A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the savage violence in this film -- conveyed mainly in reaction shots and quick cutaways, but still intense -- includes close-range shooting, knifing/slashing, a castration-by-biting (you read that correctly), and an attack with a chainsaw. There is shower nudity (practically in the opening scene), and two women are terrorized at knifepoint, forced to strip and submit to rape and degrading acts. Drug use, though not really shown, is discussed frequently, and alcohol is enthusiastically consumed. The main drive of the plot is murder (committed by bereaved parents) as an act of revenge; law enforcement is not even discussed as an option, and police are depicted as bumblers anyway. A 2009 big-budget remake of this film drew more attention to the cheapie original.
What's the story?
Although this claims up front to be based on a "true story" (a common exploitation gimmick), many have discerned LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to be a loose remake of the Swedish art-house classic The Virgin Spring, a stately, medieval tale of a grief-stricken father's revenge on his daughter's murderers. In this update, teenager Mari Collingwood and her somewhat wilder girlfriend celebrate Mari's birthday via an unchaperoned trip to the big city and a rock concert. Lured to an apartment by claims of marijuana for sale, the pair are seized by a trio of escaped convicts and their moll, who toy with the helpless victims at first, but ultimately drive them out to the woods and kill them. Fatefully, the culprits' car breaks down near the Collingwood home, where Mari's straightlaced parents politely let them stay overnight, even as the couple frets over their daughter's absence. Soon Dr. and Mrs. Collingwood realize exactly who their visitors are...
Is it any good?
Done on a shoestring budget with no-name actors (some moonlighting from porno flicks), the dreadful Last House on the Left became a "grindhouse" hit. A few appreciative critics call it a classic -- others condemned it as vile garbage -- though amidst grubby production values and community-theater acting, there are only brief hints writer-director Wes Craven would later be hero to young, thrill-hungry moviegoers for masterminding the Scream and Freddy Krueger film series.
A comment-worthy touch here: the idea (brought out better in Craven's even grislier The Hills Have Eyes) that "ordinary" people, one of them a doctor, could commit appalling slaughter, just as heinous as the villains here -- so what makes them any better? Still, it takes an effort for modern viewers to look past the outdated hairstyles, muffled dialogue, and primitive visuals that horror-fanciers have found so compelling. Especially painful/jarring are the moments of would-be comedy relief and a wildly uneven grab-bag of soundtrack songs, ranging from spacey hippie ballads to a jug-band and kazoo (!) fanfare.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why this crudely-made shocker became so popular, while some critics thought it the worst thing they'd ever seen. Was it simply a classic ad campaign ("Keep Telling Yourself...`It's Only a Movie. It's Only a Movie...'"). Or is filmmaker Wes Craven's mastery of visceral horror and psychological suspense actually present, under all the fuzzy sound, iffy acting, and low-budget camerawork? You could use this film to get horror-minded kids to watch a foreign-language art-movie classic, Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, to compare-contrast. Which one is a stronger portrait of parental grief and vengeance?
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