On its anniversary, we look at the controversial horror classic “The Last House on the Left” — a polarizing but undeniably influential film.
The Last House on the Left is a cautionary tale of the abduction and torture of two teenage girls by a band of escaped convicts. All these two girls wanted was to attend a rock concert in the city. While trying to purchase some marijuana, the two are led to their death at the hands of escaped fugitives.
We’re introduced to popular suburban teen Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody) who’s celebrating her 17th birthday. Much to her parent’s dismay, Mari has plans to attend a rock concert in the city with her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham).
Mari and Phyllis spend some time in the woods, sneaking some alcohol before heading off to the concert. They talk about typical things such as wondering what it would be like to meet and hook up with the guys in the band. While in the car, a report about escaped convicts is on the radio.
We’re introduced to the band of convicts who are hiding out in a dingy apartment after their escape. They kid around as if everything is normal. Krug (David A. Hess) takes the role of leader, his son, Junior (Marc Scheffler), the only one with a conscience, Fred “The Weasel” (Fred Lincoln), and Sadie (Jermaine Rain).
While looking to buy some weed, Mari and Phyllis happen to approach Junior who leads them back to the gang. Mari and Phyllis are taken back into the country, near Mari’s house. The group tortures and eventually kills the two girls. After they kill the two girls, the group takes refuge in a nearby house. Remember that they were near Mari’s house? That’s where they end up.
Mari’s parents figure out that they killed their daughter. Her parents decide to take the law into their own hands, which leads to a very satisfying twist. It’s this twist that makes it a great film.
Last House on the Left has the gritty atmosphere that horror films had at the time had such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The Last House on the Left, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was banned in some countries.
The Last House on the Left has left its mark on horror history. There’s no doubt that the film influenced future films. Echoes of this film can be seen in Grindhouse (2007) and especially Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects (2005). You can see the influence of this film in how the homicidal Firefly family interacts with each other and with their victims.
One scene in Last House is very much like a scene in The Devil’s Rejects. Krug and his gang order Mari to hit Phyllis. In The Devil’s Rejects, The Firefly family holds a group of musicians hostage in a motel room. Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) orders one woman to hit another woman.
There’s also some irreverent comic relief in Last House that can be seen in Zombie’s films. For example, there’s a scene where the sheriff and deputy are talking about a local man who recently disappeared from town with his pig. The sheriff says that the man wants to enter the pig into a contest. The deputy recalls another time when the man disappeared shortly before his collie gave birth to a litter of puppies. This scene reminded me of Zombie’s “chicken lover” in The Devil’s Rejects.
From the beginning of the film, sympathy is created for the two victims, Phyllis and Mari.
The movie spends a little time with them having conversations that would be typical for young women to have before heading off to the city for their concert. Each talks about their fantasies regarding members of a rock band that they’re about to see perform in the city over some drinks in the woods.
It’s the sympathy created for victims, Mary and Phyllis, at the beginning that makes what happens to them even more horrifying. The horrifying ordeal the girls are put through is what makes the twist at the end so satisfying.
Opinions on The Last House on the Left are split. Some people think it’s a great horror movie while others think it’s just trashy exploitation. Sure, the acting is shoddy at points particularly in the case of Mari’s parents. However, the gang members do an impeccable job. The fact that they’re so convincing adds dimension to the horror element.
The documentary-style shooting of the film creates a “home movie” effect, which adds to the realism. Scenes of rape and torture are intercut with scenes of animatedly happy birthday cake making and bumbling cops set to lively rustic country music.
However, if you sift through these elements, the core of this film is a great revenge-horror story.
Last House doesn’t have grotesque over-the-top kills. Like its equally infamous successor, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there is very little gore. However, it’s the suggestion of violence that makes it even more disturbing.
Just like with Chainsaw, the viewer is left to fill in the blanks. The most grotesque scene is a shot of one of the killers handling one of the girl’s intestines. Her stabbing happens off-camera.
Infamous reputation aside, the film served as a starting point for two filmmakers who would go on to create and contribute to two major horror franchises. Producer Sean Cunningham served as producer and co-creator of the Friday the 13th franchise and writer and director Wes Craven, is the legendary creator of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
Love it or hate it, The Last House on the Left has carved out its niche in horror history. Without a doubt, its influences are seen in later films such as Grindhouse and The Devil’s Rejects. Controversial and influential, no discussion of horror history would be complete without discussing The Last House on the Left.
Fright Fun Facts About The Last House on the Left:
1. The film’s original titles were Night of Vengeance, Sex Crime of the Century, and Krug & Co.
2. Craven and Cunningham met while working on a film called The Art of Marriage (1970), an “adult educational film” or white coater film. Unsatisfied, the two worked on a remake, called Together.
3. Craven based the Last House screenplay on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960), described as a “revenge film.” The film takes place in medieval Sweden and tells the story of a father who gets revenge on his daughter’s rapist.
4. Last House was shot “guerilla-style,” or on location without permits.
5. Actress Jermaine Rain, who played gang member Sadie, also played Manson family member Susan Atkins in an off-Broadway play. It’s interesting to note that in real life, Manson’s nickname for Atkins was Sadie Mae Glutz or “Sexy Sadie.” According to a 2016 Mental Floss article, “14 Facts About The Last House on the Left, Rain also went on to marry actor Richard Dreyfuss. She and Dreyfuss were married from 1983-1992 and had three children.
6. Before Last House, Fred Lincoln, who played Krug gang member “Weasel,” had only acted in porn movies. According to the Mental Floss article, Lincoln regrets making the film. He thought that the film went a little too far. Mental Floss quotes Lincoln as saying, “I wish it had been banned in the United States.”
7. As far as effects are concerned, fake intestines were made from condoms filled with fake blood and sand. The rest of the bleeding was achieved with blood pouches and capsules. In a scene where Mari is ordered to piss her pants, actress Sandra Peabody did actually piss her pants.
8. Mari’s death scene was inspired by John Everett Millais’s painting Ophelia (1851/1852).