Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Last House on the Left

   I'd known about this movie for a long while based on reputation alone. It's one of those 'extreme' movies. Well, I dunno what else besides just that made me want to watch it, maybe it was the passing of Wes Craven- (which also had me watching A Nightmare on Elm St. the same night I found out) or something else, I don't know, but I watched it. I think I'm a good deal desensitized to violence, but this movie got under my skin at times. That's saying a lot too.

  I think it's because of how deceptively bouncy the movie is at times. Scenes of horrific brutality are juxtaposed with happy lighthearted music and intercut with scenes of good ol' fashioned Americana. A husband and wife prepare a birthday party for their 17 year old daughter while her and her friend are being terrorized by vicious criminals in the woods. It's jarring and sad. For some reason that juxtaposition made the violence have that much more impact. The movie continually reminded us that this girl has a family who is actively worried about her, who loves her, and who is going to be absolutely devastated when they find out what's happened.

  Many horror movies are content to leave that kind of emotion out of the mix. A rather faceless and lumbering killer racks up a body count while the audience's only job is to be shocked at the blood and the killing. The emotional consequences of the killer's actions are very rarely ever called into consideration. Movies like that have their time and place, but The Last House on the Left by concept alone was already apart from them in big ways. It's a movie rather intimately concerned with the emotional aftermath of the kind of slasher-movie rampage that your average silver screen killer would go on.

  Although the killers in this movie are anything but, their violence is as psychologically damaging as it is physically. It's dehumanizing and severely uncomfortable to watch. The movie then puts the killers in the hands of the girl's parents. This was an interesting move to me because the tension is no longer derived from violence perpetrated by the killers. In effect, we know now that the hunters are now the hunted. The dynamic shifts as the parents immediately agree to exact revenge on them with hardly so much as a "What do we do?" once they realize who the people are.

  Straight-laced, anti-violence, and wholly Christian folks become cold blooded killers almost instantly. Revenge isn't even much of a question so much as it is a moral imperative at this point. In a lesser movie, the killers would've retained their status as the hunters in the movie, and the parents would've simply been the third act prey. But the tables were turned, and the movie became something morbidly fascinating. The characters are little more than archetypes, but they don't need to me. These are teenage girls, they could be any teenage girls. And they're someone's daughters. That is the point of the characters in my opinion.

  Also, I realize that despite a healthy following among film buffs, you'll never hear a casual moviegoer speak of this movie alongside a movie like A Nightmare on Elm St. or Halloween. I think the movie probably hasn't gained as much of a mainstream appreciation because it's not easy to commercialize. There's no gimmick, nothing to put on a t-shirt. There's no iconic looking super-slasher like Freddy or Jason. I think that's what makes the movie feel more real, and all that much scarier. It hits home. The killers are just deranged people. They don't have a fancy backstory, or any sort of flashy masks. They just... torture, rape, and kill. What's worse is they clearly have a blast doing it too.

   I was fully prepared for The Last House on the Left to buckle under it's own reputation as so many other classic horror movies have for me. Yet... it didn't. Instead it genuinely surprised me. I will admit it took a little bit for me to get into it, but once I was... it was a seriously tense and nerve wracking experience. For all it's grindhouse-y violence, it's a surprising darkly clever and thought provoking movie. But of course, how could I expect any less from the great Wes Craven. He's already sorely missed. Rest in peace, Wes.

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