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The Last House on the Left

This is a shockingly violent and brutally honest tale of revenge which was released to divided opinion in 1972. A gang of misfits, recently escaped from prison, kidnap two suburban teenage girls and subject them to a horrific ordeal in the forest. When they finally kill their victims the gang try to hole up in a house nearby but it turns out to be owned by the parents of one of the girls they have murdered and a terrible revenge awaits them.

Many people found the film unpalatable and it was banned in the UK. Critics objected to the degrading violence and it has to be said there are scenes in the film which are still quite difficult to watch even by today's standards. This was Wes Craven's directorial debut and it was intended to shock which it accomplished with aplomb.

The victims are very na´ve and they get kidnapped when they approach a guy to see if they can score some grass from him, they are supposed to be going to a rock concert. He leads them back to the gang's hideout and the repulsive torture begins. The gang are seriously sick, almost competing with each other to see who can be crueler. They take the girls to the forest and humiliate them, rape them and eventually kill them.

In the early part of the movie there are some strange attempts at humour and the jarring comparison between gentle suburban life and the horrific underworld the girls have stumbled into is emphasised somewhat ham-fistedly with scenes of the parents enjoying suburban bliss while their daughter is raped. There are also several scenes featuring the comic antics of the bumbling cops who don't seem to have a brain cell between them.

Many of Craven's films focus on threats to sleepy suburbia, he draws in an audience with a familiar set-up and then shocks them with the threat of what might befall them. However while his later films are more abstract this is a much more direct and realistic fear for parents to hold, that their kids may run into the wrong people and never come home.

The film was made on a low budget and there are certainly elements that don't work too well. Some of the acting is distinctly suspect and the soundtrack is bizarre. Craven's skill as a director shines through though and you can see elements that were re-used in A Nightmare on Elm Street but here he challenges the audience by focusing almost gratuitously on the torture.

A slow start gives way to a fairly manic final act and the blood really starts to flow. Having built a deep resentment in the audience for these sick murderers Craven despatches them in brutal style. The effects and make-up are quite cheap but very effective nonetheless.

This may be an important film for the horror genre portraying a new sense of realism with the violence on show and not relying on a boogeyman character or monster for scares but it is undeniably rough around the edges and far from an enjoyable experience to watch.

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