The Last House on the Left is 1972 horror film about two teenage girls who head to a rock concert for one’s birthday, then kidnapped and brutalized by a gang of psychotic convicts.
Leaving an audience shocked, horrified and disgusted by the scenes they are witnessing is one way to ensure a film forever has a place in the history of cinema, and also the history of the audience’s memory. Wes Craven is most popularly known for his horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, which is considered a classic, that although is scary, doesn’t quite sit into the controversial or boundary pushing circle. Why? Because it only brandishes traditional horror tropes, and doesn’t venture into topics that have always been deemed a reason to incite discussion amongst fans and critics. However, Craven did also create a film that became notorious for being extreme … The Last House on the Left.
The film was released in 1972, and follows two friends as they go to a rock concert in the city. When they try to buy some marijuana, they become entrapped in a deadly situation as they’re held in an apartment by a group of men and a woman, who have no plans to party with them unless it involves depravity. They bound the two girls and take them into the woods where they brutally gang rape them repeatedly, and abuse them violently until both are murdered and left to never be found. After the barbarous attack, they stop by a home which happens to be the family home of one of the girls. The parents soon realise that this gang have done something awful to their daughter, which is confirmed by the fact one of them is wearing their daughter’s necklace. From here, both parents decide to commit a bloody revenge on those who murdered their daughter and her friend; and their revenge holds nothing back…
For most people that have ever seen The Last House on the Left, they will tell you that it’s a bleak film one that poses nothing other than brutality and a test in endurance of watching atrocities. Seeing these two girls be raped and tortured with no hope on the horizon for either of them leaves the audience with an immoral feeling in their stomach, but what is it about The Last House on the Left that really leaves people feeling uncomfortable? Especially when we’ve already covered other films that are far more provocative? The particular moment (or moments as is the case with this film) that really plays on our minds and pushes our boundaries are those including rape. As a female myself, it’s never going to be a topic that I can say I feel “comfortable” with, however it’s something that needs to be addressed when looking at why this film is particularly difficult to watch. Craven would have known when approaching this issue that it would have caused controversy and put his film in a negative light, however, he aims to redeem the movie with his use of revenge, which is carried out by the parents of one the girls, and for us, it always feels satisfying seeing the sickening monsters of a movie treated to acts that are just as horrific. Yet even with this counteraction through the film, it still doesn’t take away the feeling we are subjected to when watching scenes of extreme rape – something that many other films use in their storytelling to poke the audience and get them to feel things they might not be so comfortable with.
Another film that uses this style to invoke moral sensibility is Irreversible, which features a 9-minute long rape scene that leaves a bitter taste well after it’s over. Certain titles feature these tests of endurance for many reasons, often being that they are the sole reason for the rest of the film to exist, and therefore the plot needs the audience to see something brutal and horrific to help understand what follows. In Irreversible, the rape scene is a pivotal moment, one that gives motivation for the unrelenting violence that opens the story, and therefore means the audience must see something that pushes them beyond comprehension, into a bleak state of mind in order to better understand what these characters do in the aftermath.