Last House on the Left (1972)

Genre: Horror

Director: Wes Craven

Writer: Wes Craven

Starring: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess

Rating: ★★★★

Wes Craven’s first film was a real controversial release which saw it banned for almost 30 years within the UK, but Last House on the Left is now a cult classic and a piece of horror history which has since shaped the genre.  A somewhat sick but clever and inventive story alongside amateur directing and acting give this film a feel which only emphasises its outcome which is no less than horrific. Although some aspects are lost due to its old release date and technology, it is still very entertaining and a successful horror which even today would be a big hit.

The story follows two teenage girls Mari Collingwood and Phyllis who for Mari’s birthday are heading to a rock concert but stopping in the city to attempt to “score” some drugs the pair are kidnapped by a gang of prison runaways, gruesome killers and psychos led by Krug who’s wanted for the killing of two nuns and a priest. As they are flung into the back of a boot the gang drive them into a forest which looks onto Mari’s house, unknowingly her parents are in walking distance away from their daughter Mari who watches Phyllis get mentally tortured.  After Phyllis is brutally killed, Mari attempts to escape but it leads to her rape and death. As night approaches the gang clean up and look for a place to stay, unknowingly they come across Mari’s house and manage to stay the night but Mr and Mrs Collingwood become suspicious. Eventually finding their bloody clothes and their dead daughter in the opposing lake, the two set on a night of gruesome revenge which involves chainsaws and blown out brains.

The story is something that even with modern releases is still labelled and seen as “sick”, Wes Craven creating something truly horrific and gruesome.  However it is something that leaves you really intrigued and somewhat satisfied as you see the revenge comes about to the gang of killers. The idea of Mari’s parents being so close to the murders whilst also setting up a birthday surprise is something which adds to the horror. The only slightly annoying and flawed element to Craven’s plot is the inclusion of two comic relief cops who are truly hopeless, and in a way remove some of the tense atmosphere and terror away from the real events.

The acting is somewhat amateur alongside the direction however with a documentary type feel it puts us as an audience right in the front seat witnessing the brutal events first hand. More so how we connect more with the gang of psychotic killers leaves an unnerving after effect once viewed. Last House on the Left for a very low budget and old film is still creditable. The most stand-out element away from the story for me is the soundtrack and “theme song” which once properly heard is sickening as it explains the story of two girls getting raped and killed to some very happy carnival type music – “have some fun with these two lovely children and off them as soon as we’re done”

There is no surprise to why Last House on the Left got banned however it is a truly great classic horror which is probably one of the most gruesome films I’ve ever seen due to such a slightly disturbing story from Wes Craven.  Although a product of its time which effects how watchable it is, Last House on the Left deserves its “cult classic” status as it a bloody, gruesome horror which is entertaining for all the wrong reasons, one not to be enjoyed.

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The Book Thief (2014)

The Book Thief (2013) PosterGenre: Drama, War

Director: Brian Percival

Writers: Michael Petroni, Markus Zusak (novel)

Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

Rating: ★★★½

The Book Thief is an adaption from Markus Zusak’s award winning novel of the same name, with an inviting and heart-felt tale of a story turning into life and movement on the big screen.  It is polished with some great acting from the main cast, making for a bunch of really likable characters and journeys to follow.  The Petroni and Percival adaption is also entertaining whilst at the same time being very solemn and sad, something excellently complemented by a great soundtrack.

“One small fact: you are going to die. Despite every effort, no one lives forever.” The Book Thief starts with that very line, from then onwards we know as an audience this won’t be the happiest film of the year. The story follows the journey and events of a young girl called Liesel who’s subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany. She’s inquisitive and that nature leads her to her greatest solace of stealing books. Due to a pre-war Germany Liesel is adopted by Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson) a married couple in a small German village.  It is there where we follow her life; aged 9 she attempts to settle in with new parents, friends and school but what we see develop most is her love for books.  Befriending local boy Rudy and settling within her new home, she is then interrupted by a Jewish refuge Max on the run from Nazi’s and Hitler. Max brings to Liesel’s attention the action of Hitler and Germany, and sparks again her inquisitive nature. Ill and on the brink of death Liesel forms a special bond with Max, as he lays hidden and unconscious most nights in their basement Liesel reads another stolen book in the hope that they’ll survive another night and avoid capture.

Zusak’s original story is very intriguing and somewhat pleasant but on screen The Book Thief is somewhat depressing and the opening sequences establish this. However my issue is not with the tone or mood portrayed, but with the plot ruining narrator which kills the story’s emotion. Introducing himself as death the narrator (Roger Allam) tells Liesel’s story whilst also commenting on the other main characters who’s “souls” he has met informing us that there will be no happy ending and more to the point our characters all die. It did take away some emotion and a huge deal of surprise however the story which does get told is one which is powerful and exciting. Scenes where a young Liesel begins to settle and form bonds are pleasant, whilst those which see us nervous as we watch Nazi’s inspect basements are tense and exciting. The story also captures some humorous and comedic moments, something achieved by Liesel’s adoptive mother Rosa which together with other aspects of the story keep The Book Thief entertaining enough.

The acting was something which was creditable and a highlight; the two young stars playing Liesel and Rudy were very effective and captured great performances.  However the most warming and my personal favourite performance was  Geoffrey Rush as Hans, who at times provided laughs but mainly warmth as he helped Liesel learn to read and write and showed bravery and strength.  Percival’s direction alongside his grey and white pallet reflected and complemented the film very well and although nothing too eye-catching, something still effective yet simplistic. Finally the last element which definitely deserves a mention was The Book Thief’s soundtrack which was made up from various soft soothing piano pieces, something deservedly recognised from the Oscar Committee.

Despite the flaw of death being the narrator, The Book Thief was also hard to understand at times due to the inclusion of German dialect and contextual terms which confused me on a number of occasions making it hard to understand what was happening. More so the film’s running time was for me, too long as the film struggled to entertain and stay intriguing in its final act and I actually thought the end credits were going to scroll twice before they actually did.

The Book Thief although not flawless thrives of a real touching story and one which finds itself having a lot of heart as it showed strength and woes of those Germans affected by World War II, especially children who witnessed and went through many horrors. Impressive score and acting furthermore makes it very easily watchable and despite some minor criticisms entertaining, although falling short of being a “must-see”, The Book Thief definitely deserves some recognition.