It’s Only a Filming Location: "The Last House on the Left" Cemetery

I’m adapting this entry from my 2010 book The New England Grimpendium in honor of director Wes Craven, who passed away yesterday at the age of 76.

August 31, 2015 — When you find the vertiginous stone steps where was filmed the climactic scene of The Exorcist, you lie down at their base broken-boned and in need of Last Rites. When you find the biker bar from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, you arm-dance to the brass-fueled strains of Tequila. When you find any of the locations where they filmed Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, you merely look shamefully at your shoe tips. At least, that was my reaction.

The Last House on the Left was released in 1972, during a pivotal time in horror film when horror film makers started facing and portraying the unabashed brutality present in the world. This was the era of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The era of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. The era of William Friedkin's The Exorcist and Cronenberg’s Rabid. Of those, only Last House was filmed in New England—Westport, Connecticut, to be exact.

I find it hard to call Last House a classic. It isn't the kind of movie that you marvel at and heartily recommend to your Netflix buddies. The film is so brutal, in fact, that this entry is almost more accurately filed in the Infamous Crimes and Killers section of this book than in Horror Movie Filming Locales. But it is a milestone in horror and holds an important place both for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph and because it was the film debut of the director who would go on to create Freddy Krueger and introduce Scream to a stagnating genre.

The film is adaption of Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring...minus the spiritual paradox and redemptive beauty. In Last House, a group of fiends kidnap a pair of teenage girls and then do everything that can be done to a human being before ultimately killing them. Later, they find themselves taking shelter at the home of the parents of one of their victims, and the cycle of violence continues, with the fiends finding themselves lower down on the food chain.

The film has very few filming locations, none of which are really iconic of the film, despite the name of the movie. Most of it takes place in either the woods or a single ordinary house, but one that always stood out to me was its cemetery scene. At one point in the movie, one of the victims, Phyllis, momentarily eludes her captors, but is chased down, caught, and killed in a cemetery.

The cemetery that was used is called Poplar Plains Cemetery and can be found on Wilton Road in Westport. I doubt it has a street address, but it’s located adjacent to 287 Wilton, just down the way from restaurant called The Red Barn.

It’s a small cemetery, sparsely gravestoned with old markers and surrounded by a low stone fence. Because it’s such a tiny graveyard, it’s easy to match up the individual stones with those shown in the movie, which is most of them. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the cemetery is just how unsecluded it is. The road runs right in front of it, there are houses all around it, both along the road and behind it through the trees. I mean, even the pictures I took here make it look like an abandoned forest cemetery. I assume that back in the early 1970s it was lot more wild here.

But either way, it’s a terrible place to die.