Some may think an Exploitation film is one that exploits females in a sexual manner. That’s not it, though sex may be a big part of it. An exploitation film is one that exploits current fads of genre. Usually applied to horror films, there is usually lurid subject matter, there also plenty of violence depicted graphically…and the final element that ties all the others together is a low budget. It’s the low budget concerns that force the extreme nature of the other elements.
That having been said, The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven’s directorial debut, scores on all accounts of an exploitation film. Because if its low budget and extreme elements of exploitation in this film, both violent and sexual in nature, this film, like most exploitation films, developed a cult following. Having been banned in the U.K. for decades didn’t hurt its status as a counter-culture artifact.
Sensational subjects of rebellion, destruction, the strange and bizarre, drugs, gore, and nudity have been around since the 1920s, but it wasn’t until censorship standards were softened that exploitation films really took off as a sub-genre. Film producers felt they had to show things more shockingly graphic than before in order to draw customers back into the theaters and away from their new televisions.
I don’t think The Last House on the Left is that special. I’ve watched it a few times and each time I find myself wondering why it’s so famous. For its day, I’m sure its violence and sexual content were shocking, but I feel like a movie needs more than just shock value to be good. For me, there’s no real point that I can see to the narrative beyond the exploitive elements. It doesn’t appear to be a morality tale. It’s not a suspense thriller. It’s not particularly frightening. It’s just kind of gross and disturbing. Now if the intent of the film was to gross out and disturb the audience, then it’s a huge success, but for my personal tastes in what I crave in a narrative…there has to be more. It’s like reading a medical description of vomit and calling it literature.
The most disturbing part to me was the soundtrack and if you’ve seen this movie you know exactly what I’m talking about. There are scenes where the music does NOT go with what you are watching and it’s more disturbing than some of the images you’re being shown. The fascinating thing for me is that the soundtrack was done by the actor playing the head bad guy in the movie. I am currently bidding for a picture disc version of the soundtrack on ebay!
But because it’s part of Wes Craven’s development as a director who went on to give us truly frightening narratives….I include it here. It’s where he started and it’s our base line for his development.