31 Nights of Horror!

Okay, the title is a little misleading, *cough* a lie *cough*, but I only thought of the idea yesterday, so I was late before I even started. The plan is to watch one horror movie a night, for each night of October up to and including Halloween and give my thoughts on them. Not so much as a review, but just describe how the films made me feel, what they made me think, did I enjoy them, would I recommend them… okay, I guess maybe they are reviews.

My brother and I used to watch tons of scary movies when we were younger. He wanted to be a movie makeup and effects person, I just loved horror and the supernatural. Given all the films we’ve seen over the years though, I didn’t want to re-watch things that I already had an opinion on, so I’m going to watch ones I’ve never seen before.

Since I’m behind schedule, I watched two movies last night. Wes Cravens first movie and Sam Raimis latest terror flick.

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Wes Craven was a master of the horror genre. The man behind iconic movies like Scream, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Shocker, The People Under the Stairs and the only movie to ever really scare the crap out of me, the iconic Nightmare on Elm Street.

Last House on the Left was his first major motion picture. He both wrote and directed the movie (which he did for more than half of the films he made during his career) and in it, you can see themes and imagery that echo forward into may of the most popular movies to date, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Hostel and I Spit on Your Grave. It is a story about two teenage girls who are tortured and raped by a group of escaped criminals.

Rotten Tomatoes has it with a 61% approval rating and Wikipedia says it was “a major box office success” having made over three million dollars domestically. These days, that may not sound like much, but when you factor in that it cost only $87,000 to make, that’s a 3400% return on investment (Avengers: Endgames ROI was 780% by comparison, and was shown on far more screens). The top of the Wiki also tells us it was “generally well received by critics” but, when you scroll down to the Critical Response section, it seems like they couldn’t find anyone who liked it, and I have to agree with them.

I was really disappointed by this movie. Maybe my expectations were too high, but this was the creation of the man who made A Nightmare on Elm Street, a movie that haunted me so much I couldn’t sleep alone that night and instead slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of my little brothers bedroom, with a knife under my pillow. It’s hard to believe Last House on the Left came from the same mind that invented Freddy Kruger, because it just wasn’t scary… like at all.

I really hate to criticize other peoples art, especially since it’s a pretty personal thing, just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means I didn’t like it… usually, but there is a lot about this movie that is objectively bad. The tone to start with. I thought when it began all bright and sunny with upbeat music that it was just to set us up for the movie turning dark and deadly later but the “escaped criminals”, who are the villains, aren’t menacing at all, If they aren’t chewing the scenery, they’re standing around looking bored.

The music gets a lot of the blame, in my opinion. Six years later, John Carpenter would show the world how crucial the musical score is for setting the mood in a movie designed to horrify you, with the release of Halloween. LHotL however goes a different route. The music is upbeat and sometimes romantic. It’s entirely possible that the intent was to juxtapose the horrific things happening on screen with the chosen music, as we get a similar thing with scenes of the girls being tormented, intercut with shots of Maris Mom and Dad preparing for her birthday celebrations. It didn’t work for me though.

I think the biggest problem though is that the movie seems like Wes Craven had a bunch of ideas for scenes and scenarios in his head and didn’t really yet have the tools or skills to put them all together in a cohesive way. There are two buffoonish keystone cops who add absolutely nothing to the story, they have zero impact on it or the characters in any way and even their use as comic relief fails. Then there is the ending where Maris father boobytraps his own house à la Kevin McCallister instead of just killing his daughters murderers in their sleep (it would not surprise me at all if John Hughes got the idea for Home Alone from this movie).

Maybe I’m being too harsh. It’s possible that I have become desensitized and jaded by more recent movies (I was unimpressed by The Exorcist as well when my mother showed it to my brother and I, even though it terrified her when it was first released), I know the violence and cruelty of this film were unprecedented on cinema screens at the time (almost tame though when compared to movies that would follow in its wake like I Spit on Your Grave, Hostel or A Serbian Film) and that was most likely the reason for its success. Word of mouth of the “Dude, you won’t believe how sick this movie is!” kind.

Bottom line is, the movie just failed to do what a good movie (horror, comedy, drama, anything) is supposed to do. It didn’t make me feel anything, except maybe bored. It’s amazing to see the progression Wes Craven made in his storytelling in the twelve years between Last House on the Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

2 thoughts on “31 Nights of Horror!

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