When I watched it, I could definitely understand the various pros and cons that people described. I felt that it did have an undeniable gritty, ultra-realistic feel to it, that there were parts that were pretty hard-hitting, and I understood why people back in 1972 were so horrified, but on the other hand, I didn't, and still don't, think that it's flawless. It does have some major problems, like the aforementioned cops, random moments that just feel weird, and some really ridiculous music and songs on the soundtrack. Ever since that first viewing, I've always been rather mixed on it, as there have been some viewings where I really didn't like it at all, and others, such as for this review, where I felt it does have merits, despite its flaws. However, it's never been a movie that I thought was excellent and, while he certainly made worse movies, I personally wouldn't put it among Craven's best.
Mari Collingwood is a lovely, free-spirited young woman who's just turned 17 and plans to attend a rock concert in New York City with her friend, the street-smart Phyllis Stone. On the way, they hear a news report on the car radio of a recent prison break that's left two cops and a police dog dead. The escapees, the brutish and sadistic Krug Stillo and the sleazy, switchblade-wielding pedophile Fred Podowski, known as "Weasel," escaped with the help of Sadie, a violent and sexually promiscuous woman, and Junior Stillo, Krug's teenaged, illegitimate son, who he keeps under control by addicting him to drugs. The four criminals are staying in a rundown apartment in the neighborhood where Mari and Phyllis stop to try to score some weed before the concert and they make the mistake of trying to buy some off of Junior, who leads them to the apartment, where they're trapped by the sadistic thugs. Unable to escape or bargain with them to be let go, Phyllis punched and gang-raped by the group in front of Mari, all while her unknowing parents prepare a surprise birthday party for her. The next morning, the criminals load the girls up into the trunk of their car and drive off, attempting to leave the state, but the car breaks down just a few feet from the driveway leading to Mari's house. Unable to fix the car, they take the girls into the woods and torture and humiliate them, while the local sheriff and his deputy, having been notified by Mr. and Mrs. Collingwood, attempt to find Mari and realize when they're back at the station that they saw the gang's broken down car right near the Collingwood house. However, their car runs out of gas en route and they're forced to walk the long distance remaining. Meanwhile, Phyllis attempts to make a run for it and almost reaches the road but is caught and hideously disemboweled, while Mari, after becoming somewhat close to Junior, attempts to escape with him but it turns out to be futile as well. Mari is tortured some more and raped by Krug, before finally being fatally shot when she tries to clean herself up in a nearby lake. After changing their bloody clothes and washing up, the gang seeks shelter at the Collingwood house, planning to be driven to a nearby service station in the morning in order to repair their car. Mari's parents unknowingly let their daughter's killers stay overnight, but they soon learn the truth of what's happened and plan to exact brutal revenge.
The acting in this film isn't exactly known for being superlative (there a number of moments where it's downright awful) but it's often serviceable enough for the characters and that includes the two girls, Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) and Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham), who are both very likable. Mari is a very lovely, free-spirited, slightly rebellious but still sweet and innocent teenaged girl, who's just turned 17, is right on the verge of true womanhood, and is ready to embrace it, proclaiming this to be the first year where she really feels like a woman. Although she's into some things that her upper middle-class parents don't approve of, like the band Bloodlust and her deciding to go out with no bra underneath her blouse, and she debates with them about it, it's obvious that they're very close, regardless, to the point where she happily accepts a special peace symbol from her father. Phyllis is a lower-class girl from the mean streets of Manhattan and has a bit more of an edge to her than Mari, given that her parents are in the "iron and steal" business: her mother irons and her father steals. She's the one who pulls up a bottle of booze she kept tied by the river near Mari's house and tries to find a place where they can score some grass before the concert when they reach the city. This is what ultimately lands them in the clutches of Krug and his gang and begins their living nightmare. Being the tougher of the girls, Phyllis' main concern throughout all of the torture, rape, and degradation they're put through is Mari, whom she tries to protect as much as she can, to the point where she pees her pants per Krug's instructions to stop Weasel from cutting Mari and, when they're both forced to strip naked and make out with each other, she can heard trying to calm Mari down, telling her, "It's just you and me. There's no one else here." After that's done, and when Krug heads up to where their broken down car is, Phyllis makes a run for it, but rather than just thinking about herself, she does it to try to draw the killers away so Mari can escape as well and go for help. When Junior is the only one left behind to guard Mari, she, initially just in desperation to escape but later due to genuine compassion she develops for him, noting the horrible way his father treats him, tries to convince him to escape with her. She goes as far as to give him the nickname "Willow" and gives him her peace necklace as a sign of trust, but both of the girls' escape attempts prove to be futile and they both meet horrific ends afterward.
