LOS ANGELES - Long before the mass media used the term 'torture porn' to describe sadistic Hollywood horror flicks, Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham defined the term in the 1972 exploitation classic Last House on the Left.
Today, the Hollywood remake of director Craven's hate-magnet debut arrives in theaters. While reviewers are still using such sobriquets as 'vile' and 'nasty' to describe the polished redux, few of them know the truly pornographic story behind the original movie.
It's an open secret that the original Last House was planned as a hardcore porno film, emerging from the primordial ooze of New York's X-rated underground. It is also well-established that both Craven and Friday the 13th creator Cunningham cut their teeth on smut in the Seventies, making the fake hippie sex "documentary" Together, the little-seen Angela, the Fireworks Woman, and other adults-only titles.
This is no discredit to the filmmakers or the original House, which stands to this day as a run-and-gun masterpiece of sickie cinema. Craven's House has endured for a reason: it rubs people the wrong way.
AVN Hall of Fame actor/director Fred Lincoln co-starred in the original movie with exploitation thug icon David Hess, who last year wrapped a movie called Smash Cut with AVN Award-winner Sasha Grey.
"I hated Last House on the Left for a long time," Lincoln told AVN. "But I like it now. If you watch it on DVD, it looks great. The prints they used to show were green, like vomit."
Lincoln is one of the original New York wrecking crew who copulated on camera when porn was illegal. The former stunt man was a key element in the construction of Last House, suggesting ideas and lending his savvy to the amateur-hour production.
The original script for Last House, Lincoln says, was so fucked-up that even he refused to perform what was on the page.
You want torture porn? Cunningham's financial backers did... and former college professor Craven delivered. Over a long weekend on Long Island, Craven sat down at his typewriter and swiped the template of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, using that rape-revenge scenario to flip a harsh, freak-era Fuck You to middle-class America. As commissioned, it was a sexual assault dredged directly from the lower depths of the director's id.
Among the highlights of Craven's screenplay were a double-penetration scene performed upon a mutilated corpse, the eating of a woman's severed breast, and other non-consensual activities that might have been considered impolite in upscale Westport, Connecticut, where the film was shot.
While some sketchy rape, urination and forced muff-diving scenes were filmed, the violence in the final cut was far more hardcore than the sex. Despite the initial X-rated intentions, Last House on the Left became an R-rated horror movie distributed nationally by Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson at American International Pictures.
And although Herschell Gordon Lewis and others had already figured out how to substitute spurts of gore for come shots in '60s exploitation films, no one was ready for the bad-tripping impact of Last House.
People protested, puked and fainted. Projectionists barricaded themselves in the booths. Prints were chopped and destroyed. And, ultimately, careers were launched: Last House grossed $55 million in its first run, and lingered for many years on the drive-in theater circuit.
The 1972 Last House holds a creepy resonance that reflects the madness of its turbulent times. In his book Wes Craven's Last House on the Left: The Making of a Cult Classic, author David A. Szulkin called it "the Altamont of horror films."
Lacking that vibe and social context, today's nu-Last House means nothing. It's just another studio "branding" effort to cash in on a famous title, and it will likely be gone in a week. The slime of the original film will never wash off.
The greatest among many ironies in the Last House saga is the fact that 21st century Hollywood can't accomplish what a bunch of stoned porn freaks did for the cost of Kentucky Fried Chicken.