The Last House on the Left (1972 film)
The Last House on the Left is a 1972 American exploitation horror film written, edited, and directed by Wes Craven and produced by Sean S. Cunningham. The film stars Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David A. Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, and Marc Sheffler. The plot revolves around two teenage girls who are taken into the woods and tortured by a gang of murderous thugs. The story is inspired by the Swedish film The Virgin Spring (1960), directed by Ingmar Bergman, which in turn is based on a Swedish ballad, "Töres döttrar i Wänge".
|The Last House on the Left|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Wes Craven|
|Produced by||Sean S. Cunningham|
|Written by||Wes Craven|
|Music by||David Alexander Hess|
|Edited by||Wes Craven|
|Box office||$3.1 million|
Craven's directorial debut, the film was made on a modest budget of $87,000, and was filmed in New York City and rural Connecticut in 1971. It was released theatrically in the United States on August 30, 1972, and was a major box office success, grossing over $3 million domestically. Although its confrontational violence resulted in it being heavily censored and sometimes banned in other countries, the film was generally well received by critics. The film was remade under the same title in 2009.
Mari Collingwood plans to attend a concert with her friend, Phyllis Stone, for her seventeenth birthday. Her parents, Estelle and John, express their concern about her friendship with Phyllis, but let her go and give her a peace symbol necklace. Phyllis and Mari head into the city and on the way, they hear a news report of a recent prison escape involving criminals Krug Stillo, a sadistic rapist and serial killer; his heroin-addicted son, Junior; Sadie, a promiscuous psychopath and sadist; and Fred "Weasel" Podowski, a child molester, peeping Tom, and murderer. Before the concert, Mari and Phyllis encounter Junior when trying to buy marijuana. He leads them to an apartment where they are trapped by the criminals. Phyllis tries to escape and reason with them, but she fails and is gang-raped. Meanwhile, Mari's unsuspecting parents prepare a surprise party for her.
The next morning, Mari and Phyllis are bound, gagged and put in the trunk of Krug's car and transported to the woods. Mari recognizes that the road is near her home. Mari and Phyllis are forced to perform sexual acts on each other. Phyllis distracts the kidnappers to give Mari an opportunity to escape but is chased by Sadie and Weasel, while Junior stays behind to guard Mari. Mari tries gaining Junior's trust by giving him her necklace and calling him "Willow". Phyllis stumbles across a cemetery where she is cornered and stabbed by Weasel. She crawls to a nearby tree and is stabbed multiple more times, dying in the process. Mari convinces Junior to let her go, but her escape is halted by Krug. Krug carves his name into her chest, then rapes her. Krug drools on Mari while he is raping her. She vomits, quietly says a prayer and walks into a nearby lake, where Krug fatally shoots her.
After they change out of their bloody clothes, the gang goes to the Collingwoods' home, masquerading as travelling salesmen. Mari's parents let them stay overnight. The gang finds photos of Mari and realize it is her home. Later, when Junior is in the midst of a heroin withdrawal, Estelle enters the bathroom to check on him and sees Mari's peace symbol necklace around his neck. She finds blood-soaked clothing in their luggage and overhears them talking about Mari's death, and of her disposal in a nearby lake. She and her husband rush into the woods where they find Mari's body.
They exact revenge. Estelle bites off Weasel's penis and leaves him to bleed to death. John takes his shotgun and shoots at Krug and Sadie. Krug escapes into the living room and overpowers John, before manipulating Junior into committing suicide. John fetches a chainsaw and Krug attempts to flee but is incapacitated by an electrocution booby-trap. Sadie rushes outside and falls into the backyard swimming pool where Estelle slits her throat. The sheriff arrives just as John kills Krug with the chainsaw.
- Sandra Peabody as Mari Collingwood
- Lucy Grantham as Phyllis Stone
- David A. Hess as Krug Stillo
- Fred Lincoln as Fred "Weasel" Podowski
- Jeramie Rain as Sadie
- Marc Sheffler as Junior Stillo
- Eleanor Shaw (credited as Cynthia Carr) as Estelle Collingwood
- Richard Towers (credited as Gaylord St. James) as Dr. John Collingwood
- Marshall Anker as Sheriff
- Martin Kove as Deputy
- Ada Washington as Ada
- Steve Miner (uncredited) as Hippie-taunting Deputy
Sean S. Cunningham made his directorial debut with the white coater film The Art of Marriage. His film grossed $100,000 and attracted the attention of Steve Minasian's Boston-based Hallmark Releasing, which had a distribution partnership with American International Pictures. Cunningham made the film Together as a "better version" of film. Wes Craven, who had no money at the time, was put on the job of synchronizing dailies for Cunningham's re-shoot. He soon began editing the film with Cunningham and they became good friends. Hallmark bought the film for $10,000, and it was considered a "hit"; this prompted Hallmark to persuade them to make another film with a bigger budget, and gave them $90,000 to shoot a horror film.
