1972’s The Last House on the Left was Wes Craven‘s directorial debut, and is regarded as a classic by many, but one subplot almost ruins it. Craven would of course go on to become one of the most legendary directors in horror history, managing to reinvent and revive the slasher genre with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, then reinvent and revive it again with 1996’s Scream. Craven, who passed away in 2015, also helmed such cult items as Shocker, The People Under the Stairs, and the meta sequel Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Craven’s earliest days were spent directing low-budget grindhouse hits like The Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left, films which – like fellow 1970s classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – were real and raw in their presentation, boasting a gritty aesthetic that made them seem almost like documentaries, despite their heinous subject matter. The Last House on the Left famously boasted a tagline about frightened viewers needing to remind themselves it was only a movie, and it was well-earned.
As effective as The Last House on the Left is at disturbing and upsetting the viewer though, one particular subplot absolutely doesn’t belong, and one wonders why Craven included it. It’s lame, and out of place, and feels like it’s from a different movie entirely.
At its best, The Last House on the Left is the harrowing tale of two teenage girls being raped and murdered by criminals, than those same criminals receiving brutal vigilante justice via one of the victim’s vengeful parents. The subject matter is both intense and uncomfortable, and for many, can be very hard to even sit through successfully. It definitely horrifies though, which the best horror movies should certainly do. That is for 95 percent of the running time. The other five percent is spent watching the bumbling antics of two idiotic cops – one played by future Karate Kid villain Martin Kove – looking for the missing girls.
There’s no way around it, the bumbling cop scenes are awful, and stop The Last House on the Left dead in its tracks whenever they happen. While comedy and horror often go hand in hand, not only are these attempts at comedy painfully unfunny, their usage falls entirely flat. After watching extended, realistic scenes of sexual assault, humiliation, torture, and murder, few people would ever feel like laughing mere minutes later at slapstick comic relief. Yet for whatever reason, Wes Craven and Last House on the Left‘s producers felt inserting these scenes was a good idea. While Craven deserves his spot on the Mount Rushmore of horror directors, the comedy cop antics hold back his first film from fully realizing its potential.