Before the term “torture porn” was even created there was the big bad grand-daddy film they all stemmed from, The Last House on the Left. Not only was this movie extremely controversial for its time, as it still is now, it set the bar for the following trend of torture and revenge films in the years to follow; and it set it high.
Forty-five years have passed since the master of the macabre Wes Craven released The Last House on the Left, a movie so shocking it is still seen as taboo almost half a century later. It’s also a movie so crude few others have come close to meeting its level of intensity and vulgarity without exceeding the atmosphere of reality… as disturbing as that reality may be. Many who have tried either overshot the reality bar completely or just made a really, really disturbing rape movie with no plot, empty characters (victim and perpetrator alike) and no progression of a story line.
Aside from the movie itself the marketing for the film is one of the most intriguing and beautiful pieces I’ve ever seen in the genre. Instead of the polished, glossy looks of movie posters from its day, The Last House on the Left went with a black and white gritty feel that very much resembled the movie. It prepared the viewer for their upcoming experience. Well, as prepared as you could be for a movie about rape and murder, when in reality nothing could really prepare mainstream audiences of 1972 for the events that would transpire on screen.
The tagline blatantly placed in the bottom right corner of the poster stated “To avoid fainting keep repeating it’s only a movie …only a movie …only a movie ….only a move.” The poster’s ability to lure the unsuspecting audience into an uneasy mindset is very reminiscent of director William Castle’s days in the 1950’s. Castle was a horror director known for using on and off screen gimmicks to capture the audience’s imagination and induce terror before the reel even began to roll. He would offer refunds for those who were not brave enough to sit through his films. He would claim the audience could influence the ending of a movie through a vote. He was a marketing genius to the young and vulnerable crowds of early cinema.
The real beauty behind this movie is the staying power it has retained over the years. Even forty five years later the scenes that caused audiences to cringe, wince, turn away, and awkwardly shift in their seat still plays the same today. It is extremely rare for a horror movie to have this kind of staying power, especially with competition among horror movie creators being so high.
However, Craven had something very special about this movie that resonated with audiences and achieved him the crown of Scare Master; his monsters did not wear masks. His monsters were real flesh and blood humans just like the people sitting in the audience watching them. They did not suffer from a mental illness nor were they being forced at gunpoint to commit these acts. They enjoyed the violence they created, plain and simple. This human connection is one of the reasons Last House chilled viewers to the bone and continue to do so.
With the Manson Family crimes only a few years earlier and the trials still ongoing at the time of the movie’s release the era of cults and real life monsters was on the minds of many movie goers who sat in the darkened theater. Monsters were no longer mythical figures who wore capes and had fangs, nor were they re-animated bodies with bolts in their neck or the flesh eating undead. They weren’t even all male! By throwing the female character of Sadie into this mix as a sadist and a driving force behind the violence blew minds everywhere! It was finally becoming apparent in the media, and now in the cinema, monsters are as real as you and I. They could be your neighbor, your child’s teacher, or even your brother.
In an era where the boogeyman didn’t need a mask to hide behind the atmosphere was ripe with fear, and Craven capitalized on this in The Last House on the Left whether he intended to or not. These flesh and blood killers are still sensationalized in the media and relevant in the media today which is one of the main reasons this film still resonates with audiences worldwide and is still terrifying moviegoers today.