Project Horror, Day 29: The Virgin Spring/The Last House on the Left (1972 & 2009)


The final Friday night of Project Horror - the perfect opportunity for a marathon.  A triple header!  With plenty of Diet Dr. Pepper to keep me fueled, I set out to watch three in a row.

Three different films, all with the same story - a young, innocent girl who is loved and doted on by her parents leaves home with a more worldly friend.  On their trip, she is raped, brutalized, and murdered by men who then take some unique possession of hers and later seek shelter at her parents' home.  The parents either find or are offered the item that the killers took, recognize it, and take their vengeance.

Hoo boy...  When I had the idea to do a triple feature, it seemed like a great idea, a way to finish out the month with a bang.  I sort of wish now that I hadn't done it.  Today was a little bit of an emotional day for me anyway, and although I'd never seen any of these, I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with their contents.

Here's the thing - I hate watching filmed depictions of rape.  I know that it's a situation that happens far, far too often in real life, and that in a dramatic movie it can add to the drama or serve as the action that the movie centers around.  I don't have some moral objection to including rape in the plot of a movie.  I just am sickened by watching it more than I have words to tell you.  The Accused is supposed to be one of Jodie Foster's best roles, one that she won Best Actress for, and she's an actress who I really like, but I don't ever want to see that movie.  I don't know if I thought that maybe it would feel different if it was in a horror movie, where the entire point is to be shocking, but it really wasn't.  This was the hardest night yet of Project Horror.

That said, how were the movies?  ("Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?")

The Virgin Spring was very good.  I mean, it's directed by Ingmar Bergman, and the guy just didn't make bad movies.  To be fair, it is definitely not a horror movie, it's a drama and a morality play.  I included it mainly so I could compare it with the other two movies.  The parents in this version are very devout Christians, and they have genuine turmoil about what to do once they know the identity of the men staying with them.  The rape scene, though not explicit, goes a little farther than most films made in 1960 would have; aside from that scene, this was a great movie, and interesting to watch.  It does not treat the crime against the girl lightly, but it also doesn't minimize the ethical weight of the parents' vengeance.  I give this one five flowing springs out of five.

At this point in the evening, I was still feeling OK.  Then I watched Wes Craven's 1972 movie The Last House on the Left.  Look, I don't expect horror movies to be setting the standard when it comes to gender equality, but when the second line in the movie is a pervy old mailman saying that the girl who lives in the house he's delivering to is a hot little piece of ass, you had best be prepared to watch 90 minutes of misogyny, and that's pretty much what this was.

Craven has gone on to make many great and influential horror movies, but this one... ugh.  He not only dwells lasciviously on the torture heaped onto the girls, there are parts where it seems like he's playing it for laughs.  I don't know what kind of stylistic choice Craven was making when he chose the soundtrack for this movie, but just click this link and listen to one of the musical selections.  It's some kind of honky-tonk jug band corniness that belongs in something like a Muppet movie or a buddy film about guys driving fast cars away from Southern cops, not played over a scene of women's bodies being stuffed into the trunk of a car.  Forget appropriateness and everything else - this is just sloppy directing.

The parents' vengeance in this one is more incidental.  It seemed sort of tacked on to the end so that the movie has some kind of redemption at the last.  There's no real gravity to it.

I don't want to come up with clever icons for this movie, so I'm just using the international symbol for "DON'T," a red circle and slash.  I give it one out of five.

And finally, the last feature of the night, the 2009 remake of Last House, produced by Wes Craven but directed by somebody else.  After my experience with the last one, I was dreading starting this one, but it was a little better.  I'll get the bad out of the way right up front: the rape scene is the most graphic and realistic of all three movies.  It upset me.

But now the good - I thought the rest of the movie worked better.  The girls still meet a bad fate, but it doesn't linger over that.  There's far more focus on what happens once the killers reach her parents' house.  Although it's violent, it isn't gratuitously so.  It's kind of a look at what average people do in extreme circumstances, like in Straw Dogs.  I won't spoil the end, but the filmmakers introduced an element that also added a ticking clock on top of the revenge scenes, and it made this play much more like a thriller.

I'll give this one three microwave ovens out of five (microwaves, because of one of the most memorable death scenes this side of Scanners).


Andrea G. said...

OUt of these 3, I;ve only seen the 2nd. I totally agree - that movie was a waste of film!!

Will Meekin said...

Despite Craven's Last House being released when Taratino was 9 years old, the music choice you highlighted sounds like it came from the score of any of the crap Pulp Fiction knockoffs that came out in the mid-to-late 90s. "Countin' flowers on the wall, that don't bother me at all..."


Danny said...

That's an interesting point. I can't explain why it bothered me so much in this movie, and doesn't in QT's, but it seems like when he does it, he juxtaposes it for irony and does it well. Craven was just like tossing wacky music with a banjo and kazoo in there in a way that added nothing to the movie except annoyance.

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