Mari's parents, John (Gaylord St. James) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr), are pretty typical depictions of parents of the white-bread, middle-class, wholesome variety who love their daughter and would do anything for her, but aren't quite sure about some of the things she's into, with her father in particular not being keen on her refusal to wear a bra, despite her nipples being visible beneath her blouse (her mother chimes in with, "If God had meant women to go around with their busts exposed, Mari Collingwood, he wouldn't have given us clothes!", and both of them aren't crazy about her going to a concert featuring the band Bloodlust, especially after what they're read about them. In addition, Estelle doesn't care for Phyllis because of her background and the girl really makes the wrong first impression with that crack about her parents and the "iron and steal" business, but despite their misgivings, they allow Mari to go and have fun, all the while preparing a surprise birthday party for her. This act, coupled with how they talk about it and Mari, shows how much they truly love her, and you also see how close they are, as they decide to have some quality time for themselves once they're done with the decorations. Like any parents, they're naturally confused and worried when their daughter doesn't come when she should've, with Estelle blaming Phyllis for it, but John figures it's just her way of being a rebellious teenager and that she'll be home soon. However, they're soon forced to call the cops and they become a little frustrated with their incompetence and lack of progress in finding her, as John can be heard saying over the telephone at the station that he'll hold them responsible if anything happens to Mari. Despite their worries, they graciously allow Krug and the gang, who are dressed as salesmen, to stay the night when they show up, telling them that their car broke down, and even serve them dinner. But they both learn what happened to Mari later on and they then find her by the shore, arriving in time for her to finally expire in front of them, and while James and Carr's reactions to this aren't the best acted (Carr, in particular, really drops the ball when she half-heartedly proclaims, "Oh, my poor baby," without any sobbing or anything), one thing becomes clear afterward: they intend to make Krug and his gang suffer the same pain that their daughter did, only tenfold, leading into one of the themes that Craven wrote into the film, which we'll get into later.
"Weasel" is a perfect nickname for the character of Fred Podowski (Fred Lincoln) because, while Krug is undoubtedly the most sadistic of the gang, he's the sleaziest. He's even more scummy-looking than Krug (which is appropriate, given that he's both a peeping tom and a child molester) and clearly only has one thing on his mind when Mari and Phyllis are first trapped in the apartment. He's such a sleaze that he hits on Estelle Collingwood when he wakes up in the middle of the night at their house and finds her in the kitchen with no sign of her husband, proclaiming when she leads him on by saying that her husband doesn't do it for her anymore that he could make love to her both hands tied behind his back (which backfires against him horribly). However, that's far from his only irredeemable personality trait, as he's also not above threatening their victims, pulling his switchblade on Phyllis when she threatens to scream and saying he'll kill her if she spits on him again when she does it while he's fondling her; helping Krug humiliate them by trying to get them to moo like cows when they say they were just looking for some grass and making them strip down (he's initially reluctant to go along with Krug's plans to torture them, feeling that they should be more worried about getting out of the state); and sadistically torturing and killing them, as he cuts Mari when Phyllis refuses to urinate on herself and does most of the stabbing that kills her (the latter act shows that his threat towards Phyllis in the apartment wasn't idle at all, as he does this in retaliation for her running away and for spitting blood in his face in defiance beforehand). And yet, ironically, earlier when they're driving through the countryside in their car, he wonders about how they got into committing sex-crimes, which he describes as a crime they never forgive you for, to begin with! As for Sadie (Jeramie Rain), other than her taking part in Phyllis' gang-rape in the apartment and her later disembowelment, she's the least physically violent towards the girls (despite having brutally killed a police dog during Krug and Weasel's escape, according to the news report), although she still revels in their being degraded and, being bi-sexual, enthusiastically fondles and molests them, something that Phyllis angrily tries to protect Mari from. Incidentally, she's the reason why the gang takes Mari and Phyllis to begin with, as Sadie talks about wanting a couple of more girls around to even things out, and while she can sometimes be heard showing concern about them being hurt, such as when they're loaded into the trunk of the car, it's probably just because she doesn't want her "playthings" damaged. She's not only as sleazy as Weasel but is also shamelessly sexual, giving Junior an up-close view of her goodies while she's in the bathtub and letting Krug bang her while she's sitting on his lap as they're driving, and is not as smart as she thinks she is, saying "male chauvinist dog" instead of "pig" and mispronouncing Sigmund Freud's name, among other things. She does have some minor good parts to her, as she sometimes acts as a surrogate mom to Junior and feels bad for him when Krug's abusive towards him. Notably, when things go south for them during the climax, she turns on Krug and runs for it, only for Estelle to chase her down and eventually cut her throat in the swimming pool.
One of the many things people often mention about Last House is how it's one of a group of notable low budget horror movies made around this time that were shot on grainy 16mm film and, as a result, have a very gritty, realistic feel to them more akin to a cinema verite documentary or, in some cases, such as in scenes here, a snuff film; Wes Craven chalked his particular method of using it up to the people whom he had contact with while he was learning editing from one of his mentors, Harry Chapin, himself a documentary filmmaker at one time. Not only does the film's graininess, which it retains even in its more recent, cleaned-up forms, give the impression that what you're watching is something more real than a mere movie, as does a disclaimer at the beginning claiming that what you're about to see depicted really happened but that names and locations have been changed to protect those who are still alive, but so does the way Craven uses the camera. Sometimes, he gets much more up close and intimate with the characters than you'd see in a typical movie and, other times, including during some of the more disturbing scenes, the camera stays far off and objective rather than showing what's going on in close, gratuitous detail. The moment that best exemplifies the latter for me is when they find Phyllis slumped up against a tree after having been seriously stabbed and Weasel and Sadie, followed closely by Krug, move in for the kill, with the camera keeping its distance from them until they get up in her face. I also feel the same way about the objective shot of Weasel falling to the ground and Estelle running and hacking into the lake after she's bitten off his penis and the one of Sadie bleeding in the swimming pool after her throat's been slit. That's the kind of stuff that makes it feel more like a snuff film than just a typical horror/slasher film, which show the deaths and gore effects in minute detail (not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you, it's just this is a more realistic approach). Another thing that's interesting about the way the film's shot is how its lack of stylization results in nothing looking better or worse than it really is. What I mean by that is that the woods and countryside look very serene and beautiful, practically out of a vintage nature documentary, even during the more upsetting scenes in the second (which make for an effectively disturbing juxtaposition), but when we get to the sections on the city streets, which even Mari notes as being very disgusting, and the apartment, their seedy nature becomes very apparent. The apartment they're staying in particularly looks very scummy and low-rent, and the presence of the criminals and the way they look and act only adds to it, to the point where you can almost smell the sleaze.
