The 2009 version of Last House on the Left bears the tagline: If bad people hurt someone you love, how far would you go to hurt them back? The 1972 version of course famously had a tagline which became a catchphrase: To avoid fainting, keep repeating it’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie . . .
Well, Last House on the Left was initially intended to be an envelope-pushing 70’s porn feature and its legacy as a movie has been far beyond that of the average only a movie flick. There is the notion that the current spate of torture porn horror movies is something new, but people like Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham pioneered the genre more than three decades ago. Wes Craven, most famous for Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, wrote and directed the original Last House on the Left and Sean S. Cunningham, most famous for Friday the 13th, produced it. Before you even take into account the legions of movie-makers influenced by Craven and Cunningham, the legacy of Last House on the Left is huge simply for how its creators built on their own work. For the 2009 Last House on the Left, Craven and Cunningham both serve as producers. The director of 2009’s version is Dennis Iliadis whose main previous credit is the movie Hardcore, about two prostitutes who fall in love.
The initial torture porn grew out of 1970’s porn porn. At the time, partly because video not being used yet, any porn flick more involved than a tiny stag loop tended to be approached as a feature. A lot of the underground creative work at the time was about exploring taboos, so there was not as much differentiation in which taboos could appear in which medium. Today, if you want to feature nonconsensual sex acts in your work, you must put the violence in an R-rated movie for theatrical or DVD distribution. You may not put nonconsensual sex acts in material distributed in adult industry channels. This is not solely because the government might crack down on you if you repeatedly dare them too like Rob Black of Extreme Associates; the primary issue is that major trade publications and video distributors will not accept adult videos which feature nonconsensual acts (yes, even when it is just acting, even if it is bad acting) and companies which process payments for adult websites will not accept credit cards for material which features nonconsensual acts. Exploitation cinema is not something new for the new millennium. Where the violence and horror end up in the marketplace and where the sex and nudity end up all boils down to the restrictions of varied distribution channels.
Nonetheless, in the original Last House on the Left, most of the forced boy/girl sex and forced girl/girl sex and watersports all got left on the cutting room floor and the violence stayed in. The violence was still shocking to theatrical audiences at the time and reviewers tended to express . . . well, horror. Last House on the Left features horrible chainsaw brutality before Scarface or Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Here is how you know Wes Craven is an original creative mind: He acknowledges his influences. He looked to Ulla Isaksson’s script for Ingmar Bergman’s Jungfrukällan or Virgin Spring for the plotline for Last House on the Left. And Wes Craven is a strong enough and secure enough creative person that he can say where he got the idea without diminishing himself.
Living in Hollywood and working on the internet, I am often exposed to people who try to come up with tricks for success. These tricks are the creative person’s version of get-rich-quick schemes and just as likely to fail. Some of these desperate tricksters come up with all these little rules about how the best way to succeed is to get inspiration from someone more innovative and deny where the inspiration comes from. Which is right up there with the notion that anyone who has ever done anything for mature audiences must be somehow crossing over and rising up if they do anything for a different distribution channel or that doing anything adult means one must be consigned to exclusively producing adult material.
Wes Craven’s oevre ably demonstrates the only two unmalleable requirements for creative success: Be really good at what you do and work at it.