Wes Craven's debut feature film, infamous for its time, is an extremely bizarre mixture of family drama, exploitative crime fiction, shocking horror, and slapstick comedy. Despite the grainy look and weirdo soundtrack The Last House on the Left succeeds as a worthy response to the bleak early 1970s.
The Last House on the Left begins as fractured Hallmark commercial as young Mari prepares to attend a rock concert for her 17th birthday against the wishes of her humdrum middle class parents. She's accompanied by her free spirit friend Phyllis. They want to score some pot and they approach a sketchy looking dude on a dark street who invites them up to his apartment. Up there waiting are viscous, but all too human, group of violent criminals. What follows is horrific.
Through a series of coincidences, the gang of criminals end up as house guests of Mari's grieving parents. In the last act the parents take revenge, revealing themselves to be just as depraved as the thugs. Spliced throughout the film are scenes following two idiotic cops who are on the case, scenes that are played as straight up comedy and feel like they belong in a separate movie. A touch that adds another level to the terror.
The Last House on the Left brings to mind many other films of the period. A Clockwork Orange is an obvious parallel, especially in the flip side nature of both films. Craven is clearly condemning violence, regardless of who commits it, while Kubrick's stance is more ambiguous. In terms of style and look, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes to mind, both have a creepy cinema verite influence, forcing the audience to feel like a spectacle to the horror. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead inspired all these movies, especially with its absurd sense of reality.
Craven admitted to being ignorant of the horror genre at the time The Last House on the Left was written. It's a far cry from the self reflexive tone of modern horror gems like It Follows (ironically Craven invented the approach with Scream.) The final result struck many as a sick and convoluted mess. I would compare Last House to a crazy cocktail mixture; there's a method to the madness. You don't walk away feeling good (queasy more likely), but it's definitely an experience. Remember, It's only a movie.