You ever hear something endlessly for years and wonder if it's true? That's what Mythbuster is about. Take four litres of Jolt Cola and dump eight ounces of PopRocks down your throat and see what happens? You explode, right? Well, that's not true at all. You probably die slowly of Diabetes or Heart disease or Cancer from all the food coloring. You die of anything else but that urban legend. Ya MythBusters does a pretty good job at ruining all the fun of scaring the future genrations of gullible kids.
I went on my own myth bust. For a good long while now people have made it abundantly clear that Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Craven in their infinite wisdom took some ideas from the 1960 Academy Award winning picture The Virgin Spring. You wanna know something? I believed it without question for years. Have you ever seen The Virgin Spring? Have you ever seen an Ingmar Bergman film? Do you speak Swedish? Do you even know who the fuck Ingmar Bergman is? All valid questions, but the most important is, "Was Last House on the Left as directed by Wes Craven based on The Virgin Spring by Ingmar Bergman?"
Let's check the facts (just the facts Dan Akroyd). First of all, The Virgin Spring is not at the end of any street and it's on the righthand side. Second, there isn't a Collingwood in sight in Virgin Spring. Third, no chainsaw. Fourth, no heroin. Fifth, no David Hess tunes... Wes and Sean lifted Last House on the Left from the Virgin Spring? Bullshit... Okay, now back to reality. The real answer is clearly "yes". Craven says it himself and refers to it below:
The influences on me of Bergman's The Virgin Spring, another film I saw while still teaching, are more than apparent in my first film, Last House On the Left, since the plot of the latter is a blatant reworking of that of the former. I read somewhere that Virgin Spring was based on a medieval morality tale, so I thought it was fair game for being the springboard for my irreverent update. But I was never in less than awe of Bergman. His stunning visual sense, restraint, depth, and dark vision appealed to me with enormous power. Maybe to most everyone that loved film in those days. He was part of a great flowering of filmmaking by perhaps a dozen powerful auteurs that were stunning audiences throughout the world, and I often think I was strangely blessed in a way to not be seeing films until this unique moment in cinematic history. [from EW.com in their 2009 Halloween restrospective written by none other than Wes Craven]
You ever watch The Virgin Spring? It's set in medival times. It is a rape revenge picture made in the 1960's which definitely made for a lawsuit or two. There's probably a Video Nasty list in Oklahoma that still wont' let either Last House on the Left or The Virgin Spring be shown before sundown or on Sunday. when Craven says that Last House is loosley based on Bergman's award winner he's not kidding. Aside from the rape and... well... the revenge you don't really find the connection.
Overbearing parents that are overreligious in Last House? Not really. I believe Mr. Collingwood made a comment about Mari Collingwood's breasts standing out a bit too much for his liking before she left the house for the big city, but I'm not sure that exactly qualifies him as a religious zealot. Mrs. Collingwood... a lady of faith? Does a midnight blowjob in the backyard count as some kind of basterdized sacrament of communion? Did the Bible say anything about, "a penis for a penis"? Max Von Sydow is always welcome on my television screen, but he's half the man Richard Towers is in Last House.
Let's talk about this here revenge sequence... who does the better revenge trick? Tore from Virgin Spring or Dr. John from Last House. Now the juices of Virgin Spring got to fester in ol' Wes's brain for twelve years give or take a semester. And yes, the 70's were violent times for young ladies and the men who had their way with them. So it should come as no surprise that Dr. John (not the musician... the Collingwood) gets the best of the bad gusy better. Maybe it's better to ask why Tore avenges his daughter's degradation.
This is an overtly religious family. Their daughter, in their eyes, may very well be at responsble for her "sin" (that's her getting raped by herdsmen). Hell, she thinks its her fault. The guilt of religioun rears its ugly head. God needs Tore to avenge his daughter's rape and murder. This is to atone for her sin... her sin... FUCK ME RUNNING WITH SCISSORS... Let's get to Dr. John before somebody shows up in the courtoom and says that Mari Collingwood was fucking asking for it because of what she was wearing. Sure, it's the 1400's in Virgin Spring time, and its as back assward with modern day conceptions of women's rights. Let's not dwell on things we cannot change.
Dr. John has a happy family in the middle of the woods. Cops they trust. A daughter that the Collingwoods trust impeccably. His reason to avenge his daughter's demise (he doesn't even know quite what happened, but knows enough)? Dr. John's got the heart of a father. Mrs. Collingwood (call her ma'am God damnit!) is a parent in love with her child. Mother lioness. A vengeful lioness. It's a more natural reaction and one that we all can identify with. God asks you to go suck a guy off so you can make him pay for killing your daughter; I'm pretty sure that's almost rape in itself. You come up with it yourself as a clever from of revenge to get a man good an castrated, that's something to be proud of.
Then we've got the bad guys. Craven lifts the, "guess who's coming to dinner" plot point from the Bergman film. Are herdsmen really drug dealing, familial, ex cons from the big city? Not really. Bergman plays on the evil in the every day man. Craven shows you that you are always in the web and there be spiders in that web. That's why Bergman's film seems to emphasize that righteousness of God and that's why Von Sydow is the pious but vengeful father. In Tore's world, a good world, he can inflict the will of God. Dr. John is merely trying to beat back the forces of evil from his home. The world is not a safe place. If it was before Mari left earlier that morning it sure isn't now. He stands alone against that evil (never truly being shown to be a God fearing man).
So I'd say there was really no myth to bust, but if I needed an excuse to watch an Ingmar Bergman film like The Virgin Spring, I certainly got one. Bergman never did make an exploitation film, and I'm not sure that Wes Craven ever made anything distributed by Janus or Criterion. If Last House is a copycat at least it pushes the envelope. Last House goes one step beyond and humanizes the revenge sequence. That's probably why we love Dr. John and Mrs. Collingwood (you can call her Estelle now!). Pious man exacting revenge in the name of God... you know... you can almost be the good guy or the bad guy with that kind of motivation. Mother Hen and Father Rooster pecking the farmer to death because he cooked their ovum, egg for breakfast... I think we all feel a tear and then a smile when they show the bad man how Jimmy Dean's sausages are procured.
Dr. Jimmy Collingwood... bring it home with a David Hess tune.