Movies: The Last House on the Left (1972)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess

Horror icon Wes Craven's 1972 debut, The Last House on the Left, is a fascinating exercise in contrast. On one hand, it's a pitch-black work of angry, gruesome exploitation. But it's also a wannabe dark comedy distractingly punctuated by an idiotic subplot involving two bumbling cops. The juxtaposition makes for an uneven, imperfect film that nonetheless deserves all of its accolades for being a genre landmark, and the credit all goes directly to the film's exceedingly horrifying centerpiece.

Two young girls, while en route to a rock concert, get kidnapped by four reprehensible criminals, taken into the woods, and forced to perform sexual acts on each other as their captors watch on in hysterics. That alone would qualify as hard-to-watch, but then Craven takes matters to a much darker and tragic place. One of the girls tries to run away, but she's caught, stabbed in the stomach, and has her guts pulled out, just for her killer's sick kicks. Her friend, meanwhile, suffers a more prolonged fate: The head baddie, Krug (David A. Hess) carves his name onto her chest, rapes her, and then lets her walk into a lake, only to get shot to death from afar.

Heightened by a jarring, synthesizers-from-Hell score (composed by Hess), The Last House on the Left's toughest scene is, regardless of its thematic foulness, a landmark moment of uncompromising, realistic horror. —MB