In addition to the usual violence and gore, the horror film Last House on the Left - opening today - contains an incredibly graphic rape scene. Yet, the film is rated R, not NC-17.
Last House on the Left is a remake of a 1972 film directed by Wes Craven about a Charles Manson-like gang who rape and torture two women to death, prompting the victims' parents to stalk and kill them in a similarly gruesome way. The film is inspired by a 13th century folk ballad about a girl who is raped in the woods and whose attackers unknowingly take refuge in her parents house.
In his review, Roger Ebert, who has seen four movies based on the story, said, "So now my job as a film critic involved grading rape scenes ... I don't think I can." All he would say was that he found the rape scene in the 2009 film appalling. New York Post critic Kyle Smith wrote on his blog that, "Those who see the world through a feminist eye will be especially outraged because it involves a visceral, genuinely terrifying rape" that is so excruciating to watch, a couple in front of him walked out of the theater.
L.A. Times film writer Patrick Goldstein was so disgusted by the film he titled a blog post - which, in turn, inspired this post - about the film, "My Mistake: An Apology To The Makers of RapeLay," saying that he spoke too soon when he called the Japanese rape simulation video game "sleazier than any Hollywood horror film." But Goldstein says that while many critics say they were disgusted by the scene, few critics have raised the biggest question of all:
How is it possible that the MPAA ratings board could give a film with this much brutal, graphic violence an R rating instead of an NC-17? I mean, what would it take for the clueless MPAA, which is supposed to serve concerned parents, not powerful studios, to ever draw the line and say to a filmmaker: "You've gone too far. We won't allow this much violence to be seen on screen." The ratings board is always hyper-vigilant about frontal nudity and consensual sex, but when it comes to blood-drenched violence and depravity, it has caved in, over and over, allowing filmmakers to get away with murder.
As Goldstein points out, the R-rating means that an adult could take children to see the film, while an NC-17 rating would prevent children from entering the theater. In his review, Reel Views critic James Berardinelli, who says the decision to give a movie with "one of the most upsetting rape scenes committed to film" an R rating is:
Yet another example of how flawed the U.S. classification system is. If anything is deserving of an NC-17 for adults-only content, this is it. The violence is not cartoonish or in any way sanitized; it is grim and gut-wrenching. Nothing is spared.
Some critics say that's exactly the point of including the scene in the film. Kyle Smith wrote:
We're used to seeing murders on screen, though, great splattery awful ones. Yet murders don't bother us that much anymore. Rape is still relatively rare on screen. There are probably 100 graphic murders for every graphic rape in movies. It's an unspoken taboo. Taboos have power, and shattering them is what horror is all about ... For my money, the remake of Last House on the Left is highly effective at hurling you out of your comfort zone.
It could be argued that "torture porn" horror films already trivialize murder, using gruesome killings to get a rise out of the audience, so they might as well move on to shattering the last "unspoken taboo," but, as Goldestein says, "There comes a time when you have to ask — when is enough going to be enough?"
Here's the trailer, which contains shots of the rape and murder:
Says Ain't It Cool News' "Vern": "...you do have to see a very young looking actress being degraded and raped in an I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE-like manner. It's not a good time at the movies."
Last House on the Left [RogerEbert.com]
Prepare for Outrage: Last House on the Left [Kyle Smith Online]
My Mistake: A Heartfelt Apology To The Makers of RapeLay [The L.A. Times]
Last House on the Left Review [Reel Views]
Vern sees LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (remake [not CHAOS])! [Ain't It Cool News]