It was with some hesitation that I put the disk in my Blu-ray player as I sat down to watch Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left.
I was not sure how prepared I was for the Master of Horror’s directorial debut, and was acutely aware of the controversy surrounding the 1972 film. My expectation was to spend the evening peering between my fingers as ketchup covered the screen and shrieks pumped out of my speakers – but I was pleasantly surprised.
Admittedly I had misjudged the movie, and its director. The Master of Horror is a movie director, a fact I had forgotten when considering this feature racked with torture, exploitation, and humiliation. The film is a lot more than simply an onslaught of gore and violence; it’s a film, with its fair share of quality plot and comical lines. A personal favourite of mine is an early conversation between the villainous leader Krug’s girlfriend Sadie and his heroin-addict son, Junior. Sadie’s in the bathtub, rollers in hair, and Junior brings her a beer at her request. He does a hilarious impression of a frog, sitting on a lily pad and ribbiting happily away with no one to bother him. His innocence is stark against the backdrop of villainous characters he’s associating with. I couldn’t help but question how old this character was – sixteen? Seventeen? The same age as Mari, the victim at the centre of the movie’s violence? If he had had another life, could he have been in her class at school? Could he have been her friend, or her boyfriend, whisking her away to a drive-in movie on a Friday night and worrying about football scholarships?
Instead, Junior’s childhood and growth into adulthood was robbed from him by his father deliberately hooking him on heroin in order to control him with fixes. Krug’s cruelty knows no end. Junior still maintains a childlike innocence, croaking like a frog and being the only one to protest the treatment of the girls. He finds himself alone guarding Mari as she tries to persuade him to let her go, or to run with her back to her house. Mari desperately tries to plead with Junior, giving him the new name of Willow ‘because you’re kind of beautiful and you shake when the wind blows.’ She even gives him the CND-logo necklace her parents had given her as a birthday present the previous morning, saying ‘I want to be your friend,’ as she does. It’s likely that no one had ever said that to Junior before.
This scene would be desperately heartbreaking if it weren’t for the soundtrack. While I was under no illusions about the inevitability of the girl’s demise as the film progressed, I found I wasn’t scared at all, a very unusual experience for me when watching a horror movie. I have to put it all down to soundtrack; the chilling strings and frightening crescendos were nowhere to be found. Last House has a notably upbeat and cheerful soundtrack which tells the viewer not to take the whole thing too seriously, rather like the hopeless police officers on Mari’s case. And on Arrow’s Limited Edition Blu-ray release, the original motion picture soundtrack is celebrated as a CD.
Last House on the Left was graded and restored here at R3store Studios for Arrow Video.
By Jenny Collins.