Cunningham served as producer and Craven served as writer and director on the project. Written by Craven in 1971, the original script was intended to be a graphic "hardcore" film, with all actors and crew being committed to filming it as such. However, after shooting began, the decision was made to edit the script into a much softer film. This script, written under the title Night of Vengeance, has never been released; only a brief glimpse is visible in the featurette Celluloid Crime of the Century (a 2003 documentary on the making of the film). The crux of the plot is based on the Swedish ballad "Töres döttrar i Wänge," which itself was the basis of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960), of which Craven was an admirer. Craven envisioned a film in which the violence would be shown in detail onscreen; he felt that many popular films of the era, such as Westerns, glamorized violence and the "vigilante hero," and gave the public a misleading representation of death in the wake of Vietnam War.
The majority of the cast of The Last House on the Left were inexperienced or first-time actors, with the exception of Richard Towers, Eleanor Shaw, and Sandra Peabody who were all soap opera regulars and had prior film roles. Cunningham and Craven held casting calls for the film at Cunningham's office in Midtown Manhattan in late 1971. Peabody, who was returning to New York after a cross-country road trip, signed on to the film after responding to a casting notice in the trade publication Backstage. Cunningham and Craven originally wanted her to read for the role of Phyllis, however, after meeting her they decided to cast her in the lead role of Mari. Shaw was a prominent Manhattan based soap opera actress, and Towers worked as a talent agent in addition to acting. Although she doesn't recall the specific circumstances of how she became involved with the project, Lucy Grantham was ultimately cast in the role of Mari's best friend Phyllis. The role of the lead villain, Krug Stillo, was given to David Hess, also a musician and songwriter. Jeramie Rain, who was twenty-one at the time, was playing Susan Atkins in an Off-Broadway production based on the Manson family murders; despite the fact that the original script called for an actress in her forties, Rain was awarded the part of Sadie. Fred Lincoln, who had appeared in pornographic films, was cast as Krug's criminal partner, while Mark Sheffler was given the role of Krug's heroin-addicted son. A struggling twenty-one year old actor, Sheffler was a client of Towers prior to filming and was informed of auditions by him. According to Lincoln, he and Peabody were acquaintances and had the same agent at the time.
The film was shot on location for seven days in New York City, as well as Long Island, followed by shoots in rural locations outside of Westport, Connecticut. While filming in Connecticut, the cast and crew spent much time at producer Cunningham's family's home. According to Craven, the lake sequence was shot in the town reservoir of Weston, Connecticut. Craven sought a "documentary"-style appearance for the film, marked by close-up shots and single-cut takes.
Cunningham later described the film shoot as being "guerrilla-style" with the crew spontaneously filming at locations and being forced to leave due to lack of permits; in retrospect, Lincoln said that "nobody knew what [they] were doing." Much of the special effects in the film were achieved practically, some at Lincoln's suggestion: For example, the sequence in which Phyllis is disemboweled, Lincoln helped craft fake intestines with condoms filled with fake blood and sand. For the murder sequence of Sadie in the swimming pool, Rain had a pouch full of fake blood attached underneath her shirt as well as blood capsules in her mouth, which she manually punctured. Grantham recalled during the scene in which Hess's character tells her to "piss her pants," that she in fact urinated in her jeans. Steve Miner, who would later become a director himself, served as a production assistant on the film.
Hess recalled that much of the cast bonded heavily during the filming process being that they were mostly inexperienced actors. Lincoln, Rain, and Sheffler recalled similar memories in a 2003 documentary titled Celluloid Crime of the Century, which recounted the making of the film. However, both Hess and director Craven recalled the on-set relationship between Hess and Peabody to be turbulent. Peabody was often treated differently than the rest of the cast to the point that Craven recalled there "not being much acting" during the shooting of the film's more violent scenes. Sheffler admitted during a one-on-one sequence with Peabody that he threatened to push her over a cliff if she failed to hit her marks.
