Last House on the Left – groundbreaking movie, or a vile chunk of excrement? Depends on who you ask. Here are my random impressions after I watched the film and then the DVD commentary track featuring director Wes Craven and two of the film’s actors:
Oddly, Craven seems both proud and dismissive of his low-budget, career-defining movie. He says he never revisits his first film, yet implies that its horrific violence was somehow a commentary on the Vietnam War. Craven describes watching TV coverage of the war in 1972: “American cinema did not show violence as I was seeing it in this [televised] footage. It was ugly and it was sadistic, and there were sexual overtones … we were seeing, like, really shocking footage every night as we had our dinner.” I wish he’d elaborated on the “sexual overtones” part of that statement.
Craven then claims that House’s “basic premise” was lifted from the Ingmar Bergman classic, The Virgin Spring, adding that his film’s over-the-top violence sprang from his own religious upbringing in a strict, Baptist household. “It [making Last House] allowed me to be bad for the first time in my life … people would just be outraged and say, ‘Those naughty boys.’”
So, was Last House an anti-war statement, a rebellion against Craven’s puritanical parents … or simply a case of boys being “naughty”? This quote from Craven might provide a clue: “I think I wrote it more without thinking about it, than I did thinking about it.”
Porn actor-director Fred J. Lincoln, who plays the sadistic “Weasel” in the movie, isn’t nearly as ambiguous as Craven in his evaluation of the film’s legacy: “Sometimes I wish I could forget I was there,” says Lincoln, “because as I watched them edit I thought, my God, this thing is disgusting. No one is ever gonna look at this piece of shit … It sucks.” Lincoln adds, “Actually, I wish it would have been banned in the United States, to be honest with you … probably about 80 girls got raped after that movie came out. Not something to be proud of.”
And finally, there are the reminiscences of actor-musician David Hess, who is much happier with the film than Lincoln is, in particular a graphic rape scene featuring Hess and actress Sandra Peabody (Sandra Cassel): “Sandra was your archetype, upper-middle-class Protestant – repressed Protestant … how do you deal with that?
“I scared the living shit out of her, man. She really thought I might – I started to pull her pants down and grabbed her tits and everything … and I looked up at Wes at one point and I said, ‘Can I?’ and then she freaked.” Hess is clearly pleased as he recalls the infamous scene: “Pulling her pants off, right? And then drooling in her face, which I did intentionally. It just so, it humiliated her. There was all of a sudden this look. It would have been easy to fuck her, right there on the set. I mean, because she really gave in. She gave up and you could see this look of fatality in her face. That was real!” Peabody, wherever she is, was not interviewed for the DVD.
I’ll give Craven the final word: “Either I’m a very sick bastard or I showed something that people don’t like to be shown, which I suspect is what the actual truth is.”
Director: Wes Craven Cast: Sandra Cassel (Sandra Peabody), Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Fred J. Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler Release: 1972
Watch the Trailer (click here)
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