Tag Archives: genre

The Last House on the Left (1972) – Review

22 Jul

In terms of horror, there are many different iconic film makers that shaped what the genre is truly meant to be, but I think we can all agree that Wes Craven is the guy. This isn’t the first time I’ve covered Craven’s films on here so this should come as no surprise that I look up to him as a writer and as a director. Even the greatest of film makers have to start somewhere, and for Wes Craven is was in 1972 with his now infamous film The Last House on the Left. In terms of coming out of the starting gate, I don’t think Mr. Craven would have wanted it any other way.

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Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is a typical upper-middle class teenage girl who is celebrating her seventeenth birthday by going to a rock concert with her friend Phillis (Lucy Grantham). The two girls seem completely carefree despite the warnings of Mari’s parents (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr) and start the night with some drinking and a search for some weed. Their attempts are stopped when they are kidnapped by a group of escaped convicts led by the sadistic Krug (David A. Hess). The two girls then endure a period of rape, torture, and murder with the convicts thinking this is one last ride before they make their escape. What they didn’t count on was the vengeful spirit of Mari’s parents which leads to more bloodshed than the criminals could have believed.

Interestingly enough, Wes Craven was inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film from 1960 called The Virgin Spring, which has a story quite similar to this one. Bergman’s film was highly controversial and banned in certain places. Well if that happened to Bergman, it sure as hell happened to Craven. When The Last House on the Left was released in 1972 it was met with MAJOR controversy. According to Craven, people were vomiting, passing out, and leaving during screenings. He was also forced to cut a lot of scenes, but was still threatened with an X rating until it was finally slapped with an R just because he knew someone on the rating board. Even today, the BBFC has trouble censoring and releasing it and it was made over forty years ago!

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It really says something when a jaded 21st century movie buff like me actually gets uncomfortable watching something, let alone something that was made way before I even existed. That’s the case with The Last House on the Left. The odd thing is that I can sit through something like Hostel or Saw and not really get uncomfortable because both of those examples really feels like a produced movie with production values that make it look nice and pretty. This was not the case for Craven’s debut. Everything from the actors to the production design is dirt cheap. The look can kind of be compared to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in how it almost has a documentary feel to it. I felt like I was watching these atrocities happen which made the entire experience all the more uncomfortable and sickening. But hey! This is a horror movie. That’s the whole point!

There are some really, and I mean really, stupid things that happen in this movie and the all revolve around two completely inept police officers. This is really the only shitty part about the movie. In one scene, I’ll be completely horrified by the violence and then the next scene I’ll be watching these two Keystone cops flopping all over the place and making themselves look like idiots. I’m all for comedic relief, and they provide some good stuff earlier on in the movie, but they become completely useless as the movie progresses.

Wes Craven really created something unbelievable with The Last House on the Left, a movie that still pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable film making and even helped coin the British term “video nasty.” While it is a story about murder and revenge, it also gives us a look at the violence that even the most ordinary people keep deep down in their subconscious until it is forced back into their lives. This isn’t a perfect film, but it is a fine and disturbing example of modern day horror that was a game changer when it was released and a cornerstone to the genre today.

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The Wild Bunch – Review

13 Feb

“Bloody” Sam is a nickname that I envy and Sam Peckinpah rightly deserves it. This controversial, but infinitely important American director is responsible for helping mold the film medium into what it is today and inspire famous film makers like Quentin Tarantino. A lot of Peckinpah’s work, even though he is long dead, can be seen in the technique of film makers now. Let’s look at what many call his masterpiece. The time period is around the Vietnam War and the Western genre is slowly dying. Peckinpah had the perfect way to close off the genre with his almost anti-Western (in the traditional sense), The Wild Bunch.

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In 1913, the wild West is beginning to be more modernized and civilized. For aging outlaw Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his gang, this is a sign for retirement. Before he can call it quits, Pike needs to find that last score that will guarantee his riches for the rest of his life. Along with his best friend Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) and the rest of the gang, Pike makes his way to Mexico where they encounter General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), a sadistic general who has his claws in small villages. Pike is hired by Mapache to rob an American military train of its weapons cargo and in return will pay the gang $10,000. The robbery goes just fine, but Pike’s worries are just beginning which will end in an inevitable bloodbath.

If you think about the time that Peckinpah made The Wild Bunch, it may seem kind of clear as to why he took such a violent approach. The year was 1969, and Bonnie and Clyde shocked audiences with its depiction of graphic violence, but what’s even more significant is that this was made during the heat of the Vietnam War. War violence was shown in the households of American families by the news media, and this made Peckinpah amongst other people feel very nihilistic. To show the desensitization to violence that Peckinpah feared was happening to Americans, he decided to make The Wild Bunch as violent and graphic as he could possibly make it. Unfortunately for him, audiences ate it up instead of being shocked by it.

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Another inspiration for “Bloody” Sam was to make The Wild Bunch sort of an anti-Western. Before this movie, Westerns were relatively bloodless and even had the outlaw characters portrayed as heroes. Just look at John Wayne’s character in Stagecoach. In this film, the characters are all flawed or downright awful. The outlaws aren’t meant to be heroes, nor are they meant to be villains. They are whoever you want them to be. As for the blood, there is plenty of it. Just enough to match the amount of bullets being fired. Here’s a fun fact. More blank rounds were fired for this movie than were actually fired during the Mexican Revolution. That says something, I’d say.

In my opinion, the set design is also an improvement over the average American Western. The dirt and the grime all have a more realistic feel to it, and not like it was done specifically for the movie. It all looks appropriate for where the character’s are. This is also a testament to what Same Peckinpah was trying to do. He wanted to create a realistic Western to end the genre of what he thought to be unrealistic representations of the old West. Now, I wasn’t alive then, but I can imagine that this movie may have come pretty close.

The Wild Bunch is said to be the last of the great Westerns, and in the movie, it shows the last of the wild life that outlaws lived. With ties to the Vietnam War and Peckinpah’s own views of what the genre should be, this is truly and American masterpiece. I may stir up some controversy with this, but forget John Ford and forget John Wayne. If you want an exciting and brutally violent Western that will really leave you speechless, look no further than The Wild Bunch.