Monday, November 01, 2010
More Like "Last Dumb Movie on the Left"....Uhm, Yeah
For Halloween I decided to watch a "classic" horror movie that I hadn't seen before. It ended up being Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972). Knowing basically nothing about the plot of this movie, I went into it expecting to like it a fair amount, since I've liked a number of Craven's movies (Scream, Scream 2, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs). Right after having watched the whole thing, this was my immediate reaction: "PIECE. OF. TRASH."
Here's the plot of the entire movie:
Two girls go out to the big city to celebrate a birthday. Four psychotic convicts, having escaped from prison, kidnap these girls. There are some beatings and a rape. Then they pack up and drive out to the woods where their car breaks down. So they decide to have some fun. More torture. More rape. At one point the girls try to escape. But they get caught and are tortured. Oh, and another rape. Then they are killed. It's not over yet! It being kind of late, the deviants find a house in the woods. The owners of the home offer to feed and house these seemingly nice strangers. These kind people are actually the parents of one of the murdered girls, and they have been worried sick over not having heard back from her. At one point, the parents are able to figure out what has happened to their daughter. Enraged, they decide to viciously kill these terrible people. They do so. The end.
The whole time I'm watching this movie, I could not figure out the point of all these sickening events. But I think I've basically got it worked out. There are two parts of this movie: the set-up and the pay-off. In the set-up, two important things are happening; the audience is led to despise the criminals and sympathize with the parents. The two girls are almost ancillary. They have been created for the sole purpose of having absolutely terrible things happen to them. That's it. They very well could have been pet dogs or the parents' collection of Precious Moments figurines. The audience is led to believe that the girls are important, but they are not. It's only what happens to them that is important. And it's important only inasmuch as it (again) makes us hate the bad guys and become drawn to the parents.
After the girls are killed, the pay-off starts. Here is when the roles become switched. The parents are now the sadists, and the bad guys have become the victims. This is where the movie becomes remotely "interesting." Do you now sympathize with the criminals and come to hate the parents? Or are the parents' terrible acts somehow appropriate in the name of "justice"? It seems like the movie is pretty clearly leading you to side with the parents. But then what kind of person are you for thinking that what they did is justified? Does ANYONE deserve to be brutally killed? Either way you side, it seems like the movie is wagging its finger at you - at least within the boundaries of the thoughts it presents.
It seems pretty clear that The Last House on the Left is a forefather to the "torture porn" movement. There is a lot of extreme violence, but for what point? To make you question how far you can take justice before its no longer just? I guess I should be content that a horror movie like this has some thought put into it, but I could not get behind it. The actual ideas felt too slight and not worth it all. After watching it, I just felt dirty and manipulated -- that I was coerced into a certain point-of-view, only to be chastised for it. Movies that rely on such tactics are at best lazy, and at worst morally suspect themselves. While I will sometimes be lenient with movies that are accused of such things, The Last House on the Left just doesn't offer enough redemptive qualities. I haven't even mentioned the bungling cops or the less-than-clever score (although maybe it was more clever at the time?). I will say this: for being his first movie, Craven certainly went for something. And he's certainly proved himself to be better than this one movie. Nonetheless, if you skipped it, I don't think you'd be missing much. If the ideas sound interesting, just go buy an ethics reader.