31 Days of Halloween — Day 23: The Last House on the Left (1972) — by Dr. Shock

The Last House on the Left 1972

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

“Back in 2006, when I was working as a buyer for a meat-packing plant, a co-worker of mine, a middle-aged woman named Bea, asked me what was the scariest movie I’d ever seen. “The Exorcist” was my immediate response (though I also told her about my love for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and John Carpenter’s The Thing).

To keep the conversation going, I naturally posed the same question to her, and while she couldn’t remember the title of her most frightening film, I knew from her description of it (two teens are kidnapped by rapists / killers and dragged into the woods) that it was Wes Craven’s directorial debut, 1972’s The Last House on the Left (a movie that borrowed heavily from Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 classic The Virgin Spring).

Bea was a teenager, about the same age as the film’s doomed young lead, when she and a few of her friends saw it in the theater, and the experience was almost too much for her. A brutal, unflinching motion picture, The Last House on the Left undoubtedly had a similar effect on thousands of girls the world over.

Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is about to turn 17. As her parents, John (Richard Towers) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr), prepare for her upcoming party, Mari and her slightly wild friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) head to New York to attend a concert.

Once in the city, Phyllis tries to score them some grass, and approaches Junior (Marc Sheffler) on the street, asking if he knows where they can get some. Promising to hook them up, Junior leads Phyllis and Mari back to his apartment, where, instead of marijuana, they find three escaped criminals: Krug (David Hess), Sadie (Jeramie Rain), and Weasel (Fred Lincoln), who immediately take the naïve young girls as their prisoners.

The next morning, Krug and company throw their two hostages into the trunk of a car and head out into the country, where, quite ironically, they break down on the very road where Mari and her parents live.

Once the gang has “finished” with Phyllis and Mari, they head to the nearest house, which happens to belong to the Collingwoods! Though worried that their daughter hasn’t returned home yet (they even reported her as missing to the local sheriff), John and Estelle invite Krug and the others to stay over for the night. But it isn’t long before the distraught parents discover the truth, leading to a showdown that’s sure to end in more bloodshed.

“Certainly the deepest horror,” Wes Craven once said, “is what happens to your body at your own hands and others’.” And what happens to Mari and Phyllis in The Last House on the Left at the hands of Krug and his cronies is about as horrific as it gets.

Once the actions shifts to the woods near Mari’s house, the two girls are humiliated beyond belief (aside from being forced to have sex with one another, Phyllis is ordered to urinate in her own pants), then tortured, and much worse. What makes it even more chilling is that Craven allows his camera to linger, focusing quite intently on these disturbing events (he doesn’t show us everything, thankfully, but we definitely see enough).

Even though I’ve seen the movie several times now, it never gets any easier to watch. In fact, its middle sequence always has the same effect on me: By the time the evil Krug (Hess is absolutely terrifying in the role) and his cohorts have finished with Mari and Phyllis, I’m shocked, disgusted and mentally drained.

I do have some issues with The Last House on the Left, primarily the characters of the bumbling sheriff (Marshall Anker) and his deputy (Martin Kove), whose scenes would be more at home in a Laurel and Hardy comedy short than in a horror film (while on their way to investigate the abandoned car in front of the Collingwoods’, their own vehicle breaks down, forcing them to hitch a ride with a passing chicken farmer).

I realize Craven was trying to lighten the mood with some comedy, but to throw these antics in after what is easily the film’s most alarming scene was a mistake (I’m fairly certain nobody was in a laughing mood at that point).

That said, The Last House on the Left has definitely left its mark on the genre, and as tough as it is to sit through, horror fans should make it a point to do so at least once.”

—Dr. Shock

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Dr. Shock also appears on this horror podcast: Land of the Creeps

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6 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 23: The Last House on the Left (1972) — by Dr. Shock

  1. 31 Days of Halloween day 22

    48. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (***) – Klaus Kinski does not have a purdy mouth.
    49. Howl (****) – Howling style werewolves with a siege narrative. Jay and Josh should fight over who gets to watch it first.
    50. The Final Girls (****) – Great casting makes for effective death scenes. I really hope that one girls audition scene was the adderall strip tease.
    51. Devil (by Zulawski) (***) – Hitchcock was a master at manipulating his actresses. Almodovar perfected the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But nobody gets women to act as crazy as Andrzej Zulawski.

    • “50. The Final Girls (****) – Great casting makes for effective death scenes. I really hope that one girls audition scene was the adderall strip tease.”

      If it wasn’t part of the casting process and the filmmakers had no idea how amazing she’d be at it, then that’s some tremendous luck they stumbled onto.

