The minute I read that House of a 1000 Corpses creator Rob Zombie wanted to make his film in the style of classic ’70s horror hits, I had two movies jump into my head: Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left. Due to the press surrounding the 1974 classic, Texas Chainsaw was the more (in)famous in that it spawned three sequels and a remake. But if either of the two films deserved the public outcries and controversy of senseless violence, Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left would have the countless sequels and a remake. This classic is lost to all but the most die-hard horror fans, and maybe it is better off that way. I’m not sure this type of film should become famous.
The picture starts with a disclaimer signifying that the story is based on true events, and that the names and locations have been changed to protect the survivors. This could be a tool that inspired both Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Amityville Horror to use similar advertising. Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is introduced to us as the local teenage heart stopper. She explains to her parents that she is attending the ‘Bloodlust’ concert with her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) who is from “the other side of the tracks.” Together, the two girls travel through the scenic countryside listening to folk rock on the radio. A news bulletin warns the girls and the audience of a jailbreak gone bad. Krug (David Hess) and Weasel (Fred Lincoln) have escaped from the local prison with the help of Krug’s younger brother Junior (Marc Sheffler) and Sadie (Jeramie Rain). When the girls get downtown, they go searching for some pot to further enjoy the show. Sadly, they ask the wrong street vendor, and end up being the new hostages and play things in the clutches of Krug and his allies. What ensues is a brutal and vicious tale of torture and revenge that may haunt the viewer for years to come.
The very simple premise leads to a strong film based almost completely dependent on a terror filled script. The filmmaking itself is beyond reproach. Dialogue seems to fit to be found as a prize in a box of Cracker Jack. “Ribbit.” The most distracting negative aspect of the film is arguably the mismatched over dubbing of dialogue. Sometimes it is downright laughable. The acting is also bottom of the barrel. During scenarios that mostly scare from the situation itself, the acting can take you right out of the induced shivers.
But like most cult classics, this wasn’t made to win awards like an Oscar. This film has everything else going for it. What those young ladies endure is devastatingly heart wrenching. The violence isn’t gory in today’s projector, but it is still impressive in its sheer and pure brutality and realism. The suffering is increased by the scenery and score. Most of the music is folk rock (composed by David Hess as well) that sets an innocent tone, along with the countryside beauty captured in the forests. This paints an image of innocence and purity, contrasted with the sick actions contained deep in the heart of it. The spine tingling torture and subsequent revenge packs all the intensity needed in an 83 minute dose. The punishment really pulls harder than any film I’ve ever witnessed. The only comparable feature is I Spit on Your Grave. David Hess as Krug truly drips of slime, and adds another layer to the already overbearing hatred the audience holds towards the creepy traveling band of “salesmen.”
Like many Wes Craven pictures, the story arc follows a similar formula. The antagonists have control for most of the film, but the tide turns after a series of booby-traps set by the protagonists. This film is no different.
Unlike today’s horror films with cheap (yet digitally expensive) thrills and shrills, this movie is all about the build of suspense and horror to its boiling point. Even with distracting filmmaking, we are still left with a true classic. May be considered tame to many, but rarely has this subject matter ever been so solidly captured at its terrifying fullest. A must-see for any who call themselves horror fans.