In hindsight it's amazing to see where the fathers of two of the most venerable horror series got their start, and there is a Kernel of what would one day become "Horror", but as it stands, depravity is the order of the day, fear takes a back seat to maddening grotesquerie, and neither acting, nor directing truly shine. From the hideous mismatch of music to movie to the caricatured characters to the nearly ticklish dialogue, this isn't what you'd call a great film.
Two hot-babe teenage girls are kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered by sadistic fugitive rejects from the leisure-suit clubs of the early seventies while two cops ineptly bumble their way into what passes for comic relief and one of the girl's parents remorsefully pine away for their lost daughter. Through an interminable period of nothing but false starts, bad edits and fake blood, Mari (Sandra Cassel) and Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) are put through a hell more annoying than scary. While the sociopath perpetrators do manage to inspire intense dislike, it's less their character or actions than a loathing of the actors themselves.
The never-watchable David Hess (honkey-afro and all) sleazes it up onscreen as the leader of the company, Krug. His heroin-addled son, Junior (Marc Sheffler), scumbag partner Weasel (Fred J. Lincoln) and the clearly vision- and taste-impaired consort Sadie (Jeramie Rain) play little more than lackeys to Hess' undisciplined ADHD non-acting. Unfortunately none of these characters really break the over-the-top caricatures they are, and their actions amount to a lot more Terror than Horror.
At no point is The Last House on the Left truly scary, but it is disgusting, shocking and laced with humiliation, nudity, profanity and limit shoving tastelessness. And that's what made this movie a success. It's true that there had never been a movie like this up until this film (at least, not in the US), and without it, such films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and certainly Cunningham's Jason series and Craven's Freddy series would never have been made. That said, it's hard for a discerning film fan not to see most of this as calculated for gratuity. Yes the women are beautiful, and naked, (not even their characters can stop talking about their breasts), and yes, there are some legitimate gore scenes worth your low-budget viewing buck! As far as Midnight Movies go, you could do worse. It all amounts to more shock value than value, however, and there are as many detractors as fans.
I'm somewhere in the middle, because I can see so many of the elements of the creators' later work germinating herein like a fungal infection. At times Craven's later skill at driving the audience mad with frustration and discomfort shines brightly... only to be dashed on the rocks of ridiculous slapstick and corn-dog musical interludes. There's also at least as much stock second unit footage here as there are buckets of fake blood. The documentary feel (not surprising considering the lineage of the creators) and the convincing terror of the scream queens serves to give a more realistic feel to an overall Blair Witch Project lameness.
But in the second half of the film (liberally stolen from Bergman's Virgin Spring) Craven (who also scripted) nearly redeems himself with an unlikely, but strangely satisfying final act. Here Mari's parents (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr) shine in their sleuthing and planning. It's almost worth the first half of the film... Almost! Yet as vapid and overwrought as the first half really is, it's needed to really feel the payoff of the second act.
It's all a midnight movie, benefiting now from the later successes of its creators and the ability of DVD to mass-infect the population with a misunderstanding of classicism. However, taken for all with all, it's nothing if not a cult classic of a midnight movie. Knowing this when you get into it, what a fine-tasting cheese ball it is. It's a slasher film, at core, and you don't walk into one of those looking for Polonius' soliloquy on Acting! Two Stars out of Five for the gratuitous-in-every-way The Last House on the Left! If you can sit through the first half without either utter desensitized boredom or riteous indignation ripping you away from the screen, you might just be glad you sat through this seed of a horror film. Let's face it... good or bad, it's a milestone in Horror History! If not... Lie and say you did. Just like I'm going to lie and tell you that I'll see you in the next reel! It's my catch phrase... I'm entitled!
Click here for the Last Review on the Left,