Friday, October 20, 2006

Day 2: In which the brutality of man is made manifest

Wes Craven made his directorial debut with The Last House on the Left. Though it didn't have the overall impact of his future Nightmare or Scream franchises, it has managed to stand the test of time as an early example of the "torture" subgenre of horror.

Story: Two teenage girls from subarban New York go to the city for a night to attend a concert. Trying to score some dank before the show, they have a run in with a pair of escaped convicts, who turn out to be psychopathic. The girls are submitted to rape, torture, terrorization - the usual fare - and are eventually killed. Coincidentally, the next stop the killers make is at one of the girls' houses, where they are found out by the parents, and murdered in revenge.

I have mixed feelings about this one. For one thing, I've never really been a huge fan of the "torture" subgenre in the first place; I just don't find the deranged, sadistic psychopath thing to be that interesting. (Recent films that fall into this category: Saw, Hostel.) Also, Cravens frequently and abruptly cuts scenes from brutal torture of the girls to the parents really hamming it up and having a good time. I understand the juxtaposition, but I don't think it works particularly well - maybe it's just that it's too obvious to be satisfying as a literary device.

I will say that TLHOTL definitely pushes the envelope for 1972. Nudity of what are supposed to be seventeen year old girls, their forced mutual rape, forcing one girl to piss herself, and an unforgettable blow job scene are just a few of the highlights, if you want to call them that. However, these things turn out to be problematic to the film as a whole, as they detract heavily from any impending sense of doom. When the girls are finally offed, it's basically putting them out of their misery. We don't feel any worse for them, or hate the antagonists any more by that point. Because everything has been one episode of shock after another, death seems like the least interesting thing that could possibly happen.

The unexpected does occur at the end, when the parents are afforded their revenge. Maybe that makes this a cautionary tale on two different levels, I don't really know. On second thought, fuck that. The more I think think about it, the more superficial this film gets. Absolutely no moral can be sifted out from this mess. Yeah, violence is ugly, but it's also almost never a "FOR THE FUN OF IT" act. This is exploitative, but not in a good way, like Cannibal Holocaust et al. This is emotionally exploitative.

Fuck that.

Give me a slasher any day of the week.

Tomorrow: The Fly.

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