26 October 2012

the birth of a hack.

This isn't really a Halloween Film Fest entry because I didn't re-watch the film in question (and I never will). It's just that when I was talking about Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left in my Friday the 13th review yesterday, it made me angry all over again. Look, I know I'm supposed to grade The Last House on the Left on the curve because it was the work of a plucky kid who, with very little experience, scant resources, and a youthful enthusiasm, managed write and direct a feature-length film—which is a hell of a lot more than most people ever do. But I just have a difficult time giving credit for perseverance when the thing that's persevered in is such unmitigated crap. So in order to assuage my feelings of rage and bitterness, I'm posting my review of The Last House on the Left from July 10, 2011 that originally appeared on another website... 

In a touching and wry scene in The Last House on the Left, two bumbling yokel cops attempt to hijack a chicken truck piloted by a toothless woman because their police car has run out of gas on the way to a possible crime scene. The chicken woman, to the accompaniment of Benny Hill musical outtakes (presumably), advises the special needs cops to sit on the roof of the truck cab. Undeterred by anything resembling smarts or dignity, the two gamely climb aboard the truck—which (ha fucking ha ha!) lurches, sending them skidding off the hood onto the road. 

This is what is known in cinematic nomenclature as 'madcap hijinks.' These kinds of antics are frequently found in farces or broad comedies. Less often are they inserted randomly into exploitation films, without relevance or purpose. Here, it's almost as if Boss Hogg wandered into a snuff film by accident. But calling The Last House on the Left a snuff film is a grievous insult to snuff films, which at least purport to satisfy a morbid if reprehensible curiosity. By way of contrast, Wes Craven somehow manages—and this is no small feat—to make rape, torture, castration, and chainsaw murder as dull as C-SPAN when they are just broadcasting a live feed of empty Congressional chairs for an hour.

Get a load of this blurb from Roger Ebert, who actually got his big, hard thumb up for this mess: The Last House on the Left 'never lets us out from under almost unbearable dramatic tension.' Jesus fucking Christ, Ebert, are you fucking kidding me with that shit? This film is so entirely lacking in any tension and any genuine terror that if I were to compare it with the sequence in The Sound of Music wherein the chipper, indomitable Von Trapps flee the Nazis, Last House would come up with the short end of tension stick.  And I actually wanted the (cinematic) Von Trapps to get caught and sent to Treblinka. (Let's see how 'My Favorite Things' sounds reverberating through the crematorium. Shut up. I never claimed to be tasteful.)

So here's the plot of Last House (spoilers inclusive): 

A braless teenager and another braless teenager plan to drive from their rural, upper middle class home to a concert on NYC's Lower East Side. The first braless teenager's father comments negatively on her bralessness while simultaneously examining her bralessness (making us all uncomfortable in the process). The mother harangues the braless teenager about her morally bankrupt generation. The braless teenager references the pointy brassieres of the 1950s as a rebuttal. Game and match.

Next the braless teenager and the other braless teenager are seen walking in the woods while not wearing bras. They admire the autumn foliage. Dumb sluts love nature apparently. They talk about some stuff that is irrelevant and pointless.

Later, on the way to the concert, the braless teenager and the other braless teenager hear a news report on the radio about some dangerous convicts who have escaped from prison and would like nothing better than to torture and murder some braless teenagers.  But where to find them?  It's not as if there's a braless teenager farm or something. 

Anyway, we cut awkwardly to later that night when the teenagers, still braless, walk around the Lower East Side looking to 'score' some pot. Remember that this is the Lower East Side of the early 1970s and not the one of today with juice bars and tapas restaurants, so of course these two, traipsing around bralessly, are practically begging to be raped and murdered by some escaped convicts.

Enter the escaped convicts. A drug-addled guy with horrible teeth shivers on the stoop of a brownstone. To braless teenagers, shivering men on stoops are necessarily drug dealers. They approach the guy—whilst their 1970s-era breasts jiggle enticingly—and he asks them upstairs.

If you are a braless teenager on the Lower East Side during the 1970s and a shivering guy with bad teeth asks you to come up to his place, it's probably smart to thank the shivering guy but to decline respectfully.

The braless teenagers are not smart, however. They are dumb sluts. They go upstairs hoping to score said pot, but wouldn't you know it?  The two escaped convicts, one of their sons (the shivering guy), and some chick who looks like she escaped from a Paul Morrissey film are up there, just jonesing for some braless teenagers to torture.  It's a hobby, I guess.

The other braless teenager is promptly raped (offscreen) while the first braless teenager watches. Bored with raping people in the apartment, the bad guys drive the braless teenagers out to the country, for some unknown reason. (Or some reason I dozed off during the explanation of which.) 

