Tagged: 1970’s

The Last House on the Left

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Video Nasty #6 of 72

Year of Release: 1972
Directed by: Wes Craven
Run Time: 84 minutes (Edited down from an original 91)
Budget: $87,000
Alternate Titles:  Had working titles of Krug & Company, Night of Vengeance, and Sex Crime of the Century.  Also briefly saw release in US theaters as Grim Company
UK Censorship Status: Refused a video certificate and passed with 31 secs cut in 2002. Released uncut on 17 March 2008

Of all the trash on the Video Nasties list, three titles in particular stand out for the controversy they caused when they were first released, which was so great that it led to these films still being talked about today, regardless of their quality or even watchability. We’ll get to the other two in due time, but the first one to rise above the general stew of pond scum and sort of enter the mainstream (partially via a mediocre remake in 2009)  just so happens to be the directorial debut of famous horror director Wes Craven, as well as an early film for producer Sean S. Cunningham!
Now Craven and I have a kind of rocky relationship.  When the man is good (The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) he’s damn good.  But when he’s bad (Swamp Thing, The Hills Have Eyes Part II, Cursed) the results usually end up being pretty yawn inducing.  The man’s strengths really lie in knowing what buttons to push at the right times, jump starting horror related phenomenons once or twice a  decade and then riding the wave of popularity and money to produce mediocrity until he can find the next big thing.  (Although this strategy seems to have failed him recently because who the fuck really knows where the horror genre has been headed since about 1999).
This plan of action really started here.  The impetuous for the creation of Last House on the Left was  a desire to produce something so shocking and out there that people would to have to pay attention to it. It would rise above the grindhouse murk simply by being nastier than anything that was out at the time.  Originally conceived as a pornographic rape revenge fantasy full of hardcore sex and graphic violence, an idea that was actually agreed upon by the cast many of which came from the world of  porn, both Craven and Cunningham quickly chickened out and toned the script down considerably.  Well, probably not chickened out so much as came to their damn senses. The world wasn’t really wasn’t ready for graphic  full on rape scenes depicted onscreen at the time (I Spit on Your Grave was still five years away) and who knows what would have happened if they had made their film as is.  As it stood Last House was just the right amount of nasty to create a massive amount of controversy while still raking in the ticket sales to the tune of over 3 million dollars.  Not bad for what’s basically a low-budget rip off of Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring

We begin our film, after a bit of an odd introduction by a friendly postman who also seems like a bit of a dirty old man, by joining one of our main protagonists in a shower (of course).  Mari Collingwood is getting ready for a night on the town with her best friend Phyllis. Phyllis is obviously a kind of bad influence that comes from a less stable home than Mari (the two are shown sharing a bottle of something of Phyllis’s that probably ain’t Pepsi and talking about S-E-X).  Even though Mari’s parents have grave doubts about her friend as well as the concert they’re going to, they let her go because she’s a big girl and there’s not much they can really do about it.
Then we are introduced to our friendly neighborhood scumbags.  We have the leader, Krug (Alexander Hess, one of the few actors in this to have something of a career afterwards) and his dorky wimp of a son Junior. Junior is the only one of these scuzballs that you’ll feel bad for by the way. He might be yellow as a pee stained lemon but his dad did get him hooked on heroin she could control him!  Joining this duo is switch blade wielding Weasel (played by pornographic mainstay Fred Lincoln in his only mainstream role) and his girl, the sadistic Sadie (Jeramie Rain, who would later marry and divorce Richard Dreyfuss).
One thing that makes this movie really work is that before the awful really happens, we get to know both families on equal footing. It’s not just some random psychos that come out of nowhere, we get to learn their dynamics and pecking order pretty well. Probably even better than we do Mari’s family, who actually kind of get short shrift!
They also tend to be more interesting characters as well, as Mari and Phyllis are presented as pretty typical teenagers, which was kind of the point, I think. It was supposed to give you a “this could happen to anybody” vibe.  Or maybe Craven didn’t quite know how to write for typical teenage girls, I don’t know.
The girls end up cruising for weed after the concert and stumble onto the group’s hideout where they’re crashing after escaping from jail. (The news report the girls listen to takes special care to mention that Sadie kicked a dog to death during the breakout!)  Before you can say “drugs are bad” the girls are locked in the trunk of the group’s car and taken out to the woods to be mentally and physically abused by everyone except Junior, who really just wants his next fix.
This is, of course, where the movie first starts to earn its notoriety.  Shits hard to watch, man.  This is a kind of horrific that hadn’t been seen in (American) cinema’s yet.  This wasn’t Frankenstein’s monster menacing villagers or Dracula seducing young virgins, this was something very close to reality.  This is awful shit that really happens and now it was shoved right in the face of anyone that dared to buy a ticket.  It was a remarkably daring thing to do, and it ushered in a new era in horror film making, for better or worse.

