American filmmaker Wes Craven is regarded by many as one of the masters of the horror genre. Craven rose to prominence as the creator of the extremely popular film series A Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as the director of the first few films in the Scream franchise. For his experiments with the slasher genre as well as his incorporation of satire and humour, Craven received the Life Career Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.
Fans of the genre have followed Craven’s work since his directorial debut itself, the classic 1972 exploitation horror film The Last House on the Left. Made on a shoestring budget of around $90,000, the film was banned by some censor boards for its explicit depiction of sex, but The Last House on the Left still ended up grossing over $3 million. Since then, the project has also developed a stellar underground reputation and was hailed by critics like Mark Kermode as a pioneering work.
The Last House on the Left had a seminal impact on the Extreme Cinema genre, breaking the conventions of cinematic storytelling. It depicts the kidnapping as well as the physical and psychological torture of a young girl by criminals on her seventeenth birthday. With later re-evaluations, the film’s vision has been recognised by many scholars and has also been nominated by the American Film Institute for the “100 Years…100 Thrills” list.
Over the course of his career, Craven has cited the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini and Jean Cocteau, among others, as the primary sources of inspiration for his own artistic vision. For The Last House on the Left, one important filmmaker’s influence clearly stands out among the rest: Ingmar Bergman. Saying that Craven’s debut was influenced by Bergman would be putting it lightly considering that it was essentially a remake of a Bergman classic.
Craven said: “We approached Last House as a story that already existed. I saw it in Bergman’s film and Bergman saw it in a book-tale in a minstrel song that had been around in his country for several hundred years. So we thought that here’s a great story that has lasted for centuries, the basic core of it.”
The American master of horror’s directorial debut was actually a remake of Ingmar Bergman’s critically acclaimed 1960 revenge drama called The Virgin Spring, which, in turn, was inspired by a 13th-century Swedish ballad titled ‘Töre’s daughters in Vänge’. It even won the Best Foreign Film Oscar for its cinematic explorations of existential questions, contextualised within the depravity of the human condition.
The Last House on the Left got its own remake in 2009, directed by Dennis Iliadis. While discussing the remake, Craven commented: “I suppose if [Iliadis] had come up with some horrible trash, we would have said ‘Thanks, but no thanks’. But he came up with a very interesting concept; basically it’s the same characters.”
Adding: “We didn’t insist that they be the same characters, but I think to completely diverge from the original film – might as well just call it something else! But I find Krug really interesting in this version of him. Making Krug and Francis [Aaron Paul] brothers was really interesting; there’s a great dynamic there and the performances are really fantastic.”