Sex Crime Of The Century

So, revenge movies really started to come into their own in the 1970′s. Movies like I Spit on Your Grave, Death Wish, and Coffy featured seemingly normal people who become bloodthirsty maniacs hellbent on retribution. It even crossed genres, such as in High Plains Drifter, a western. Perhaps the most notorious of these was Wes Craven’s first movie- The Last House on the Left, once screened as Sex Crime of the Century.

The “based on actual events” story is about two girls, rich country-girl Mari and low-class city dweller Phyllis, on their way to a concert in the city. Although Phyllis is supposed to be from the same rough neighborhood where the concert is being held, she’s just as naive as Mari, and soon they are kidnapped by a couple escaped convicts and their two cronies. The criminals torture, rape, and murder the girls, then inadvertently spend the night at one of the girls parents’ house. The parents find enough evidence to convince them these people killed their daughter and unleash their Home Alone-esque vengeance.

The beauty of The Last House on the Left is that it overcomes the trappings of a low-budget first feature, which are all there. We’ve got goofy dialog, out-of-place comic relief characters, and unbelievable plot contrivances- all the usual suspects. But the most important things are well done. The girls’ fear is palpable, there’s no question they are terrified. The criminals are evil, doing anything they want to the girls, everything from forcing Phyllis to pee her pants to disembowelment.

There is one sequence in particular that displays Craven’s potential. After the gang kills Phyllis, they become more brutish, getting less enjoyment from their actions. Then Mari is raped. She realizes the only thing they can do from that point is kill her, and she gains some dignity knowing there’s nothing more they can take. But it’s different for her tormentors. They become unfocused and unsure of themselves, in a daze, knowing they’ve lost all their power and confidence. Both the gang and Mari are going through the motions when she’s finally killed. It’s an incredibly effective sequence that really stands out from the rest of the movie.

The violence and torment are what make the movie notorious, but there’s enough filmmaking skill on display to make it worthwhile, as well. And the plot? It’s a rip-off of The Virgin Spring. How many other low budget gore-fests get their inspiration from Ingmar Bergman?

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