Fifty years ago, horror history was made as an integral part of the genre came to fruition. The Last House On The Left would see the creative combination of Wes Craven as Director for his first feature length film, and Sean Cunningham as producer. Cunningham would of course go on to spearhead Friday the 13th and Craven would herald notable works such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream series to name but a few. Amongst the crew would be another essential creative, serving as production assistant and an uncredited cameo to boot.
It is not just about the crew, all of whom were on the cusp of greatness, but the steps taken to produce a gritty and hard hitting tale of revenge.
TLHOTL was born out of the basis of The Virgin Spring by Ingmar Bergman, and a response to how the bloody realism that Western movies were being depicted by at the time. Craven seeking to distil the glamour attached to such violence and to provide a much more realistic depiction would strike a chord in the popular mainstream. The fact that the vengeance is carried out by the parents would also flip the switch on everyday Americans pushed to the limit of despair, and take on justice of their own proceedings; much like Craven would review again in his follow up feature, The Hills Have Eyes.
Where most movies would look to have the next generation or youths providing the answer to lifes’ torment and with it the hope for humanity, here would see them as either the threat or the victim. It is the parents who take on the role of judgement and through their misguided understanding of their children, seek retribution.
Pivotal to the graphic nature depicted on screen is the portrayal of the antagonists, Krug Stillo (David Hess, who would also provide the soundtrack to the film); Fred Podowski (Fred Lincoln); Sadie (Jeramie Rain); and Junior (Marc Sheffler), who all sink their teeth into their respective roles and ground the violence and despair with disturbing realism. This is further strengthened by the innocent carefree Mari (Sandra Peabody) who falls headlong into a world which she has no control over, and has everything ripped away from her. It should also be noted that some scenes were questionably pushed beyond the limits of decency; a sign of creative freedom at the risk of the players involved. Furthermore, keen observers will recognise familiarity in the lead protagonist Krug’s name, extended to Kruger to take on an alternative threat in the realms of horror in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Its initial release would spark protests due to its content, but the film would gain business at the Drive-In theatres alongside the double billing of Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve. Plus a decent hook tagline of “Repeat. It’s only a movie… It’s only a movie” to draw punters in.
Looking back at it now, TLHOTL has its obvious flaws, namely through some of the performances and the comical tones from the flappable police force. One of whom cinephiles will notice is Martin Kove who would go on to play sensei John Kreese from The Karate Kid franchise. What it does hold is the brutality and uncomfortable scenes that make you shift and squirm in your seat. These moments still are difficult to view even with a modern lens, and this is why it stands strong half a century later.
- Saul Muerte