Probably because of the very low budget and Craven's relative inexperience at the time, the film has some instances of lighting that are very unusual, especially in the interior scenes. Most of the time, it looks like typical movie lighting, but there are other times where you have scenes that are mostly pitch black but with spots of bright, fluorescent light, often off to the side or in the background, and vice-versa in some instances, like the second image here. It's an interesting look, coming across as fairly realistic and yet, having something of an otherworldly, heightened quality to it. I don't know how to describe it but I haven't seen lighting akin to that very often, save for other 16mm movies made around this time, which makes me think it may something to do with the film stock as well. There's also a moment that I like where Krug, upon finding John Collingwood in the bedroom, pointing a shotgun, rips out a lamp's electrical cord, plunging the room in complete darkness and all you hear is them scrambling around until the scene cuts to the outside hallway. Again, I thought it was interesting for them to go the realistic route of not being able to see anything, unlike how it usually is in dark scenes in movies (it was probably because they couldn't afford to do it that way). Of course, given the movie's circumstances, you unavoidably have moments where the lighting is really poor, mostly at the beginning when Mari and Phyllis are driving to the city and when they're walking the streets of New York, looking for someone to buy weed from. Fortunately, these overly dark moments don't happen as often as they did in the original Friday the 13th nearly ten years later. And there are a lot of exterior scenes during the third act that you can tell where done using the day-for-night technique but, again, I cut the movie slack because of the limited resources they had.
Craven also handled the editing on the movie, and in addition to simple cutting from one scene to another and transitions, he also experimented a little bit, using some non-linear juxtaposing and, much more often, cross-cutting back and forth. The prime example of the former is during the beginning, when you see Mari and Phyllis having fun by the river in the woods and it cuts to when the latter was introduced to Mari's parents and didn't make the best first impression, while there are many examples of the latter. Some examples include when the mailman at the beginning mentions the amount of adoring letters Mari's been getting and just how pretty she is, as we then get our first glimpses of her as she's taking a shower, when the film cuts from the news report on the car radio about Krug and the gang's escape to our first glimpses of the criminals as descriptions of them are given, and cutting between the gang in their rented apartment and Mari and Phyllis buying ice cream somewhere, showing how blissfully unaware they are of the danger looking nearby. Craven also uses the editing techniques that Alfred Hitchcock pioneered in order to clue us in to certain things, like a brief shot of the criminals' broken down car as the cops realize from the radio description that it was what they saw on the side of the road and a quick shot of Mari's body on the living room couch as Estelle tries to keep Weasel from walking in there. And there's one instance where, as is the case with other elements, he uses the editing to try to create a disturbing contrast between scenes, by showing the terror that the girls are being subject to when they're first trapped in the apartment with the upbeat, sugary sweet sequence of Mari's parents enthusiastically making her a birthday cake and setting up for her surprise party, culminating when the two of them prepare to have a romantic night to themselves, while Phyllis gets gang-raped. While not completely successful, I do think this is an instance where this angle works better than in other parts of the film, and the other experimental editing I've mentioned comes across as crude and jarring but, again, it's admissible given Craven's inexperience.
As is often the case with Craven's films, there's a lot of subtext to be found beneath the blood and violence, including the nature of violence. While it's not a film about the then ongoing Vietnam War, which is never mentioned once during it, Craven said that the war did have an effect on him while he was writing the screenplay, particularly when it came to those fighting it and how they related back to polite American society. For him, the scene where, after having tortured, raped, and fatally Mari, Krug and his gang wash up in the lake, change into some nice clothes, and seek shelter at the Collingwood house, where they make themselves comfortable and have a nice dinner with the couple, was indicative of how those fighting in the war and committing brutal acts of violence could then worry about being presentable to the American public at large and have other normal, everyday concerns, as if nothing had happened. Another theme he deals with, and one he would revisit many times down the road, is how there's a potential for brutality in everyone, no matter what their background or circumstances, and nowhere is that more evident than in the case of Mari's parents. Here you have this couple who are presented as the most apple-pie, white-bread, Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver-type parents imaginable, in the way they dress and act, how their house looks, and their disapproval of some of the stuff their daughter and others of her generation are into (when they're talking about Bloodlust, Estelle comments, "I think it's crazy... All that blood and violence. I thought you were supposed to be the love generation," but when they discover what these strangers staying in their house have done to their daughter, they get revenge in a manner that's just as grisly as the acts the gang committed. By the time it's all over, the two of them are sitting in the middle of their living room, covered in blood, panting in both physical and mental exhaustion, with the "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" banner they put up for Mari's surprise party hanging down in the background, symbolizing how the innocence that was once there has been shattered to bits.
That comment Estelle makes is also an allusion to another theme prevalent in the film: the death of the hippie movement. By 1972, the "Summer of Love" was dead and buried, due to the chaos that occurred at the Altamont Speedway concert and, most significantly, by the Manson murders, which proved that just because someone looks like a hippie, it doesn't mean that they have peace and love on their mind. In this case, you have a couple of teenage girls who are very much of that generation and are tortured, defiled, and murdered by a group of people who, by and large, come across like them in the way that they look and dress. Most significantly, some have seen the peace symbol necklace that's given to Mari by her father as being symbolic of the instant the hippie movement died when Estelle sees that Junior's wearing it, leading her and John to discover what they did to her. John Wooley, author of Wes Craven: The Man and His Nightmares (which is excellent reading for anyone with an interest in his work), said that when he asked Craven if that's what he meant with that image during their interview for the book, he replied, "Or, she's just completely, absurdly innocent about what's out there," and that is another reading of the film: a young woman, completely innocent and overjoyed to be on the verge of adulthood, learns of the evils of the world in the most gruesome way possible, being raped and murdered in the very woods where she made that declaration of truly feeling like a woman for the first time in her life. Going back to the notion of the hippie movement, there's also the notion of the culture war that was going on between them and members of the Establishment and other parts of society, signified by Mari's parents disapproving of their daughter's interests and style of dress, as well as by Krug's disdain towards the Collingwoods and their higher class lifestyle.
