“We don’t wanna off someone first night out. I mean, it’d be a shame to get this floor all messed up with blood.”Krug Stillo
One of the notorious “video nasties” banned in the UK for several decades, Wes Craven’s controversial debut about two teenage girls falling into the clutches of a criminal gang on the run is not high art but its intelligence and lasting influence on the horror genre is undeniable. As with most such historical controversy, a modern audience will find little of true shock value, though The Last House on the Left retains a surprising ability to unsettle. This arises in particular from Craven’s introduction of tonal dissonance through cuts between violence, the mundane, and humour, with the police search veering into slapstick. The use of music heightens this disparity with incongruous crooning over sexual violence juxtaposed with light scenes accompanied by a jaunty score (written by David Hess who plays the brutish leader Krug Stillo). It was not until The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a few years later that depiction of realistic violence was seriously debated as having cinematic merit, and Craven has cited the disparity between American news (particularly coverage of the Vietnam War) and contemporaneous American cinema as a driving force behind The Last House on the Left. The criminals are portrayed as depraved and dislikeable and we are intended to enjoy their inevitable downfall when (in the film’s greatest contrivance) they coincidentally find themselves at the house of one of their victims. Modern viewers hoping for an enjoyable exploitation flick may come away disappointed — this is too bitter and brutal — but the ugly and uncomfortable experience is still effective fifty years on.