Based on Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish film The Virgin Spring (1959) starring Max von Sydow, Last House On The Left was promoted with the tagline “To avoid fainting, just keep repeating it’s only a movie … it’s only a movie!”
This legendary graphic shocker, infused by a repellent Vietnam sensibility, put Wes Craven on the road to horror fame in his directorial debut. He wrote it too.
Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) is turning seventeen and she’s spending her birthday with friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) – who comes from “the wrong side of the tracks” – on a trip to the city to see the band Bloodlust.
Unfortunately, their detour to score some grass puts them in the clutches of escaped serial rapist and murderer Krug Stilo (David Hess), child molester Frank “Weasel” Podowski (Fred J Lincoln), Krug’s heroin-addicted son “Junior” (Marc Sheffler) and their lesbian accomplice Sadie (Jeramie Rain).
As Mari’s doctor father John (Gaylord St. James) and mother Estelle (Cynthia Carr) decorate their house for their daughter’s birthday party, Mari and Phyllis are terrorised, humiliated, and beaten when they try to escape.
The sadistic convicts take the girls with them as they take to the road with the goal of crossing the border into Canada but they happen to break down not far from the Collingwood property. The sheriff (Marshall Anker) and deputy (Martin Kove) also experience a breakdown trying to get back to the property after realising too late that the abandoned car they passed on the way back to the station was the getaway vehicle.
Mari does not make it past the age of seventeen, nor does Phyllis.
Mari’s parents only discover the truth after they have extended their hospitality for the night to their daughter’s murderers. When they spot Junior wearing a necklace they gave Mari for her birthday, they investigate, find their daughter’s body in a lake and return home to mete out an act of equally horrific revenge on the foursome.
With hardcore violence running a grisly gamut from sodomy, urination, disembowelment and oral castration, this hard-to-watch and highly controversial cult film gains enormous power from its low-budget trappings and cinema vérité approach.
With David Hess giving one of the evilest performances in cinema history as the gang leader, Krug, this highly upsetting and uncomfortable viewing experience remains a benchmark in the annals of cinematic offensiveness.
Avoid the 2008 remake at all costs. It stinks.
Sandra Cassel (Sandra Peabody)
Fred ‘Weasel’ Podowski
Dr John Collingwood
Gaylord St James