Despite its being a very crude-looking, hardcore, repellant film, the structure for The Last House on the Left is said to have come from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, one of the European New Wave films that Craven saw while he was teaching college in the late 60's and made him truly fall in love with cinema. I've not seen that movie myself but, looking at the plot synopsis, the similarities are apparent: a young woman is raped and murdered, the attackers unknowingly seek shelter at her parents' house, and when they learn what they've done, they seek violent revenge against them. There are also some key points of the story that are borrowed, such as the younger of the attackers becoming wracked with guilt over it and, most significantly, the girl's parents realizing what the men have done when they see they possess something of hers (in this case, it's her clothes), and like in Last House, it's the mother who first learns of it. And from what I've read, the shot of Krug's face against Mari's as he rapes her is done in a fashion almost identical to a shot from The Virgin Spring. However, a notable difference is that in Bergman's film, the girl's father asks for forgiveness from God for what he's done and plans to build a church in her memory to atone for his sins, something that you're definitely not going to see in any movie by Craven. Being as cultured as he was, Craven also took inspiration from a painting of the character of Ophelia from Hamlet lying dead in a creek for the scene where Mari is killed while wading through the lake.
Alfred Hitchcock always said that, when making a horror film or a thriller, you have to alleviate the tension now and then with comedy, because a pure marathon of it would be unbearable, and Craven, no doubt realizing what an extreme movie he was writing with Last House, decided to go with that notion. Unfortunately, that decision led to the most universally hated part of the movie: the two bumbling cops. Despite their opinion of the film as a whole, just about everybody who's seen Last House will say that the worst part of it are the scenes with these characters and they're so notorious that it's likely that you've heard of them even if you've never seen the movie. That was the case with me and when I finally did see the movie, it didn't take me long to understand why people feel this way. Going back and forth between scenes of horrific torture and silly, Keystone cops-style comedy and slapstick doesn't feel right, for one thing, as it tends to derail the mood the movie's going for (including their first appearance with Mari's parents, where they're more interested in eating pieces of the birthday cake than trying to find her), and for another, it's more stupid than it is funny, with the sheriff getting irritated at the deputy for not putting enough gas in their car and the deputy putting his ear to the road like a Native American stereotype and proclaiming that there's a truck coming (and he turns out to be right). But, more than anything else, it's intrusive and stops the movie cold. I don't need to see the sheriff beating the deputy at checkers before they realize that the car on the side of the road they didn't bother to investigate was the thugs' getaway car, and I especially don't need to see them trying to bum a ride from a middle-aged, African-American woman who's driving a truck full of chickens and failing miserably at it, which goes on much longer than it should. (Incidentally, would you see a pickup truck filled with chickens, being driven by someone who sounds the way she does, that far north as this movie's supposed to be set? I've never been up that way, so maybe you would, but that feels more like something you'd run across down here in the south.) When you see them still walking on the road during the third act, you'll probably finally lose your patience with them and yell, "Enough with this junk already!" Craven would get better at inserting humor, mainly dark humor, into his films as his career progressed but here, the stuff with the cops should've been either extensively trimmed or removed completely.
Besides the scenes with the cops, there are other moments in this movie that are just downright odd and random, sometimes hurting the mood just as badly as that comedy and the sillier songs and music on the soundtrack. For example, early on when Junior brings Sadie a drink while she's taking a bath, they're talking about different names they're going to use when they cross the state-line and they hit upon the notion of Junior calling himself "Frog"... and then, he starts talking about how he wishes he were frog, complete with croaking and miming catching flies with his tongue. I guess it's not surprising since he's a junkie, but still. Another one is the sequence where they put Mari and Phyllis into the trunk of their car and drive off down the road. It should be unsettling, as they're now officially kidnapping the girls and plan to take them out of the state to have their way with them, but instead, you've got the dumbest type of music and song playing over the whole thing, Krug banging Sadie as she's sitting on his lap in the backseat of the car (she's clearly enjoying herself, too), and Weasel going on about sex crimes and asking Sadie what she thinks the worst one imaginable was, which apparently throws Krug off and causes him to ejaculate prematurely, after which he growls at Weasel, "I oughta kill you." (Okay, I'll admit, that latter part did make me smirk, mainly thanks to how David Hess delivered that line.) And as if that wasn't enough, it leads into them having a discussion about it, with Sadie declaring Sigmund Freud as the biggest perpetrator for the ideas he's put in people's heads about objects from telephone poles (which says are now giant phalluses but she pronounces it "pha-hey-lus") to the Grand Canyon, which she says she can't look at anymore without spreading her legs. Moments like this make me wonder if I'm watching a horror movie or a sleazy comedy. Much later, you have the criminals eating dinner with the Collingwoods and the whole scene is just odd and awkward. Once again, the weird music is giving off a bizarre vibe, the acting has an air of discomfort about it, and that lighting, with the table and actors lit but everything else being pitch black, makes it feel surreal. But nothing tops this random nightmare that Weasel has later on where he sees John and Estelle standing over him, dressed up as surgeons, and John then takes a hammer and chisel to his teeth, causing him to snap up awake. I don't even... why the hell would he dream that?! Yeah, he knows the guy's a doctor but where did that come from? Does he have a fear of dentists or something? It just feels weird for the sake of weird. And finally, you have the ending credits, which plays that same dumb song from before and accompanies a series of shots of the characters with the actors' names appearing as captions, as if it was a sitcom. Yeah, these girls got raped and killed, one guy got his penis bitten off, a girl got her throat slashed, another guy shot himself, and a guy got chainsawed... that's our show! Good night, everybody!
