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Last Houhe on the Left

Wes Craven has had a chequered career, to say the least but the release of this box set gives a chance to revisit the best (and worst) that one of the most influential horror directors of the last 30 years has created.

Made in 1971, Last House on the Left, shot in a cinema verite style, is a reworking of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring with a group of escaped sociopaths who rape, torture and murder two girls before taking refuge in the house of the victims‘ parents.

Accompanied by some of the most inappropriate music ever to grace the genre and Keystone Cops-style comedy that jars more for its ineptitude than its juxtaposition, Last House on the Left is nonetheless an incredibly powerful, highly disturbing piece of filmmaking. It’s ironic that at a time when Americans were witnessing nightly bloodshed in Vietnam it was the realism of the violence in this film and the degradation forced upon its victims that caused such outcry.

Despite the success of Last House, the outrage that accompanied it meant that it was seven years before Wes Craven‘s next film The Hills Have Eyes. It’s similar to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that it features a family trapped in the middle of nowhere being chased by a pack of inbred cannibals. Despite the obvious moments of brutality this is a much subtler film than the reputation that precedes it. With its arid desert landscape and long, slow build up, much of the tension and fear comes merely from waiting, knowing something is out there rather than seeing the litany of violence perpetrated.

Despite the popularity of Craven‘s Nightmare on Elm Street and the endurance of Freddie Krueger through eight different films, it is Scream that is arguably his most influential one. Made in 1996, it is credited with being the first ‘post-modern’ horror movie, with its acceptance of the ridiculousness of the average horror movie’s premise and its acknowledgement to the audience of that fact it changed completely the landscape of the horror genre. Everything that followed, from Final Destination to Cabin Fever, walks the road that Craven paved with Scream.

The real odd one out in this set is Mind Ripper, with Craven’s participation explained by the fact that it was co-written and produced by his son. It’s pathetically derivative of any and every monster on the loose film made and lowers the quality of the set by a good few notches.

That said, with some great audio commentaries and documentaries accompanying everything but Mind Ripper and a bonus disc which features Adam Simon’s acclaimed documentary The American Nightmare, this is a must for any horror aficionado. (Gordon Eldrett)

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