A few years ago, I wrote a piece on popular culture and capital punishment. I observed that normally, film, television, and mainstream media commentary on the death penalty tend to stack the deck against it. And even when they try objectivity, they fail to put forth the best arguments in its favor. Still, I observed, every now and then, movies and television can supply us with a searing depiction of human cruelty and depravity that is so visceral and real, it reminds us that there are a few really bad guys out there for whom we ought to reserve the death penalty. One example I used was The Last House on the Left (1972). Crudely made, poorly acted, and at times simply silly, it is not a movie about capital punishment (Krug and his gang, after all, meet a much different fate later in the film). But, I felt, the raw and realistic violence that it depicts should at least remind us of the threats we face, and of the real punishments we must be prepared to impose upon the perpetrators of this kind of violence. So, actually, it’s not only a movie – there are Krugs among us.
The film’s writer and director, Wes Craven, has passed away. He is known and deservedly praised for other (far better) projects. But his passing reminded me, particularly as a horror fan, of how he had once influenced my thinking on the topic of violence and punishment, in popular culture and in real life.
Despite the film’s other shortcomings, and considering the social and political context in which it was made, I still believe that the first half of Last House represents an important commentary on violence. I also continue to believe that the opening scene of Scream is one of the most satisfying scenes in the horror genre, and that A Nightmare on Elm Street remains one of the most frightening films I ever saw. He was, it is said, the Master of Horror. Requiescat in Pace.