cope with emotions like that, would be mortified. To me, that dreadful atmosphere is what would have landed this film on the list, if those types of things were actually taken in to consideration that is.