Death of the Maiden (The Last House on the Left, 1972)

In the beginning of the 70’s Wes Craven was a college professor looking to transition his life. With the help of future Friday the 13th producer Sean S. Cunningham, Craven set out to write and direct his first film, a loose adaption of Ingmar Bergman’s the Virgin Spring.

The young Mari and her friend head off to see a concert in anticipation of her 17th birthday. But on the trip, the two young women end up crossing the paths of a sadistic group of escaped criminals. They proceed to rape and murder Mari’s friend, but Mari runs and falls into the river. Leaving her to die the crew seek a place to hide. They come across a remote house and convince the family to let them enter. The thugs are unaware that they have actually happened upon Mari’s family.

But later Mari appears at the house, on death’s door. Enraged, her parents set about bringing angry retribution up the criminals.

To be honest, the Last House on the Left is a movie I originally saw over 20 years ago.  It left me nauseous and I really doubted I would ever watch it again.  But I recently got the blu-ray incredibly cheap and decided to get it for the special features.

But I chose to watch the film once more to reassess the work.  And honestly, most of the film would be a workable crime thriller.  It has scummy bad guys lead by David Hess who is scary beyond words.  But the film also suffers from some tonal inconsistencies with the cops appearances in the film almost being comical.

But the thing that keeps me from recommending the film is not the rough edges of a new writer and director. It is the long and lingeringly graphic rape and murder sequence. Certainly, Craven does not play it for entertainment. It is excruciatingly gritty and uncomfortable to sit through. It makes this a film I just have no desire to return to.

Fear of Santa Claus Pt 11 (To All a Good Night, 1980)

to_all_posterLast House on the Left’s David Hess directed one movie.  And To All A Good Night tells you why his directing career began and ended with this film.

Two years after a tragic accident a person in a Santa suit goes around killing kids in an upscale girl’s prep school. It does not get much deeper than that.

The top billed actor in the film is Jennifer Runyan, most notable as the cute college student being tested for psychic powers at the beginning of Ghostbusters.  The characters are all rather uninspired and boring.  This presents a real problem, as it is hard to be all that interested in where the tale is going.  This is a very boring and poorly paced film.

And finally…the poster…there is nothing that says killer Santa movie.  It looks more like an alien themed sci-fi film or a supernatural thriller.

Born on the Bayou (Swamp Thing, 1982)

swamp_thing_posterDuring 1972 and 1981, beloved horror director had made five films.  His sixth was the coic book movie “Swamp Thing”.  Based on the iconic character initially brought to life by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson.  It was more horror than super-hero and even though it had ended in 1976, producer Michael Uslan had purchased the rights to Swamp Thing and Batman (which would not see the screen for seven more years) out of love for those characters.  Craven was more of an upstart, rather than cherished genre director.

The film tells the story of Alec Holland, a scientist, working on a powerful botanical formula with the help of his sister.  Alice Cable arrives, on assignment from the government to check in on Holland.  It turns out there is a rather bad guy named Arcane who is out to secure the formula for it’s properties.  His henchmen try and steal it, which results in a fire that engulfs Alec after he is dowsed in his chemical.  Holland runs into the swamp and dies.

Or appears to.  He is resurrected as a large stuntman covered in a rubber suit meant to look like muck and plants the swamp.  Eventually Arcane pursues Alice and the Swamp Thing and they acquire a sidekick (a little kid named Jude).  eventually  there is a big rubber suit climactic battle, as Arcane has turned himself into a monster using the formula.

The film was made on a low, low budget.   Did I say low?  I think it is somewhere beneath the swamp they filmed in.  Using a real swamp is one of the best things in the film.  Rather than looking like a cheap set, you get some downright beautiful swamp shots.

But Swamp Thing looks like a  big rubber suit.  Arcane’s monster is rather goofy looking.  And the film makes the most of Adrienne Barbeau’s cleavage.  The casting in the film is actually quite good.  Barbeau’s Alice is tough and yet unsure of the world she is thrown into of monsters and henchmen.  Ray  Wise, known for his tough guy roles is thoughtful and kind here, giving a real soul to the character.  Louis Jourdan is both suave and menacing (two things the film loses when he becomes a monster).  Unfortunately the cast is not enough to save this from being a pretty bland adventure full of lifeless special effects.

It has a great poster though.

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