Peabody stated that she was genuinely upset during the filming of the more violent scenes as she felt unprepared: "I was upset because I'm an emotional person, and I reacted to what was going on as if it were real. I had a really hard time with some of scenes, because I had come out of American Playhouse, where it was all about preparation, and everything had to be real. I ended up doing a horrible job in the film. I was very upset, and I felt like I should have channeled that, but I couldn't... I was a young actress and I was still learning to balance any emotions I had from outside of the film into my scene work." Hess revealed that he actually got very physical with her during the filming of the rape scene and that she couldn't do anything about it once the camera was running. During this particular shot, assistant director Yvonne Hannemann described it as an upsetting shoot with her having to be consoled by Craven throughout filming it due to the abuse she was enduring. Peabody recalled, "One of the characters was a method actor, so he was trying to live his part... he'd come after us with a knife at night, trying to freak us out. This was the guy with the dark curly hair [David Hess] - he tried to play his role on and off the set. It was like, 'Lock your doors and windows at night, you don't want him to come get you!' I was scared; I thought this guy had been a killer at some point in his past!" Sandra states that although she was uncertain how a lot of the scenes would turn out, she trusted Craven and Cunningham and their vision for the film.
The film's soundtrack was written by Stephen Chapin and David Hess (who also played the main antagonist, Krug). Chapin wrote all the incidental music for the movie; he also did all the arrangements and orchestration as well as all the contracting and producing musicians. The music is particularly notable for being heavily contrasted with the events on screen. For example, as the gang drives the two girls out into the countryside, the upbeat, almost comical tune "Baddies Theme" plays and, after the rape scene, a soothing ballad plays. This counterpointing was also used elsewhere in the film, with the slapstick antics of the two police officers occurring in between scenes of torture. The soundtrack was released commercially around the same time as the film. In 1999 the soundtrack was re-released on compact disc by Hess on Rock Bottom Rules Records. In 2013 the soundtrack had a re-release on vinyl, compact disc, cassette and digital download on One Way Static Records. It was also re-issued on a limited hand numbered picture disc for Record Store Day 2014.
The film underwent multiple title changes, with its investors initially titling it Sex Crime of the Century. However, after test screenings were completed, it was decided to change the title to Krug and Company; however, this title was found to have little draw during test screenings. A marketing specialist who was an acquaintance of Cunningham's proposed the title The Last House on the Left. Craven initially thought the title was "terrible." The film was released under this title on August 30, 1972. Like many films during the era, it had a regional expansion to cinemas and drive-in theaters over the course of the next several months, opening in various U.S. cities between September and November 1972. It was frequently shown as part of a double or triple feature with other Hallmark/AIP releases, most notably Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve, a film that, like Last House..., would have a considerable impact on the horror genre, due to serving as a primary influence on Cunningham's later Friday the 13th franchise.
Due to its graphic content, the film sparked protests from the public throughout the fall of 1972 who called for its removal from local theaters. The Paris Cinema, a movie theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, issued an open letter to these criticisms in September 1972, in which it was noted:
After carefully considering all the circumstances, management has decided to continue to show the movie. This difficult decision was predicated on the following considerations: The film relates to a problem that practically every teen-age girl and parent can identify with, yet does not pander to the subject matter. The story does not glorify violence, nor does it glorify the degenerates who perpetrate the violence ... we feel the movie is morally redeeming and does deliver an important social message.
Promotional material capitalized on the film's graphic content and divisive reception, featuring the tagline: "To avoid fainting, keep repeating 'It's only a movie' ..." advertising campaign. Under the Last House... title, the film proved to be a hit. Anecdotes as to where the advertising campaign originated vary somewhat. Cunningham claims that marketing specialist who devised the Last House... title was watching a cut of the film with his wife, who continually covered her eyes, prompting him to tell her that it was "only a movie". Other origins have been suggested, however, as it had been used twice before: first for H.G. Lewis's 1964 splatter film Color Me Blood Red and then for William Castle's Strait-Jacket the following year. The tagline was so successful that it was re-purposed by many of Hallmark's other releases, such as Don't Look in the Basement and Don't Open the Window, and other exploitation films, sometimes with a unique spin. The film's title was also imitated, as in the cases of Last House on Dead End Street and The House on the Edge of the Park, another film starring David Hess; other films, such as the aforementioned Twitch of the Death Nerve, were later marketed as unofficial sequels with such titles as Last House Part II.
