Grindhouse Double Feature - Episode Seven : Rolling Thunder and Last House on the Left

Rolling Thunder

Until recently, copies of this hard to find gem, had only been available in the form of Spainish DVD imports and used VHS copies. Rolling Thunder is a rarely seen and highly underrated picture. Written by Paul Schrader around the same time as he penned Taxi Driver, with an early supporting role from Tommy Lee Jones, and starring William Devane in a really great balance of a performance between intensity and restraint. Devane plays Major Charles Rane, a recently released Vietnam POW, given a hero's welcome upon return to his Texas hometown. Things go down hill from there when he finds that his wife is now in love with another man and his son doesn't recognize him. When some of the townspeople present him with a new car and a collection of silver dollars, a gang of thieves end up torturing and disfiguring him, and killing his wife and child in attempts to steal the coins. Rane then heads out to hunt down and exact vengeance on the men who killed his son.

Quentin Tarantino has often named Rolling Thunder as one of his favorite films and has gone so far as to name his now defunct B-Movie video distribution company Rolling Thunder Pictures after it. Gene Siskel of Siskel & Ebert fame, listed it as number ten on his list of the ten best movies of 1977. Yet, it remains a relatively unknown and underappreciated film.

Last House on the Left

The first film effort of horror mainstay Wes Craven and produced by Sean S. Cunningham, who would go on to create Friday the 13th. Loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's Virgin Springs, which it's self was adapted from a 13th century Swedish balled, "Töres dotter i Wänge", it was original intended to be a graphic hardcore x-rated film. All of the actors and crew had been committed to filming it as such. However, as shooting began, the decision was made to cut out the more hardcore pornographic material. This original script was titled "Night of Vengeance" and has never been released.

Last House is a grim, disturbing, unsettling, at times uncomfortable to watch film that has remained a subject of controversy and censorship in many countries to this day. It's cut rate production value and blownout, hazy, grainy film stock only add a more documentary style voyeuristic feel. It explores themes of morality, justice and revenge, questioning whether murder is ever justifiable and how normal everyday people can be turned into savage, methodical killers, when pushed to their limits. It's territory that Craven would explore again in his second feature, The Hills Have Eyes.

A quartet of criminals, lead by the great David Hess as the maniacal Krug, kidnap a pair of teenage girls and proceed to viciously torture, rape, and murder them in the woods, before unwittingly taking refuge at the home of one of the girls. When her parents discover what they've done, they seek violent retribution. The violence is stark and brutal. The camera never flinches away from it. Craven chose to heavily contrast events in the film with the comic interludes of two inept cops, and the use of some fairly unusual song cues. These songs were written and partially sung by actor David Hess.

Last House on the Left, along with movies like Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween set new standards and completely redefined the horror genre.


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