  2. (Contains some spoilers)

    Day 23 – Jack Frost 2 (2000)

    This review is sponsored by Asahi beer, if you’re being chased by a killer snowman, be sure to grab yourself a frosty Asahi beer! Apparently, the original Jack Frost made enough money that Cooney managed to get the funding for a sequel. The Michael Keaton film may have made more money and is far more well known than the horror Jack Frost, but you didn’t see Keaton in Jack Frost 2. Suck it, Batman! I’ve had a lot more experience with Jack Frost 2 than I did with the original due to the fact that one of the death scenes in JF 2 was featured in the 2001 DVD of Boogeymen: The Killer Compilation. In fact, Boogeyman was the very first DVD I ever owned.

    Anyways, Jack Frost 2 is more of the same from the first film. It’s a stupid horror comedy that was made for pennies and doesn’t try too hard to be considered a good movie. The acting is about as well performed as late night Cinemax movies, the basic plot is flat out ridiculous, and the CGI is some of the worst you can find in even a cheap movie. With that being said, you know what you’re getting into when you hit the play button or God forbid, put the DVD in your Blu-Ray player. It’s always refreshing when you have a movie that is comfortable with being a guilty pleasure rather than take itself far too serious.

    There are some positives to the movie though. The kills are far better in this film than the original. You got to see more of the deaths rather than the camera cutting away before contact. There’s also a ton of gore, both practical blood and terrible CGI. You have to hand it to the filmmakers for having plenty of creative kills. One of the most creative is also the simplest and tamest. You have a naked girl swimming in a pool, so Jack Frost freezes the pool so that a layer of ice prevented her from popping out of the water and getting. It’s zero blood and Frost doesn’t actually come into contact with his victim, but it’s an unique kill. The rest of the kills are all bloody with plenty of impalings and even one wacky death where Jack Frost transforms into an anvil and drops on his victim, smashing her like a bug. Heh.

    There’s some nice progression from the original movie. After his first dealings with Jack Frost, Sam Tiler isn’t back to his usual pre-Jack Frost self. He’s paranoid of Jack Frost coming back to the extent that it’s put a strain on his marriage. Once Sam gets vindication that Jack Frost is back, he comes prepared with a safety pack and even a vial of antifreeze that he’s worn around his neck for the last year. There’s a lot of slasher sequels where the survivors aren’t shown personality changes from their near death experiences, but Sam is a rare treat that manages to change due to a life altering event. I appreciate the effort.

    For these crappy horror movies that are supposed to be so bad that they’re fun, I’ve found that they can’t be as long as normal movies. An hour and a half is far too long when you have one basic joke of the killer being a mutant snowman. I got to the point where I had my fun and I was ready for the movie to be ready, but when I hit pause to see how much time was left, I saw I was only halfway done with the movie. It’s kind of painful. What’s odd is that there’s a thirty minute period where it feels as if you’re watching a different movie. Jack Frost leaves the picture and the threat becomes about his snowball babies. The mutant, killer snowball babies should have been the plot for Jack Frost 3, not be added onto Jack Frost 2 to add to the time length. The main protagonist even shifts from Sam to his wife, Anne, as she goes all commando while Sam is wigging out in the corner, being completely useless. Why is there such a change of plot in the middle of the movie?

    Overall, you should know ahead of time if Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman is the kind of movie that is geared towards you or not. If you enjoy cheesy horror movies like Leprechaun, The Gingerdead Man, or Troll 2, maybe give Jack Frost 2 a chance. It’s available for free if you have Amazon Prime. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, I suggest picking up the DVD for cheap. There’s even a triple feature DVD with the fun 1995 cult classic, Ice Cream Man, for just $5. The first half was far stronger than the second half, but the whole thing slightly exceeded my super low expectations.

    I’d give it a 4 with the idea that some people would love it for it’s cheesiness and others will loathe it. Very low rental with a suggestion of watching it with some friends or at least while drunk on Asahi beer.

  3. The Last House on the Left was one of those movies that took my innocence away. After watching it the first time I never thought about the goofy cops. I think I was just too disturbed to take them in. Upon subsequent watchings, they are pretty out of place.

  4. Day 23: Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
    I saw this movie on opening night just to piss of JOTD. No, actually, I had a friend who played a witch in the movie so I went with her but all of her scenes were cut. :( I really enjoyed this movie. I saw it in 3D and thought it was effective without pandering to the format. This film caps off the series thus far. I always enjoy watching the paranormal films but when they’re over I have this feeling that I wanted more out of the movie. It was opening weekend and the audience was having a blast.

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