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Last House on the Left

Two of moviedom's most successful horror moguls began their careers with this grim and shocking breakthrough film. Producer Sean S. Cunningham (who later begat the Friday the 13th series) and freshman director Wes Craven (creator of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises) teamed up for 1972's controversial Last House on the Left, a film that busted open the horror genre by eschewing supernatural scares for the real terrors of human depravity — a move that struck a nerve in a society still rattled by the gruesome Manson Family murders. Last House, loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's folktale The Virgin Spring, is a simple tale of murder, coincidence and revenge as two carefree teenage girls run afoul of a murderous gang — which ultimately seeks refuge in the house of their victim's parents. While Craven's debut effort is technically unsophisticated, he brings a necessary morality to the graphic violence he offers. He never sensationalizes, but in moments of severe trauma — including a harrowing rape scene and its aftermath — he focuses on the dehumanization of the criminals. While Last House, with its rough style and uncompromising approach, is undoubtedly influential (from the masterful Texas Chainsaw Massacre to repugnant filth like I Spit on Your Grave), it doesn't quite pass as entertainment. The long scenes of terrorizing the two teenagers are hard to stomach, and too much of the film is marred by an inconsistently comic tone. A zany sideplot involving two bumbling policemen (including a youthful Martin Kove) is juvenile and unnecessary, and the unbelievably jovial banjo-and-kazoo song score by David Hess (who also, incongruously, plays demented psycho Krug in the film) trivializes the more disturbing content instead of creating the ironic counterpoint it seemed intended for. For a low-budget indie drive-in shocker, Last House on the Left has been remarkably well preserved on MGM's DVD. It's presented in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1, with pan-and-scan on the flipside) and the original monaural audio. Craven offers a brief introduction and also appears on a commentary track with Cunningham. While this disc also includes a reel of silent outtakes and dailies and a brief featurette entitled "Forbidden Footage," during which Craven discusses the film's trouble with censors, the best feature in the package is the half-hour retrospective offering interviews with most of the key cast and crew, some of whom express regret for ever having been involved with such a brutal enterprise. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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