The first half of the movie is basically a grim exercise in how far you could go on film before both girls are finally murdered and the scumbags head off to find a place to spend the night at what, irony of ironies, turns out to be Mari’s parent’s house.  This starts the second half, which almost feels like a totally different film.  Now instead of a nasty rape/torture film, we get an action packed home invasion movie with Mari’s parents taking out each bad guy one by one, ending with what’s possibly the first use of a chainsaw as a weapon in a horror movie!  Man, this film is full of firsts, isn’t it?  We also get the death of poor Junior, who always did what his dad told him, even to the bitter end…

Last House on the Left is a grimy and uncomfortable film, but it’s really not half as bad as its reputation makes it out to be. For one, the horror of the girl’s situation is undermined by a couple of comic relief cops that feel like they’ve been dropped in from a Dukes of Hazzard type TV show!  I’m not quite sure what the rather lengthy scenes featuring these characters is supposed to serve but they get almost as much screen time as anybody else! There’s a scene in the middle where they’re trying to hitch a ride on a chicken truck that feels like it goes on forever (although it’s notable because their incompetence gets the girls murdered!)
There’s also the matter of the rather inappropriate soundtrack, featuring some soothing acoustic guitar during a rape scene and a goofy country song (performed by the guy that plays Krug!) that plays when the bad guys are heading off to do nasty things to two innocent girls!   I get that it might be to contrast things by playing inappropriate music during heavy scenes but Craven wasn’t a good enough filmmaker yet to pull this off, and it just ends up being weird.
Still, even with its flaws Last House ends up being quite a nasty little film and a good representation of where America was at the time. This wasn’t the optimistic hopeful hippy filled world of the 1960’s, this was the 70’s and things had changed dramatically. Kennedy was dead and villages were being burned in Vietnam, a war that seemed like it was never going to end. Two years before, four college kid were murdered by National Guardsmen at Kent State University.  The ugliness onscreen mirrored the ugliness of the real world, which might be why the film struck such a nerve. We were staring our own brutality right in its ugly face.

Watch the trailer here

Random Things

  • The kid that gets his balloon popped by Krug is Wes Craven’s own son Johnathan.
  • It’s been awhile since I’ve watched Virgin Spring (Quite a few years since my obsession with Bergman) but I can still remember the rape scene in that movie like I saw it yesterday, it’s that disturbing. The major rape scene in Last House is almost a carbon copy of that one!
  • The film’s tagline has also strangely endured. “Just keep telling yourself, “It’s only a movie! It’s only a movie!'” was taken and used for quite a few films over the years and still gets parodied every so often.
  • I hope my write up did this film justice. You could publish a whole book about the making and marketing of this thing as well as the controversy its stirred up since its release.  In fact, people have!
  • It’s interesting to compare this to Bay of Blood, which has more death but the killings happen quickly to characters that are unpleasant anyways.  Last House lingers on the lengthy demise of two people that really didn’t deserve it, and is much harder to watch, even if the Craven was no Bava (and he never would be).

Next Time: The Man from Deep River

Stanley (1972)

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Gorehouse Greats #7

Tim Ochopee is a Seminole Indian and a recently returned Vietnam veteran that lives all alone in a Florida swamp.  All alone, that is, except for his hoard of dangerous snakes that he can somehow control and keep from biting him.   He uses these snakes to get revenge on the people that have wronged him. These people include a local sleazeball (Alex Rocco, who’s been in everything from The Godfather to The A-Team) who wants to turn every snake in The Everglades into belts, his group of dumbass henchmen, a burlesque stripper well past her prime, and her scummy husband/manager (played by somebody named ‘Butterball’ Smith!).  Why yes, this is an eco horror movie from the 1970’s, how did you guess? And a low low low budget eco horror movie from the 1970’s at that. If that plot synopsis didn’t give you a clue, the awful acoustic folk music that plays over the opening credits should give you another hint.  That and the unfortunate fashion choices on display…

Let me get this out of the way right now: I dislike this movie. A lot.  I’ve read reviews that call it cheesy fun, and yeah, I can kind of  see it. It’s directed by William Grefe who is probably best known for 1965’s Sting of Death, possibly the only killer jellyfish movie ever made. Grefe is a terrible director but when he’s not being excruciatingly boring, his movies can be fun sources of unintentional comedy. But stuff like Wild Rebels and Death Curse of Tartu don’t include any actual animal cruelty like Stanley does. I hate seeing animals killed on screen.  There’s just no goddamn excuse for it.  Even in a movie like Cannibal Holocaust, which I actually think has some merit to it, I can’t condone it. With a worthless piece of shit like Stanley, it’s somehow even worse.  At least Cannibal Holocaust isn’t hypocritical enough to shoehorn in messages about preserving the earth and being nice to animals and then show a whole family of rattlesnakes being bludgeoned to death with the butt end of a rifle.  Jesus Christ.
Even without the pointless reptile slaughter, Stanley is an ugly film, ugly in a way that only a low budget production from the 1970’s can be. If you ran your hand across the actual film print, you’d find it covered in a thick layer of dirt and hair grease.  Even the bad performances and questionable stylistic choices that the movie presents over and over again can’t make up for the fact that the whole thing is just depressing to look at.
I honestly didn’t find anything fun or entertaining here and it’s been a long time since a film left such a bad taste in my mouth.  It doesn’t help that it doesn’t know when to fucking end and goes on long after all the bad guys are dead.  You can even see where it should cut and bring up the end credits about two or three goddamn times! That’s typical Grefe though, sadly.  Punching his audience in the face with mind numbing boredom is his calling card.