One of Wes Craven's own filmmaking philosophies was that, if you're going to depict violence onscreen, you shouldn't soft-peddle it or water it down, as he felt that was doing a disservice to the reality of it, and this played into his constructing of Last House, as he felt that the way violence was depicted in popular media at the time of Vietnam was doing just that. This makes the movie really stand out, not only for that time period in general but also for the very year it was released. In 1972, a lot of the horror offerings, while featuring characters who, in one way or another, fit the ilk of the "hippie" generation, were quite campy and tongue-in-cheek. As a result, it's really odd to put it into context and see how, in the same year you had stuff like Frogs, The Thing With Two Heads, Blacula, and Beware! The Blob, there was also this really hard-hitting, sadistic, ultra-realistic film and that unexpectedness undoubtedly contributed to the extreme reactions it got, both in America and worldwide. Speaking of which, a big reason for why Last House became such a legendary film was because of the censorship problems it ran into throughout the world, becoming a "video nasty" in Great Britain and not being released uncut there until 2008 (by that time, it had only been available on DVD there for five years and only after 31 seconds had been trimmed from it), and also, for a while, becoming virtually impossible to get ahold of here until DVD became really prevalent. That leads me into another big thing about this movie: even though the latest DVD and Blu-Ray releases proclaim it to be "uncut," there really is no way to get a completely uncensored version because of just how much it has been cut over the years, as apparently, even some theater projectionists cut it before showings, and Craven claimed that there were some copies of the original film that were stolen and burned. (When I said the BBFC finally released uncut in 2008, what I meant was that, before that release, they had taken more footage out of the most complete print available.) What's more, there have been numerous versions of the movie on home media in various countries over the years, including an Australian VHS release, under the alternate title, Krug and Company, that has material not even the 84-minute cut available here has, and even then, there are still other scenes that have either been lost or are not in usable shape (they do often pop up as extras on the DVDs, though). The reason I'm writing this is so those not in the know will understand that, despite the lengthy breakdown that follows, this is not everything that Craven and company shot but rather is all that's on the most recent release, which is probably as uncut a release of this film as you're going to get.
The film starts out with a hint of its exploitation nature, as we see plenty of shots of Mari's breasts when she gets out of the shower, but doesn't really begin to show its true nature until she and Phyllis are first trapped in the criminals' apartment. They mock them for wanting some grass, Weasel tries to get them to moo after he suggests that they're two cows looking for grass (Sadie comments that Phyllis has some nice-looking "udders" on her), and when Phyllis threatens to scream if they don't let them go, Weasel pulls out his switchblade, showing that they're not playing around, and backs her up against the wall, mooing at her, while Krug dissuades her from doing so by giving her some free advice. We don't hear what said advice was, it cuts to Mari's parents making her cake, but when cuts back to the girls, Phyllis futilely tries to get them to let them both go, while Krug unbuttons and opens her blouse, which Sadie has her arms up, cupping her breasts, and when he gets it open, he makes her remove them so he can see the goods, so to speak. That's when Weasel swoops in, nuzzling against her breasts, and calls her "chicken breasts," prompting her to spit in his face. He takes out his switchblade and is about to stab her but Krug stops him, so all he can do is threaten to kill her if she does that again (a bit of foreshadowing there). Krug says they don't want to kill someone their first night out of prison and that there are other ways, which he demonstrates by punching her in the gut, sending her to the floor, and the three of them gang-rape her offscreen, while Mari watches in horror.
After the ridiculous driving sequence and their car breaking down, Krug opens up the trunk he piled Mari and Phyllis in to get a toolkit, when he recoils after Phyllis bites into his hand, and throws her to the road and smacks her. He's severely pissed about it, too, to the point of outrage, and also realizing that they're not going to be able to get someone to work on their car along as they're toting them around, decides to have some fun with them and has his lackeys drag them into the woods, as Mari sees that they're very close to her house. After being forced very deep into them, Krug tells Weasel to take out his knife, saying that he's going to tell Phyllis to do something and that he's to cut Mari if she refuses. Weasel unties her and slips the gag out of her mouth, and grabs Mari, as Krug tells Phyllis, "Piss your pants." Disgusted by this, she calls Krug a "sick mother" and, per his instructions, Weasel gives Mari a nasty cut, horrifying Phyllis. Krug again tells her to urinate on herself and after Sadie screams, "Do it!", she reluctantly complies, with the criminals mocking her for it. Krug then tells her to take her pants off and she slowly does so, with the thugs commenting on her how nice her legs are, and when Weasel makes the girls face each other, Krug forces Phyllis to hit Mari. She does so offscreen and eggs her on to do it again until Junior, who finds this unbearable, yells for Krug to stop, only to get dragged down to the ground and threatened by him. He suggests that he have them make out with each other, an idea that Sadie likes, and Krug then rips their clothes off of them, leaving Mari shirtless and Phyllis in just her underwear. Phyllis does what she can to calm Mari, who's now hysterical, as the rest of her clothes are ripped off, and the two of them, now completely naked, get down on the ground with each other, as Sadie prepares to join in, with Phyllis trying to stop her but gets shoved by Weasel in the process.
