I always wondered how Wes Craven went from “The Last House on the Left” to, well, all the other films he did. If you’ve seen the cult classic exploitation picture, you know it’s a mean-spirited piece of work that almost takes a sick pride in what it’s doing. Honestly, I still get uncomfortable watching it, and I’ve seen it a few times. In that respect, the movie did what it set out to do, and it did it well. I just don’t like the film. Nothing against Craven. I’ve enjoyed several of his other movies, including the vaguely similar and far more entertaining The Hills Have Eyes. This film, however, is … different. One guy I know summed it up pretty well when he said, “It’s like you’re watching a snuff film.”
I’ve heard some apologists (and there are a few) claim the film was a product of the times, and that may be true. I also know it was a re-imagining of “The Virgin Spring.” But it really boils down to a few thugs making a girl piss herself. Classic cult cinema? Yes. Enjoyable experience? Perhaps if you’re Gary Heidnik.
Those of you who regularly read my column are asking yourselves, “Wait. Isn’t this the guy who defended Irreversible and The Devil’s Rejects?” All true. Look, I’m not calling for a boycott of Craven’s infamous work, nor am I saying people shouldn’t see it. In fact, I think more people should see it because, like “Irreversible,” it shows the atrocity of violent crimes in ways that made-for-television movies and Hollywood can never hope to match. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give the same emotional punch as Gaspar Noe’s movies, and it isn’t cheesy fun like “Bloodsucking Freaks.” No, this bit of Hell Cinema — more than any other movie I can think of — is really a descent into the lowest abyss of humanity with no real exit, no excuses and a demeanor unmatched by any other film. It’s crude, base and (depending on which version you see) violent beyond belief — as it should be. Like I said, it does its job, but so does cancer.
The film crosses lines, and I think that’s good. Perhaps what bothers me is the most is that every time I think of the film I have a hard time believing it’s from the same guy who made “Swamp Thing.” It’s like “The Last House on the Left” got him sent to prison and while there he reformed and made “Scream.” Craven’s films, even “The Hills Have Eyes,” never ventured quite into the same territory as his most notorious work. Never really got too close, though “The Hills Have Eyes” got the closest. Did he get it out of his system? Was the film really just a money-maker and had nothing to do with art? I don’t know. I just find it weird that it’s like nothing else he’s ever done. (To be fair, there are some hints of nastiness throughout his other films. Remember, Freddy Krueger did horrible things to children before he was a wisecracking anti-hero.)
When all is said and done, and Craven is in a wooden box in some cemetery, I wonder if the newscasts and obits will mention “The Last House on the Left”? Or will it be remembered in silence, like all of Reagan’s unfortunate deeds were at the time of his death? Will people even make the connection? Or will they simply get a vision of Freddy’s gloved hand, shudder a bit and go on their day? I know what I’ll be remembering, and those who have seen it will probably be in the same boat.
You may be able to keep from fainting by repeating to yourself that “it’s only a movie,” but that does nothing to help you forget what you’ve already seen. Good job, Craven. What happened?
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