Newspaper advertisements featured lengthy statements issued by the film's producers defending it against claims that it sensationalized violence, one of which noted: "You will hate the people who perpetrate these outrages–and you should! But if a movie–and it is only a movie–can arouse you to such extreme emotion then the film director has succeeded ... The movie makes a plea for an end to all the senseless violence and inhuman cruelty that has become so much a part of the times in which we live." Promotional artwork for the film accompanying such producer's statements included a warning that the film was "not recommended for persons under 30." The film continued to screen throughout the United States into 1973.[a]
Critical response to The Last House on the Left upon its original release was largely centered on its depictions of violence.[b] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune derided the film, writing: "My objection to The Last House on the Left is not an objection to the graphic representations of violence per se, but to the fact that the movie celebrates violent acts, particularly adult male abuse of young women ... I felt a professional obligation to stick around to see if there was any socially redeeming value in the remainder of the movie and found none." Howard Thompson of The New York Times wrote that he walked out of the theater during a screening: "When I walked out, after 50 minutes (with 35 to go), one girl had just been dismembered with a machete. They had started in on the other with a slow switch blade. The party who wrote this sickening tripe and also directed the inept actors is Wes Craven. It's at the Penthouse Theater, for anyone interested in paying to see repulsive people and human agony."
Edward Blank of the Pittsburgh Press called the film a "cheap-jack movie of no discernible merit" and "riddled with awkward, self-conscious performances." Roger Ebert, however, gave the film three and a half stars out of four, and described it as "about four times as good as you'd expect." The Christian Science Monitor News Service referred to the film as a "desperately sordid melodrama" and a "vulgarized" version of The Virgin Spring and drew comparisons to Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971). Brian Nelson of The Daily Dispatch deemed it the worst film of the year, writing: "Producer Sean S. Cunningham has somehow managed to make what is possibly 1972's most worthless general release film and, with a sensational and overblown advertising campaign, parlay it into a major moneymaker. In doing so, he may be in line for the Cy Dung Award for the movie most offensive to the intelligence of an audience." The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Bill Towery suggested the film should have received an X rating, adding in his review: "Films such as these give the movie ratings system a bad name. But if your cup of tea is assault, murder, maiming, revenge, and violence, the movie is going to be perfect." An editor for The News-Press similarly deemed the film "pornographic" and wrote that it was "without a doubt the most disgusting movie I have ever seen."
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On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Last House on the Left holds an approval rating of 61%, based on 36 reviews, and an average rating of 5.51/10. It's consensus reads, "Its visceral brutality is more repulsive than engrossing, but The Last House on the Left nevertheless introduces director Wes Craven as a distinctive voice in horror." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 8 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film one and a half out of a possible four stars. In his review on the film, Maltin called the film "cheap", and "[a] repellent but admittedly powerful and (for better or worse) influential horror shocker." The film was nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills.
Though the film passed with an R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, director Craven claimed that on several occasions, horrified audience members would demand that theater projectionists destroy the footage, sometimes stealing the film themselves. John Saco, a British film archivist, recalled discussing the film with American theater owners: "Projectionists were so offended, they would just cut up the film as they were watching it. I’d ask people, ‘How cut is your version?’ They’d say, ‘It’s not as cut as some of the others I’ve seen’ – that’s hardly what you want to hear!"
Last House on the Left was refused a certificate for cinema release by the British Board of Film Censors in 1974, due to scenes of sadism and violence. During the early 1980s home video boom, the film was released uncut (save for an incidental, gore-free scene with the comic relief cops, and the end credit roll) as a video that did not fall under the BBFC's remit at the time. This changed when the "video nasty" scare which started in 1982 led to the Video Recordings Act 1984. The movie landed on the Department of Public Prosecutions list of "video nasties", and was banned.
The film remained banned throughout the remainder of the 1980s and into the 1990s. However, it had devloped an underground cult reputation in the UK, and critics such as Mark Kermode began to laud the film as an important piece of work. In 2000, the film was again presented to the BBFC for theatrical certification and it was again refused. The independent film label Blue Underground toured an uncut print around Britain without a BBFC certificate; Southampton City Council granted it its own "18" certificate. The film was granted a license for a one-off showing in Leicester in June 2000, after which the BBFC again declared that it would not receive any form of certification.