In a later scene, Krug heads back up to the car to try to find something to "heat things up," (in short, something to burn the girls with) and leaves Weasel to watch them. As Mari moans in shock offscreen, Phyllis asks Weasel if she can put her clothes back on, saying that she's cold, and he lets her. Once she's dressed, she leans down by Mari and whispers in her ear that she's going to make a run for it and try to the get the thugs to chase her, giving her a chance to go for help. Mari agrees and Phyllis then runs off into the woods. Weasel tells Junior to keep an eye on Mari, as he and Sadie run after Phyllis, who gets far ahead of them but finds her path blocked by the river. With nowhere else to go, she ducks underneath a nearby ledge, Weasel and Sadie running right by her without seeing her. Back at the "camp," Mari tries to get close to Junior, giving him the new name of "Willow," while Weasel and Sadie, fearing Krug's wrath if they don't find Phyllis, split up, not seeing her running off through the woods behind them. Phyllis runs down along the river, with Sadie angrily yelling for her, while Mari gives Junior her peace necklace, telling him she wants to be his friend, and promises him a fix, saying her father works with addicts and has plenty of stuff at the house. Desperate to get away, Mari tries to get Junior to come with her to her home, which she tells him is just across the street, but Junior is reluctant because of what Krug will do to him. Back at the chase, Phyllis has ended up on the opposite side of the river from Weasel, who follows her along it but can't find a spot to pass, prompting her to flip him off.
Following a pointless cutaway to the cops playing checkers, when they realize from a radio news report that the car they saw on the side of the road near the Collingwood home was the criminals' car, Phyllis is seen still running, with Weasel and Sadie chasing after her, as they're now back on the same side of the river (the aforementioned heavy editing the film went through over the years is probably an explanation for the continuity error, among many other inconsistencies in the film). Weasel trips and falls on the ground during the chase, while Sadie manages to catch up with Phyllis and they both hit the ground. As Weasel catches up, Sadie tries to manipulate Phyllis, saying that she can help her get out of this, but she picks up a rock and whacks her with it. Becoming enraged upon seeing this, Weasel pulls out his knife and tells Phyllis he's going to kill her, before checking to see if Sadie is alright. Phyllis continues running, making it through a small ravine and onto level ground, with Weasel and Sadie not far behind, and then, out of breath, she finds that she's reached a small graveyard at the edge of the woods. She stumbles through the spot and, seeing a car on a nearby freeway, attempts to go for it, only to run into a machete-wielding Krug just as she reaches the edge. She heads in the other direction, but comes face-to-face with Sadie, and when she heads back for the woods, Weasel steps out, his knife ready. Phyllis realizes that she's trapped and can only whimper and cry in defeat as they close in on her from all sides, Weasel stabbing her in her lower back, sending her to the ground. As they watch, she slowly gets up her hands and knees and tries to crawl away, only for Weasel to shove her back down with his foot. Moaning and groaning in pain, she again begins crawling along the ground and he shoves her again, but she's undeterred and keeps going, as Krug asks Weasel how she got away from them. After we see that the cops' car has run out of gas, the film cuts back to Krug, Weasel, and Sadie finding Phyllis slumped up against a small tree in a little patch of forest, still alive but clearly defeated. The latter two walk up to her, followed closely by Krug, and Weasel squats down and asks Phyllis about her back. Defiant to the last, Phyllis spits blood in Weasel's face, prompting him to angrily pull her to her feet by her shoulders and shove her into Krug's arms, leading into one of the film's most infamous and grisly scenes. With Krug holding her from behind, Weasel viciously guts Phyllis again and again and again, followed up by Sadie, who looked like she was recoiling in disgust a moment ago, following up with more hardcore stabs into her side and twisting the knife around within, finishing her off. Sadie then pulls out some innards, when Krug hears Mari calling for Phyllis. (Wes Craven said that they broke for lunch after filming this scene and everybody was so sickened and disturbed by it, they couldn't eat.)
Mari is seen arguing with Junior by the river, telling him that he has to man up and do something, but when he asks her what she would do if she were him, all she can do is hug him out of pity. The killers are then seen leaving the thoroughly disemboweled Phyllis behind in the woods as they head for the source of Mari's shouting, as she and Junior desperately try to make it to the road, only to run right into Krug. They both then back away and fall backwards onto the ground, with Krug standing right above Mari, who asks if Phyllis got away. Krug grimly shakes his head and Mari then screams in horror when Weasel and Sadie show her grisly proof by pulling out and dropping Phyllis' severed arm. Following another dumb scene with the cops, we then see Krug cutting into the top of Mari's chest with Weasel's switchblade, asking him to comment on his handiwork, as Weasel then helpfully tells us that he carved his name into her (I'm not being sarcastic there; the camera angle and the large amount of blood makes it nigh impossible to tell). And as if she hadn't suffered enough, Krug rips her pants and underwear off, telling her, "You're gonna get yours," and, as Junior watches from nearby, holds her struggling arms down and rapes her. Once it's done, they all slowly stand up, including Mari, who stumbles off into some nearby bushes and vomits from the shock of it. Upon hearing that, even Krug seems disgusted with himself, as do Weasel and Sadie, as they then hear Mari quietly praying to herself, while we see close-ups of their bloody hands, with blades of grass and twigs sticking to them. Mari then stands up and, clutching her stomach, walks off into the woods, followed by her attackers, who watch as she wades off into a small lake. Krug hands the knife to Sadie and motions for Weasel to give him the revolver he keeps holstered under his suit, while Mari, appearing to know what's coming, simply sits out in the shallows. Krug takes aim, pulls the hammer back, and fires, causing Mari to spin around and float on her back, just barely moving her arms. He aims the gun and prepares to shoot again, as a cutaway shows the Collingwoods' little dog, Cassie, reacting to the sounds of the two following shots out in the yard. Satisfied that Mari's dead, as she stops moving, Krug tells Junior to go to the car and get their suitcases, planning to wash up and get out.
