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What 1970’s Horror Classic did Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” Influence?

Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) is perhaps one of the most famous in the exploitative horror genre and undoubtedly set the stage for countless others like it, including the cult classic rape and revenge flick, I Spit on Your Grave (1978). But, this grisly cinematic trend did not begin with Wes Craven’s directorial debut.

The Last House on the Left is actually a loose remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Best Foreign Film Academy Award winning, The Virgin Spring (1960), which in turn is based on the 13th-century Swedish ballad “Töre’s daughters in Vänge”.

Both involve a young girl who is brutally raped and murdered by a group of individuals, one of whom is much younger than the others, and an enraged father who exacts vengeance on the men who took his daughter’s life. However, there are some differences between these two tales of revenge.

Unlike Karin (Birgitta Pettersson) in The Virgin Spring, who is murdered by a group of herders, The Last House on the Left’s Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is killed by a band of recently escaped convicts. This particular crew of psychopaths also includes a sadistic woman named Sadie (Jeramie Rain), and the youngest member Junior (Marc Sheffler) is identified as the son of the group’s leader, Krug (David A. Hess). Also, unlike the Swedish counterpart, where the younger survives the ordeal, Junior commits suicide after being manipulated to do so by his own father.

The Virgin Spring’s Karin is attacked while delivering candles to the church, where The Last House on the Left‘s Mari is attacked while on her way to a concert. Karin originally travels with her pregnant servant Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom). However, after the two part ways, Ingeri is not present for the attack, but watches from a distance. Mari also travels with her friend Lucy (Phyllis Stone), but she too experiences the same violent end.

After both attacks, the perpetrators unknowingly seek refuge at the home of the young girl they just killed, and their evil deeds are exposed when the girl’s mother finds something that used to belong to her daughter in their possession. Märeta (Birgitta Valberg) becomes suspicious after the herders offer to sell Karin’s cloths to her, and Estelle Collingwood (Cynthia Carr) realizes something is fishy when she sees Junior wearing the same peace symbol necklace that she gave to her daughter at the beginning of the film.

But, perhaps the most profound difference between the two films is that while Wes Craven’s rendition is exploitative for exploitation sake, no matter how entertaining it may be, Ingmar Bergman’s piece acknowledges that the father’s actions do not right the situation. He knows that he is flawed and that in order to redeem himself, he vows to build a church on the very spot his daughter was murdered.