The Last House on the Left (1972): Smackdown
Dir. Wes Craven (1972)
Two teenaged girls go looking for drugs while in the city for a concert and instead find a group of maniacs who are looking for a thrill. They find more than they bargained for when they wind up at the house of one of the girls they have recently murdered.
I started this website several years back as an offshoot of an earlier blog, circa roughly 2014. Originally, my goal was to find and review the most disturbing movies ever made, starting with films like Salo and Cannibal Holocaust in an attempt to see exactly how far I could push myself down the road of unpleasant cinema. While there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of other movies that can certainly be categorized as "disturbing horror," perhaps no film is quite so upsetting as Wes Craven's provocative masterpiece The Last House on the Left, pound for pound arguably the most disturbing movie ever made.
Mari Collingwood(Sandra Peabody) is looking for a night out with her girlfriend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham), hitting the city for a concert from one of her favorite bands, Bloodlust. The irony doesn't last for long, as the duo run into Krug (David Hess in a legendary role) and his gang of psychotic miscreants, who proceed to rape, torture, and murder both girls in one of cinema's most hard-to-watch sequences. Krug and his friends make their way to the Collingwood residence, where they run into Mari's parents. When the parents discover their daughter's locket and realize who is staying at their house, they seek revenge on the group that terrorized their daughter.
There's literally nothing about this film that isn't disturbing. From the opening sequence, where Dr. Collingwood discusses his daughter's breasts, to the closing credits, there is very little that doesn't give the audience the heebies. The juxtaposition of the happy music, performed by David Hess himself, in opposition with the horrific sexual violence is exceptionally unsettling. Add in the Keystone Cops-esque police force, who bumble their way from scene to scene with no hopes of actually stopping what is about to unfold, and you've got a film that truly understands what it takes to upset its audience for years to come. The Last House on the Left is a movie that will stick in your craw, very potentially never leaving the more disturbed parts of your brain.
Craven pulls zero punches throughout the film, contrasting the Collingwood's happy home, which is permissive but safeguarding, with Mari's yearning for freedom that is brought to a sudden stop after she finds out what the costs of her actions actually are. Krug's gang, who represent actual "freedom" and the potential that comes along with being able to do literally anything you want, serves as both a warning and a death knell for the Free Love Generation. Sometimes, what's waiting out there for you isn't Woodstock and Haight-Ashbury.
The Last House on the Left is disturbing, to be sure. It's also vitally important to the history of horror. It's gritty and dark with a dirty sense of titillation, but it's also masterfully done, with shots that hearken back to the golden age of horror and would usher in an era that would try desperately to escape from the forbidden aura of horror's previous generation. It would take the next year's darling The Exorcist to truly pull horror from the depths of the drive-in, but Wes Craven showed that the Grindhouse Cinema was not, in fact, dead, and quite possibly had more to say than its detractors gave it credit for. TLHotL inspired generations of filmmakers by delivering a film with a message that was harsher than it perhaps needed to be in a film that no one has ever forgotten.
Who this movie is for: Classic horror lovers, Grindhouse fans, Free Love enthusiasts
Bottom line: I've talked for years about my love for Halloween as the best horror movie ever made, but Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left is a pretty damn close number two. It's dark, disturbing as all hell, and transcendently done, creating a career for one of horror's best directors and paving the way for numerous horror classics to come. It's a film that no one, regardless of their appreciation, will forget. If you haven't seen The Last House on the Left, you need to drop what you're doing and watch it. It's horror history, and it's quite possibly the most disturbing movie ever made. It's also got the best tagline in horror movie history: "In order to keep from fainting, keep repeating, it's only a movie, it's only a movie, it's only a movie..."