Things slow down to a leisurely pace for a while, as the criminals wash themselves up in the lake, change into nice-looking business suits, and unknowingly end up at Mari's house, where they have no choice but to stay the night, as the nearest garage that could fix their car is closed for the night and they can't drive them to a hotel because Mari took off with the car. Taking Mari's room, and coming off as less than hospitable houseguests with their manners, they soon learn that it's her house, remarking on the odds of it, and that night, during dinner, Krug has to go in and shut up Junior when he starts having nightmares about what happened and yells in his sleep. Things begin to ratchet up again when Estelle checks on Junior when he's in the bathroom, throwing up from withdrawals, and she sees that he's wearing Mari's peace sign necklace. After helping him back to the room with the others, she goes into the next room where they're keeping their suitcase and, overhearing Junior arguing with Krug, who yells, "Shut up, or you'll wind up in the lake with her!", she unzips it and finds their blood-stained clothes inside. Realizing what's happened, the next cut shows her and John running through the woods to the lakeside, where they find Mari, only for her to expire as soon as they reach her. As it all comes crashing down on them, back up at the house, Weasel has that bizarre dream. He's tossing and turning in his sleep, when a gloved hand covers his mouth and he's told not to move. You then see Estelle and Jack standing over him, dressed as surgeons, the former putting latex gloves on the latter's hands, and after they tell Weasel to open his mouth, John takes a hammer and chisel and pounds into his two front teeth, jarring him awake. While John's down in the basement, searching for potential weapons to use against his daughter's killers, Weasel gets out of bed and walks down the hall, sees that the Collingwoods aren't in their bed, and then spies Estelle, who he's had his eye on ever since he saw her, standing in the dining room by herself, with a drink in her hand. He walks up to her, makes small-talk, and asks where her husband is. After another cut down to the basement, where John takes down and loads a shotgun, Estelle tells Weasel that John finds her undesirable, who comments, "I could make love to a looker like you with my hands tied behind my back." He tries to get her to the couch in the living room but Estelle stops him, as Mari's body is lying there, and instead talks him into going outside with her.
While they walk around outside, John gets to work booby-trapping the house inside (another Wes Craven trademark), attaching wires, including electrical ones, to various parts of the house, putting more electrical ones underneath a rug in front of a door, pouring water on top of the rug, and plugging the cord into a nearby outlet. As Weasel gets Estelle to tie his hands behind his back to prove he wasn't exaggerating earlier, John, toting his shotgun, walks to Mari's bedroom and sprays and spreads shaving cream on the floor in front of the door before slowly opening it. Outside, Estelle unzips Weasel, accidentally getting his penis caught up in it (was that the Farrelly Brothers' inspiration for that scene in There's Something About Mary?) before getting it fully open, while John creeps into Mari's bedroom and takes away the gun Krug put on the nightstand. Krug appears to awake to this but, apparently not seeing John in the dark or just being half-asleep, drifts off again. Back outside, Estelle has Weasel on the breaking point, and starts giving him a blowjob, which just about sends him over the edge, when he suddenly screams in pain, as she bites down on his penis and wrenches it off. She then runs to the lake and washes her mouth out, as he collapses to the ground and screams in agony. His cries awaken Krug and Sadie up at the house, who turn on the lamp, only to find John standing across from them, pointing a shotgun at them. Krug tries to talk John down, as he reaches under the bed, grabs the cord to the lamp, and yanks it, plunging the room into complete darkness. John fires a shot but misses, and scrambling is heard in the dark, with Krug to get the light back on. After an edit, we're in the hallway, as Krug rushes out and slips and falls on the shaving cream. He tries to run down the hall but slips on it again and trips over a wire that's rigged across it. Getting to his feet, he and John face off in the living room, with the latter delivering a punch to the face. Krug isn't fazed by this and tells John to punch him right in the chin, which he does. He comments that he's almost as good as Sadie and then taunts him, telling him to get something to help him. John grabs a fireplace shovel, when Krug notices Mari's body on the couch and mockingly says, "Oh, who's this? Hello there." John tries to whack him but Krug catches his arm and knees him, sending him to the floor. He motions for him to get back up, saying, "You're just playing games here," and then asking what happened to Weasel. John gets up, goes for a punch, and while Krug blocks it, John manages to deliver one with his other arm, knocking him on his ass. Krug, now genuinely angry, stands up, stomps towards John, punches him in the gut and follows that up with a whack to the back of the head, sending tumbling onto a rug.
