‘The Last House on the Left’ – Wes Craven begins on free on Hoopla

The Last House on the Left (1972), the feature debut of A Nightmare on Elm Street director and Scream weaver Wes Craven, is primitive little production that rises above its cut rate production values and hazy, grainy patina with a grimly affecting portrait of human evil infiltrating a middle class household.

Craven draws his material from an unexpected source—the story is adapted from Ingmar Bergman’s grim Medieval revenge drama The Virgin Spring (1960)—but the film has more in common with Sam Peckinpah’s grueling 1971 thriller Straw Dogs as it charts the descent of a gentle married couple into methodical killers.

A quartet of criminals, a distorted version of the nuclear family, kidnap a pair of teenage girls and proceed to ravage, rape, torture, and finally brutally murder them in the woods, unwittingly within walking distance of their rural home. They take refuge in the girl’s own home, but when the parents (Richard Towers and Cynthia Carr) discover just who they are and what they’ve done they plot a violent retribution.

Along with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Craven helped redefine American horror with his debut: three blasts of modern society crumbling into madness and horror. But unlike his fellow directors, Craven gives his film an uncomfortable verisimilitude, setting it squarely in the heartland of modern America. While it’s at times awkward and inconsistent, with distracting comic interludes, his handling of the brutal horror scenes is unsettling and the death of the daughter is an unexpectedly quiet and beautifully lyrical moment.

Craven was an English teacher with a passion for cinema (thus the Bergman inspiration?), and had bumped around doing editing and post-production jobs until producer Sean Cunningham came to him with money and a deadline to make a horror film for a theater chain. This was Craven’s answer, a grueling and gripping thriller produced on a tiny budget.

The limitations add to the experience, from the grainy photography to the tawdry, claustrophobic house of the parents: middle class comfort gone meaningless. The primitive look of the film only enhances the powerful moments of grace and sensitivity. It’s a quite the calling card and Craven made good on the promise: one of America’s most influential horror filmmakers had arrived.

Sandra Peabody and Lucy Grantham play the two teenage girls and David Hess, Fred J. Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, and Marc Sheffler are the brutal escaped convicts.

Rated R

Streams free for a limited time on Hoopla, which is available through most public and college library systems.
The Last House on the Left (Arrow Video) [Blu-ray]
The Last House on the Left (Unrated Collector’s Edition) [Blu-ray]
The Last House on the Left [DVD]

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.

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Available on excellent Blu-ray and DVD editions with filmmaker commentary and other supplements. The Arrow Video special edition includes features two archival commentary tracks (one by writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean Cunningham, the other by actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln) and a new track by Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes, the solid 40-minute documentary “Celluloid Crime Of The Century,” the featurettes ” Still Standing: The Legacy Of Last House On The Left” and “Scoring Last House” and “It’s Only a Movie: The Making of The Last House on the Left,” new interviews and featurettes, and a deleted scene.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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