With titles like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and The Hills Have Eyes, the late Wes Craven was known for creating some of the best horror movies of all time. But it was the legendary director’s debut film in 1973, The Last House on the Left, that changed the landscape of horror movies forever. And out of all of the horror flicks that Craven created, it also remains his most brutal film. And it’s not only his most vicious picture, but it is considered one of the most shocking movies of all time.
Horror Movies Before The ’70s
Horror films of the ’50s were primarily monster movies. Titles like Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Blob, Tarantula, and It Came from Outer Space had cinemas packed with teenagers and young adults. And though his career started in the late ’30s, with movies like The House of Wax, The House on Haunted Hill, and The Fly, Vincent Price cemented his legacy of horror in the ’50s. The aforementioned films are creative, fun, and sometimes creepy, but they are not often described as being scary (especially by today’s standards). But the ’60s, specifically Alfred Hitchcock, would change that.
When it comes to horror movies actually becoming scary, the ’60s was certainly an improvement from the previous decade. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock released his horror masterpiece Psycho, which pushed the boundaries of the genre like nothing Hollywood had ever seen before. Peeping Tom, The Haunting, Night of the Living Dead, Repulsion, and Rosemary’s Baby were other standout horror hits from the Decade of Discontent. But many feel that it wasn’t until the ’70s, and primarily because of Wes Craven, that horror truly became terrifying.
Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left
The first couple of years from the Decade of Disco provided much of the same movies for horror fans. And though films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The House that Dripped Blood, and Scars of Dracula were entertaining to many, they felt like more of the same and a hangover of horror from decades before. But when Wes Craven entered the scene in 1972, the genre would never be the same again.
“To keep from fainting keep repeating, it’s only a movie…only a movie…only a movie…”
That famous tagline set the stage of one of the most unsettling horror movies of all time, The Last House on the Left. The film is about two teenage girls who are brutally raped, tortured, and murdered by a group of thugs. The next day the attackers have car troubles and they knock on the door of a nearby house to seek help. Unfortunately for the gang, the house they went to is coincidentally the parents of one of the victims.
Aside from a pair of bumbling cops (who are only in a few scenes), this movie felt very real. At the time of its release, many people thought there was a conspiracy and that this was actually a snuff film. Unlike horror movies from years before, the blood (which was a mixture of caramel syrup with red and blue food coloring) in The Last House on the Left looked real. And at that point, the violence was the most realistic brutality ever portrayed on film.
The Last House on the Left was banned in several countries, and it took over three decades for it to finally become legal in the U.K. in 2004. But it wasn’t just the audience that was terrified of the film; many cast members were as well. Mental Floss describes how the lead actress was scared witless while making one of the most controversial horror movies of all time.
“The film was an uncomfortable and exploitative situation for the 23-year-old actress [Sandra Cassell] anyway, but it was made worse when the actors who played her attackers stayed in character as cackling psychopaths throughout the shoot. ‘She was scared to death of us this entire movie,’ Lincoln said [Fred Lincoln portrayed one of the thugs]. ‘We put her through hell,’ said Craven. Today, when actors from the film are interviewed about it, Cassell is usually conspicuously absent.”
Fred Lincoln, who also starred in the adult film industry, has said many times that he regretted starring in the film, that it went too far, and that he wished it was banned in the U.S. It initially got an X-rating, but because Craven had a friend on the film board of the MPAA and it was released with an R-rating. David Hess played the lead villain, Krug (similar name of Wes Craven’s horror baddie Freddy Krueger who also killed teenagers), and after the film was released people would steer away from him and become nervous around him.
Though it is highly praised today, most critics panned the film upon its initial release. Roger Ebert received a lot of flak for giving the film high marks, and the legendary film critic described why it is one of best horror movies of that era.
“Last House on the Left is a tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie that’s about four times as good as you’d expect…There’s no posturing. There’s a good ear for dialogue and nuance. And there is evil in this movie. Not bloody escapism, or a thrill a minute, but a fully developed sense of the vicious natures of the killers. There is no glory in this violence.”
The Last House on the Left tormented cast members and audiences alike. And to see how it changed the landscape of horror movies, not only with content but with what was now allowed on-screen, one just has to look at the horror films that followed in its wake: The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Suspiria, Carrie, and countless more.
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Wes Craven’s controversial film remains one of the best horror movies of all time, and it changed the genre forever.
[Featured Image by Hallmark Releasing]