It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a rundown of one’s top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon and 18, Zombie Flesh Eaters.
At number 17 it’s one of the most controversial video nasties, and one of the most controversial films ever, Last House on the Left, the original, not the shite remake of a few years ago. It’s remains one of the toughest films to endure, and I mean that not in the sense of it being a bad film, it’s not (bar a few things which I’ll get to, but in the sense that it’s so bleak that it is a test of endurance. A point made clear in the advertising campaign in the US.
The film is a loose adaptation and updating of Ingmar Begmen’s The Virgin Spring, which is a great source for any young director, especially in his first film. It tells the story of two girls, Mari and Phyllis attending a gig in New York while Mari’s parents plan her birthday party. Before the gig they try to find some marijuana which brings them into contact with the recently escaped criminal Krug (an extraordinary performance by David Hess) and his gang who then abduct the girls, take them into some remote woods & proceed to humiliate, torture, rape and kill the pair.
Krug and his gang then seek refuge overnight in a nearby home, which just happens to be the home of Mari and her parents. Once Mari’s parents find out what happened to their daughter, not to mention who Krug and his gang are, they enact a violent revenge upon them all.
As anyone reading the brief synopsis I’ve presented can tell, this isn’t a simple horror film. It’s far from that. It does suffer from lack of money at times, not to mention as it’s Wes Craven’s first film it’s sometimes crude, but there are flourishes from Craven which suggest a great talent, especially during a dream sequence which is amazingly hard to watch. Craven however spends most of the film shooting it in a documentary style which makes scenes such as the frankly repulsive rape scene, virtually impossible to watch.
What doesn’t work are the comedy scenes which are I suppose designed to lighten the grim atmosphere of the film, but they intrude, slow the film down and frankly are so bloody annoying you’ll want to fast forward them. Also while Hess and the girls playing Mari and Phyillis turn out astonishingly real performances, some of the other acting is awful. This doesn’t take the power away from the film, it just makes parts of it harder to watch than for the reasons I’ve given.
I first came across the film when it emerged as part of the Video Nasty scare in the early 80’s. I never saw it until the film was finally released on DVD about a decade ago. I can’t remember why I never saw it, or why I never searched it out but seeing as the film was effectively banned by the BBFC it was incredibly hard to get a decent copy in this country, plus even when it was released on DVD, the BBFC cut vast chunks out of it citing the ‘content’ of the film, even though the BBFC passed films with harder content, but for a more arthouse audience. Mark Kermode wrote a fantastic piece pointing out the idiocy and hypocrisy of this.
Eventually the film got a full uncut release a few years ago on DVD in the UK. This is the version I watched again before writing this & it’s the only version anyone in the UK wanting to see the film should watch. As said, be warned, it’s a hard, often viciously sadistic film at times but it’s the sort of experience that we should put ourselves through as it feels horribly real. Ignore the glossy remake, this is the real thing. It’s horrible then that’s how this sort of violence should be.
Coming up next, more Fulci goodness….