Krug again mocks Mari, trying to remember her name, and then tells John that she was tougher than him. Stomping up to John, Krug calls him a pussy and gut-punches him again. John leans against Krug, gasping in pain, when the crook pushes his head back up by the chin, and growls, "A real pussy!" before delivering another gut-punch. Again, John leans against Krug, who tells him he can do better than that, and delivers yet another gut-punch, sending him onto the window sill, where he gives him another sock. Krug pushes John's head up against the window with his arm against his neck and the two of them struggle, when Junior, who's gotten ahold of the revolver, lets off a shot. Krug, turning around and seeing this, doesn't take it seriously for a minute, despite Junior insisting that he'll do it, and mocks him, showing him how to do it properly. Junior's hands begin shaking uncontrollably and, in spite of Krug's prodding, can't pull the trigger. Junior backs up, as Krug tells him to turn around, put the gun in his mouth, and kill himself. He tries to resist his father's manipulation but his drug-addled, abused mind can't take it and he backs up out of frame, as Krug screams at him to blow his brains out, and a shot is heard off-camera, as Krug gives a satisfied smile and Junior's body slumps down to the floor, gasping out his last moments of life. Hearing what sounds like a motor cranking, Krug turns around to see that John's gone and, picking up his shotgun, walks to the basement door and looks down the stairs to see John appear, sporting a red chainsaw. As he walks up the stairs, Krug tries to shoot him but the rifle simply clicks; John tells him he only put one shell in it. Krug then slams the door shut and locks it, but drops the gun and runs into the living room when John begins sawing through the wood. It doesn't take long for him to cut his way through the door and follow Krug into the living room. The criminal runs backwards, as John threatens him with the saw, when Sadie shows up in the hallway and, apparently angry from seeing Junior's body, threatens Krug with a knife and tells him to stay away. Krug, in desperation, runs for the door and grabs the knob, only to get electrocuted from the trap and fall to the floor. He quickly grabs a nearby chair and uses it as a makeshift shield when John comes at him with the saw.
Sadie runs out into the yard, tumbling and dropping the knife, when she's jumped by Estelle. The two women get caught up in a vicious struggle in a pile of leaves, while inside the house, John manages to saw through the chair Krug's using as a shield. As the women continue fighting, Krug, now completely defenseless, backs away from John and falls to the floor. Sadie manages to straddle Estelle and deliver a couple of hard blows to the side of the face, while inside, Krug crawls along the floor and asks John to just get it over with, picking up a desk to use as another shield. Sadie runs across the lawn, away from Estelle, but falls into the swimming pool, as Estelle finds the knife she dropped on the ground. Inside, John manages to back Krug away from the small desk, as he backs up across the floor and against the wall, cornering himself. The sheriff runs in to see John take the chainsaw to Krug, while Estelle runs at Sadie and slices her throat when she tries to climb out of the swimming pool, sending her falling back into the water, blood gushing out. She watches Sadie's body sink to the bottom of the pool and walks back into the house, where John has eviscerated Krug with the saw, much to the horror of the sheriff and his deputy. The two parents, physically and emotionally exhausted, sit in the chaos of the living room, trying to catch their breaths, as the deputy takes away the chainsaw and the movie ends on a shot of both avengers.
As I've been hinting at throughout the review, the film's soundtrack is one of its most distinguishing features, sometimes for better or worse. The actual music score was done by Stephen Chapin, and it basically consists of four different moods: nice and pleasant, which is what you first hear during the opening, idyllic shots of the lake and woods and other such shots; inappropriately upbeat and cartoony, like the dumb, vocalizing "La, la-la," piece when Mari and Phyllis are buying ice cream (which Eli Roth used for a moment in Cabin Fever), the very cheery piece that you hear when the film cuts from Mari and Phyllis' being trapped to the Collingwoods making Mari's birthday cake and the ridiculous, kazoo-like instrumental version of one of the songs that plays when the girls are being dumped in the trunk of the car; a combination of guitar and bongo-drum pieces for a number of scenes, particularly during the chase through the woods (it definitely gives it a 70's feel); and finally, electronic and bizarre, such as the constant, "Dew, dew, dew," notes you hear playing when the criminals have dinner with the Collingwoods and when John is booby-trapping the house. For me, the most effective piece of the actual music score is the nightmarish electronic piece that plays when Phyllis is killed, which goes from some jarring, "Nnn, nnn!", when she's being stabbed into some truly freakish notes when she's completely gutted. As for the songs, which were all written and performed by David Hess himself, most of them fit well with the scenes they're put against: The Road Leads to Nowhere gives you an inkling of the horror to come when you hear it at the very beginning and is very appropriate for when Estelle realizes what's happened to Mari and she and John then find her by the lake (although, it can be heard randomly playing on the car radio early on, which is really odd); the song that plays when Mari and Phyllis are having fun in the woods, which I think is called Wait for the Rain, fits with the peaceful nature of the scene and Mari enjoying her blossoming womanhood; and Now You're All Alone, a soft, very somber song, really punctuates the horror and sad tragedy of what's going on as the girls are degraded and the lead-up to Mari's being shot after the rape, as Krug and the others look disgusted at what they've done.
And then, there's the song called Sadie and Krug, the most cartoonish, ridiculous piece of music imaginable for a movie like this, whose instrumental version is heard way too many times, particularly during the girls being loaded into the car's trunk and the inappropriate comedy scenes, and the actual song of which shouldn't have been played over the driving scene, further hurting the mood, and the ending credits following John and Estelle's massacring the gang. The song isn't even particularly bad, as it has a pretty catchy beat, and Hess sings it well, as he does all of the songs; it's just that, when you hear it played over such scenes, in a movie that's supposed to be very grim and disturbing, you wonder if they forgot they were supposed to be making a horror movie. Contrasts between music and what's happening onscreen, which is what they were going for, can definitely work, with one of the best examples being Cannibal Holocaust's lovely main theme being juxtaposed with sequences of absolute carnage, but here, I don't feel it works the way they thought it would and ends up doing more harm to the film's mood than accentuating the disturbing nature. I also know I'm not the only one who feels that way, so I rest my case.