The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven / U.S., 1972):

Théâtre de la Cruauté à la grindhouse, grimy to the touch and beastly to the bone. The Virgin Spring is the object of debasement, a rock concert figures in Wes Craven's suggestive adjustment of Bergman's medieval ballad, "same old stuff, murder and mayhem." The suburban faun (Sandra Peabody) is off to the city to celebrate her upcoming birthday, her gal pal (Lucy Grantham) opts for a weedy detour along the way and a gang of fugitives scoops them both up. The degenerate quartet—chief scum-bucket (David Hess), switchblade molester (Fred Lincoln), scraggly Jezebel (Jeramie Rain) and junkie son (Marc Sheffler)—cavort like John Waters' Manson Family, wacky theme song and all, until the terror moves to the woods and viscera spills onto the grass. The middle section is a joyride gone snuff, a jagged tableau of violation; Brecht's "barbarians treated barbarically" dictates the denouement, the victim's parents (Richard Towers and Cynthia Carr) settle matters with shotgun and chainsaw. "All that blood and violence! I thought you were supposed to be the Love Generation." The war at home, freaks and squares sutured in carnage, another case for "Sigmund Frood" to mull over. Craven's gorge-rising tactics include intercutting from the dismemberment of one of the heroines to two oafish cops tumbling out of a chicken truck, one gruesome type of slapstick deserves another. (The most effective moment lasts less than a minute, chisel and hammer on front chompers in the director's maiden voyage into oneiric netherworlds.) No Scandinavian miracle waits at the close, just the desolating realization of gory hands in a demolished living room. "And the road leads to nowhere," except to Haneke's sterile torment machines. With Marshall Anker, Martin Kove, Ada Washington, and Ray Edwards.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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