Sunday, February 7, 2016


"The Last House on the Left" (1972)
Directed by Wes Craven
   The songs and score of the films we watch usually compliment the visuals that we are experiencing on the screen. Music can guide us through a movie. Horror films are typically enhanced by scores and themes that are scary and filled with tension. Generic horror flicks seem to be married to cookie-cutter scores that either feel like they were lifted from public domain collections or composed by some uninspired, no-talent hack. 
   Where does this leave Wes Craven's 1972 film, "The Last House on the Left"? This cult shocker has one of the most unique soundtracks in horror history. Most of the songs that you hear in this film have vocals. This sets it apart from other horror soundtracks. With instrumental scores, the music serves to re-enforce what you are seeing on the screen. During a spooky scene, spooky music plays and your brain goes, "Totally spooky. If it weren't, why would there be spooky music playing?"
   Lyrics can tell a story or describe an emotion. The songs in "Last House..." often do both. What's so bizarre about the songs in this film, is that they rarely match the visual. Some of the songs can be described as pretty, while others seem comical. Pretty and comical do not spring to mind when one thinks of "The Last House on the Left". It's reputation as one of the most shocking horror films in history, stays in tact till this day. More than 40 years later, the film is still uncomfortable to sit through.
   So why the unusual song choices? For the record, I'm a fan of this soundtrack. I think the songs are well written and in a strange way, match the scenes during which they play.
   Let me explain:
   Comical songs play during different types of moments in this film. One, being scenes that involve two cops who are trying to save the day and having a hell of a time getting to the crime scene. People feel that this was Wes Craven's attempt to lighten the mood. After spending time with the criminals performing heinous acts, the viewer is so traumatized that by lightening the mood with wacky music and inept cops, gave them a break.
   Comical music also plays when the criminals are driving. Is this wrong? They're bad guys, shouldn't they have "bad guy" music? Not always. A theme should match how a person feels. These guys are not driving down the road like violent killing machines, they're having a good time. Their music matches how they feel at the moment.
   Finally, this wacky song that keeps coming back during the film, plays during the closing credits. After sitting through an intense film, with a violent and emotional finale, shouldn't the closing music also be intense? Perhaps. I admit that if I made this film, this is not the song that I would have chosen. It's the song that we are stuck with though. Why? Here's my theory: What if this song suggests how Wes Craven thinks the audience feels now that the film is over. On the one hand, we may feel relief that we endured this violent epic and the song is used to relieve us of that tension. On the other hand, if the audience loves a good shock, wouldn't the film be an exhilarating experience? Perhaps the song is meant to capture the child-like joy that we feel after watching such a balls-out crazy film.
   The other song that plays a lot during disturbing scenes in the film, is very pretty and contains the chilling line, "...and the road leads to nowhere." Lyrically, it makes sense. Musically, we have reached a point in cinematic history where the irony of beautiful music playing over violent imagery has become commonplace.
   I will say that I absolutely love the use of the song when the girls are driving in the beginning of the film to the city to see a concert. Hearing the line: "...and the road leads to nowhere" is fitting. They are traveling on a road that is leading to the end of their lives and they don't even know it.
   I may not agree with all of Wes Craven's choices for placement of music during his film, but I think I understand. At the very least, I appreciate that these choices have led people to still wonder about it all of these years later, making it yet another facet of the film to be discussed.
   I want to own the soundtrack to "The Last House on the Left". Good job, David Hess. You are a first class creep on film and a first class musician. Yes, the actor who played the lead villain in this film, the late David Hess, also served as the composer. How's that for awesome...and weird?
   On a side-note, one of the songs from this very soundtrack is also in the 2015 film, "The Hateful Eight". It's so cool that David Hess got to appear in a Quentin Tarantino film through the legacy of his music. David Hess is so hateful in "The Last House on the Left" that I'd like to think that if he were alive today, he might have even been hateful enough to be one of the eight.

(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)


Wedge said...

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who appreciates a good soundtrack to a movie or TV show.

Isaac's Haunted Beard said...

I love soundtracks and scores. This one stuck out so much to me because it felt like the opposite of what was happening on the screen. Either way, good stuff!