Summary

  • Wes Craven’s directorial debut, The Last House on the Left, pushed the boundaries of violence in cinema, earning bans in multiple countries.
  • The movie was based on a Swedish ballad titled “Töres döttrar i Wänge,” which tells the story of violent revenge against killers.
  • While claiming to be based on true events is a common horror trope, the claim in The Last House on the Left seems to be more of a marketing tactic than a genuine statement.


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Horror icon Wes Craven made his directorial debut with 1972’s The Last House on the Left, an ultra-violent exploitation horror movie that claimed in its opening credits to be based on a true story. The highly controversial pushed the boundaries of how violence was depicted, with Craven opting for peak realism in how the film showed abuse, torture, rape, and murder. The movie was considered so repulsive in fact, that The Last House on the Left was banned in multiple countries, including the U.K and Australia. Despite the wild story and graphic violence, an opening title card for the movie claims that it is based on a true story.

The movie was remade in 2009 with Craven acting as producer, but much of the most graphic violence was omitted for the sake of making the movie more palatable for modern horror audiences. However, most of the general plot remained the same, with the movie’s central theme of vengeance carried through both movies. While both Craven’s original vision and the modern remake do have a unique origin, the claim that it’s a true story is dubious at best, and an outright lie at worst.


The Last House On The Left Was Based On A Swedish Ballad

The Virgin Spring

Craven’s gory and violent The Last House on the Left was actually based on a 1960 Swedish film titled The Virigin Spring from director Ingmar Bergman, which starred a young Max Von Sydow. That movie was itself based on a medieval Swedish ballad titled “Töres döttrar i Wänge,” roughly translated to “Töre’s daughters in Vänge.” In the ballad, three girls are killed by robbers on their way to church, and three wells spring up where the girls were murdered. Their father discovers the identity of the killers and exacts his own revenge on two of the three, only to find out that the three brothers were his sons who were sent away to fend for themselves when they were young.

While obviously there are stark differences between the fantastical Swedish ballad and the gritty, controversial cinematic versions of Bergman and Craven, the central concept is consistent. In all three versions, young girls are subjected to extreme violence, and their parents seek their own violent vengeance against the perpetrators. The ultimate moral of the original ballad might have been lost in the cinematic versions, but at its heart the story is a condemnation of violent vengeance.

Related: Why The Last House On The Left Was So Controversial

Why The Last House On The Left Claims To Be A True Story

John Collingwood in The Last House on the Left

The Last House on the Left claims to be a true story, which is certainly open to interpretation. Backtracking the origin of Craven’s film through Bergman’s The Virgin Spring to the original Swedish ballad, it becomes clear that Craven took the ballad, which was based on a local legend, as a decidedly “true” story, despite some of the more unbelievable elements. Claiming that events are based in reality is a common trope in horror, as the scares and violence become more disturbing when they can’t be dismissed as pure cinematic fantasy. However, in the case of The Last House on the Left, that claim seems to be fairly suspect.

The closest comparison is probably Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which claims to be based on reality. The infamous Leatherface character was not real per se – rather, he was inspired by several serial killers from the post-war decades in Midwestern America, specifically the notorious Ed Gein. There are a number of distinct similarities between Gein and Leatherface, but like The Last House on the Left, the claim that the movie is based on a true story is more of a marketing tactic than a true statement.

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