There were so many of these eco horror movies that came out in the 1970’s, and most of them are a Hell of a lot more fun to sit through than this. If you want to see one that actual delivers on the cheesy goods and won’t make the animal rights activist in you want to run screaming into the night, check out Frogs, a film produced in the same year.  Or Night of the Lepus, a film about giant killer bunny rabbits! Everybody loves bunnies, right? Just…avoid this thing. Trust me.

Rating: F

Random Things

  • The thought that came up in my mind the most while this was on the TV (other than “I want this to be over”): Only the 1970’s could have produced clothes that look like that.  And a lot of cocaine.
  • Reviews of this movie all inevitably bring up that it is pretty much just Willard but with snakes.  Not having seen Willard, I myself cannot comment on the connection.
  • For such a skeezy film, I was honestly surprised at the lack of female nudity on display.  Not that you’d really want to see any of these people naked.  There is quite a few scenes of shirtless men though.  Maybe Grefe swung in the other direction?
  • Swamp movies are interesting in that the actors and crew just freaking have to be massively uncomfortable during filming. I mean, it’s a freaking swamp! Smelly water, dangerous animals, tons of mosquitoes. A barrel of laughs, I’m sure.

Blood Mania (1970)

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You’ve got to hand it to the crazy crackpots at Crown International.  I doubt many other production companies could call a film “Blood Mania” and then get away with including almost no blood and even less mania. So what are we left with then?  A lot of very 1970’s sleaze and a soap opera plot that shoehorn’s in it’s horror elements to sort of half-assedly give the viewer what it wants.  I can’t really feel ripped off because all of those things are right up my alley as well…

After a rather trippy title sequence that, of course, has nothing to do with the rest of the film we’re quickly introduced to most of our main characters:
Ridgeley Waterman (what a name): A wealthy doctor now living out his last days in bed, cranking at everybody, when he’s not flirting with his nurse.
Dr. Craig Cooper: Dr. Waterman’s doctor. A troubled young man who ends up getting blackmailed by a total scumbag for 50,000 dollars  because he performed an illegal abortion several years ago. He also has a girlfriend but she’s not important and vanishes partway through the film. He’s played by writer Peter Carpenter, who I’m pretty sure wrote himself into this part just so he could have sex scenes with all three (!) of the film’s young female actresses.
Victoria Waterman: Dr. Waterman’s rather unhinged daughter who sleeps with everybody and shows her boobs a lot. Played with manic glee by Maria De Aragorn.
And finally the nurse, a rather plain looking woman that keeps complaining about not getting laid. Still, she so damn chipper that she becomes slightly annoying. One of only two female characters that keeps their clothes on.

Later on we’re introduced to Dr. Waterman’s other daughter Gail, who’s been living in New York. Gail is…not that bright. She can’t tell when she’s being used for her money, when her sister has lost the plot, or when she should probably take her inheritance and scoot back to the big apple. Of course she dies. It is a long time coming though.
Everything in this movie takes a long time. Not just the plot but everything.  Characters take forever to walk across a room, dialogue scenes go on and on and on, and sometimes the camera just sits there when there should be a cut. It’s bizarre and gives everything this strange fever dream quality.  Well, for most of the running time anyways.
Right smack dab in the middle of the film are two sequences of Dr. Cooper taking Gail out on dates so he can steal her inheritance. First they go to a 1970’s ren fair and then they go to the beach. These scenes feel completely different than the rest of the film. There’s no nudity, no sleaze, no rich snobs plotting against each other.  They almost feel like a mix between someone’s home movies and a 1980’s soft rock music video.  And they go on forever.  Uck, padding. My worst enemy.
Thankfully most of the film has enough sleazy soap opera shenanigans, random female nudity, and whacked out late 60’s psychedelia to keep this dude entertained.  Dig that Wurlitzer organ and fuzz guitar, man! Also dig that hideous furniture, which one character references as being “lovely.” Jesus tap dancing Christ.
I don’t have much else to say about this one. It just is what it is:  a scuzzy time waster with wooden acting and tons of nudity. They should have called it “Boob Mania.” I’m so clever…

Rating: C+

Random Things

  • Gotta love films that just kind of end. Like the script writer just threw up his hands and went “Well, I guess that’s enough of that.”
  • It probably says a lot about what I’m attracted to that I found the homely nurse character to be kind of cute.  I was sort of glad that she didn’t die, even though I also found her slightly irritating.
  • This film’s drug of choice is poppers. It leads to several trippy scenes and is even used as a murder weapon! Can’t say that isn’t unique.
  • For a DVD set called “Gorehouse Greats” there’s been very little gore so far (basically none).  The two films I’ve watched from it also both have “blood” in the title and include precious little blood. What the feck?  Oh, well.