In June 2002 the BBFC prevailed against an appeal made to the Video Appeals Committee by video distributor Blue Underground Limited. The BBFC had required 16 seconds of cuts to scenes of sexual violence before it would grant the video an "18" certificate. Blue Underground Limited refused to make the cuts, and the BBFC therefore rejected the video. The distributor then appealed to the VAC, who upheld the BBFC's decision. During the appeal, film critic Kermode was called in as a horror expert to make a case for the film's historical importance. However, after his report, the committee not only upheld the cuts, but demanded additional ones. The film was eventually given an "18" certificate, on July 17, 2002, with 31 seconds of cuts, and was released in the UK on DVD in May 2003. The cut scenes were viewable as a slideshow extra on the disc, and there was a link to a website where the cut scenes could be viewed. The BBFC finally classified the uncut film for video release on March 17, 2008.
Contrary to popular belief, the film was never banned in Australia on its initial release – rather, it was never picked up for distribution in the country due to the censorship issues that it would have created at the time. The film was submitted to the censorship board in 1987 for VHS release by Video Excellence under the alternative title Krug and Company, but it was rejected because of its violent and sexual content. In October 1991, The Last House on the Left was part of a package of fifteen tapes that was seized by the Australian Customs Service. The package of tapes was forwarded to the Australian Classification Board (then known as the Office of Film and Literature Classification) who declared them "prohibited pursuant to Regulation 4A(1A)(a)(iii) of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations". The film was eventually classified "R" by the OFLC for its DVD premiere on November 15, 2004. It had a theatrical screening that same month at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.
Rare or lost scenesEdit
Many different versions of the film exist on various DVD and VHS releases struck from different cuts of the film, many of them from different countries. To get a completely uncut version is difficult as even some cinema machinists cut footage from prints of the movie before screening it during the 1970s; many copies were cut or "hacked to pieces" and because of this some scenes have become rarities.
Some incomplete scenes are:
- "Lesbian rape scene" – One scene long thought lost, except as a photographic still, is the two female victims forced to commit sexual acts on each other in the woods. This forced lesbian rape scene was included as an outtake with no sound on the Metrodome Three-Disc DVD Ultimate Edition and on the 2011 Blu-ray release.
- "Mari in her room" – There are photographic stills showing a nude Mari in her room reading birthday cards in the beginning of the movie; this scene no longer exists.
- "Mari raped by Sadie" – Footage of Sadie committing sexual acts against Mari in the woods is often removed, even from some DVDs that have been labeled as "uncut".
In the Krug and Company cut, Mari is still alive when her parents find her. She tells her parents what happened to her and Phyllis before dying in front of them.
The Last House on the Left has been released multiple times on home media in the United States; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) released a DVD version on August 27, 2002, which featured outtakes, a making-of documentary, and "Forbidden Footage," a featurette exploring the film's most violent shocking sequences. On February 1, 2011, a Blu-ray was released by MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Video, which featured multiple featurettes and making-of documentaries, two audio commentary tracks, never-before-seen footage, and cast and crew interviews.
A limited edition Blu-ray box set was released in the United States and United Kingdom on July 3, 2018 from Arrow Video, which features three different cuts of the film each restored in 2K from the original film elements, a double-sided poster, lobby card reproductions, a book featuring writings on the film, a CD soundtrack, various archival bonus materials, and new interviews with cast, crew, and associates of Craven.
In the 1980s, Vestron Pictures hired Danny Steinmann to write and direct a sequel, though the film fell apart in pre-production due to rights issues. Mario Bava's film Twitch of the Death Nerve was also released under the titles Last House on the Left – Part II, Last House – Part II and New House on the Left.
In August 2006, Rogue Pictures finalized a deal to remake The Last House on the Left with original writer and director Wes Craven as a producer. The company intended to preserve the storyline of the original film. Craven described his involvement with the remake: "I'm far enough removed from these films that the remakes are a little like having grandchildren. The story, about the painful side effects of revenge, is an evergreen. The headlines are full of people and nations taking revenge and getting caught up in endless cycles of violence." Craven formed Midnight Pictures, a shingle of Rogue, to remake The Last House on the Left as its first project. Production was slated for early 2007. Screenwriter Adam Alleca was hired to write the script for the remake.
- Contemporaneous newspaper advertisements throughout 1973 list showtimes for the film at movie houses and drive-ins in Oregon, California, Montana, and others.
- Numerous critical reviews published throughout the fall of 1972 discounted the film for its graphic content, including ones published in The News-Press, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the Pittsburgh Press, and many others.
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