Guess what?  The convicts' car breaks down just outside the house where the first braless teenager lives. That's not at all improbable, is it? Anyway, the braless teenagers are taken into the woods nearby and tortured (or something). The other teenager, stubbornly braless, is forced to urinate on herself, which doesn't seem all that bad really—compared to being raped and stabbed, I mean. Both teenagers are forced to strip at this time, so their bralessness becomes a moot point because naked people are by definition braless anyway. But later on, they put back on their clothes (sans bra) because they are cold, and catching a chill is surely the worst of their worries.

There's an attempt at escape, but both teenagers are (yawn) murdered. One has her intestines pulled out, but it's not nearly as gross as it sounds, actually. But what's the point of pulling out someone's intestines anyway?  I guess this is Wes Craven's attempt at creating unique characters with depth.  Maybe something happened in their past that made disemboweling seem reasonable. Craven is a master.

Meanwhile, the braless teenager's parents are (mildly) worried that she never returned from the concert. They suspect it has something to do with her not wearing a bra. They get in touch with the police, who send over two dumbfuck officers. (One of the dumbfuck officers is played by Martin Kove, whom you may remember as the chin-dimpled guy from Cagney and Lacey.)

The police officers are useless. (See opening paragraph of this review.) Every so often the film cuts away from the boring murder plot to focus on the boring, inappropriate 'comic' relief. The reason that Wes Craven does this is that he is an auteur and auteurs create their own rules—even if their own rules are the stupidest fucking bullshit you've ever seen.

The convicts meanwhile go to the braless teenager's parents' house, without knowing it is the braless teenager's parents' house of course. What dramatic irony! I am so tense that I could just fall asleep and dream of newborn puppies. The parents are now not at all concerned about their braless teenage daughter, who has been missing for over 24 hours now. Instead, they are gracious hosts for the convicts, preparing them a lovely meal and inviting them to stay the night. Because that's what you do when creepy, dirty people with horrible teeth show up at your front door while your daughter is missing and presumed dead. You invite them into your home and into your heart.  The parents are delighted—simply delighted!—to make conversation with the convicts over Beef Bourguignon.

To make a long, dumb story into a somewhat shorter dumb story, the parents eventually realize that the convicts killed their braless teenager (hypothetically because she was braless), and the convicts realize that this square, uptight couple is the braless teenager's parents. 

The mother does what comes naturally to all mothers in such a situation. She lures one of the men outside, begins fellating him, and then bites off his penis. Before you get all excited, none of this is actually seen; it's only intimated. Boooo! If you are wondering whether there are ways the mother could have gotten revenge without putting the killer's penis in her mouth, you ask too many damn questions.

The father meanwhile opts for non-fellatio-based vengeance. He eventually murders the other convict using a chainsaw, which again is probably not the most practical retaliation. I mean, who's going to clean up the mess? People, you need to think before you avenge the rape and murder of your braless daughter! The other two people die somehow that I don't remember because it didn't involve biting off a penis or chainsawing somebody.

Do I really need to say that this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen? And I've seen 2012! So you can't say I don't know whereof I speak.  I have never seen a film outside of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that was so ineptly directed. Kudos on your achievement, Mr. Craven!  There was not a moment in the film during which I was scared, tense, worried, entertained, or otherwise engaged. Actually the only tension that the film generated was relieved when I got up off my ass to look at the Blu-Ray case to check on this piece of shit's running time. 84 minutes. But it felt like Gone With the Wind.

And it wasn't the gore or the exploitative qualities of the film that turned me off. Quite the contrary, this film was too tame for its own good. If it wasn't going to scare me, it could at least gross me out a little. But I was far more grossed out when I saw a picture of Joan Collins topless in her fifties in a German magazine one time. Yuck. They were like walnuts in change purses.


  1. This is not directly on-topic, but what is this phrase "exploitation film" referring to? Who exactly is being exploited? Yesterday the same phrase came up in association with "Blackula"- a 1970's film essentially about an African American vampire. It was called a "blaxploitation" film, which sounds potentially offensive in its own right, but I gather from the word that the film is exploiting black people? I'm not arguing that it isn't; I actually haven't seen the film, but is the idea that the actors in the film weren't paid adequately, or... what? What exactly is the element of exploitation in these films?

    1. I think blaxploitation films exploit stereotypes about black people. I think sexual exploitation films exploit the audience's prurient interests for their own sake. I think horror exploitation films generally exploit the audience's morbid curiosity or fascination with violence and gore without any other redeeming narrative purpose. And so on and so forth...

  2. Fair enough, but every work ever written contains some element of exploitation then.