The Last House on the Left ‘09 4K UHD Review
4K UHD Release: August 29, 2023
Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 109:44 (R-rated version), 113:35 (unrated version)
Director: Dennis Iliadis
When athletic teen Mari Collingwood (Sara Paxton) opts to hang out with her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) in town, rather than spend the evening with her parents vacationing at the family’s remote lake house, it marks the beginning of a night no one is going to forget. The two girls wind up in the company of escaped convict Krug (Garret Dillahunt) and his makeshift family of vile career criminals, who kidnap and brutally assault them before leaving them for dead. Fleeing from the scene of their violent crime during a storm, the thugs inadvertently seek refuge with Mari’s parents, anxious as to why their daughter hasn’t come home yet and primed to unleash the full forces of hell on anyone who would dare to touch so much as a hair on her head. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) is a very important film, one that redirected the zeitgeist like other surprisingly popular shoestring indies, such as Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963) and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969). Craven’s film acted as the thematic connective tissue between George A. Romero’s modern era-defining horror film Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the dark, urban vigilante movies that catapulted into popularity during the 1970s. Decades later, Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake of Tobe Hooper’s equally influential Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) was released into a volatile post-9/11 market, where it flourished and helped usher in a decade-plus of particularly gritty remakes of ‘70s horror classics.
Dennis Iliadis’ Last House on the Left was late to the remake party in 2009. As in the case of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Craven’s original home invasion/rape-revenge narrative had already been used and reused for decades. On top of this, Last House on the Left didn’t have nearly the same name recognition as Texas Chainsaw Massacre or even Craven’s own The Hills Have Eyes (1977; remade by Alexandre Aja in 2007) or Nightmare of Elm Street (1984; remade by Samuel Bayer in 2010). Other arguments against remaking Last House on the Left include the fact that Craven, a former college professor raised in a strict Baptist family who discovered film as an adult, used the template of Swedish arthouse darling Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960) to explore the deterioration of the early ‘70s American family unit. It is, in essence, already a remake and the best kind; one that truly recontextualizes the source material. The studio horror remakes of the 2000s were rarely interested in recontextualization, and, though he changes the time period and a few plot points, Iliadis’ film isn’t much of an exception.
On the other hand, there was almost unprecedented room for improvement over the 1972 film. Unlike Romero, who had gained experience making commercials and segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Craven was a rank amateur when he made Last House on the Left. Sometimes, this worked to his advantage, as his erratic attempts at cinéma vérité realism were unnerving, as if the camera was capturing real rape and torture perpetrated by actual psychopaths. However, he constantly undermines the intensity with misplaced comedy, clumsy characterizations, and terrible pacing, highlighted by an idiotic Keystone Kops subplot. Last House on the Left is an influential and occasionally terrifying film, but it’s rarely a good one.
Iliadis and screenwriters Adam Alleca & Carl Ellsworth score points for doing away with dopey comedic breaks and pointless levity, and also manage to streamline the story without making the 2009 version feel like less than a full feature film. Alleca & Ellsworth even concocted a logical reason for the bad guys to coincidentally wander into a house where one of their victims lives with her parents. I personally think they botched the essential plot point of both girls dying during the second act. Though I understand why they changed it and admit that the choice almost justifies itself, the lasting effect is that the protagonists end up spending too much time reacting to violence and not enough time enacting it, which dulls Craven’s cynical sociological concepts.
The remake is a consistent ‘one step forward, one step back’ type of affair, because, while on paper the changes are improvements, the original movie’s limitations – the amateur production and direction, the unknown actors, the weird pacing issues, et cetera – are also the source of its strengths. Casting name actors, such as Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter hot off of Saw (2004), Garret Dillahunt hot off of Deadwood (2004) and No Country for Old Men (2007), and Aaron Paul on the onset of his Breaking Bad break(ing bad)through, might improve the performance quality, but it robs the material of its unhinged realism. And focusing on the creative side of violence makes for cooler images, but doesn’t have the same impact as the chaotic, unchoreographed carnage that Craven captured in his film. Ultimately, the 2000s ended up producing better and more unique heirs to Last House on the Left and its connections between home invasions and the dissolution of the suburban family unit, including Bryan Bertino’s slick and spooky The Strangers (2008) and Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo’s relentlessly gory Inside (French: À l'intérieur, 2007).
The trend has died down a bit in the streaming era, but in the 2000s, just about every studio horror picture would carry an R rating in theaters, then debut an extended, unrated cut for home video. Last House on the Left was no exception. Unfortunately, it seems that, in this case, the unrated footage wasn’t ever scanned in 4K, so Arrow was forced into a bit of a predicament for their UHD collection. Disc one, the UHD, features a 2160p, 1.85:1 version of the theatrical cut with Dolby Vision enhancement, while the unrated cut has been relegated to a 1080p Blu-ray disc. This seems to be the preferred approach to different cuts for boutique labels these days. Personally, I’d prefer seeing the extended version in 4K and braving the dip in quality for those unrated scenes, but oh well.
I don’t have the original Universal Blu-ray on hand for a direct comparison, but I imagine the 1080p qualities are similar between releases, so I’m going to focus on the 4K disc. Also note that the images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray and are not representative of the 2160p transfer, which has increased detail and notably more prominent dynamic range, thanks to the HDR/Dolby Vision. The remake was shot on 35mm and is heavily digitally graded to appear desaturated and oddly smoothed, as was the style at the time. So, its almost the exact opposite of the warmish, grainy, 16mm original. Dim colors and lack of lighting aside, the film does have a lot of detail and the 4K upgrade pumps up the verisimilitude, especially during the shadow-laden final act. There’s also still plenty of texture in patterns and locations, even without the added benefit of rough film grain.
Last House on the Left is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 LPCM options. There’s not a whole lot to say about the mix other than it is very indicative of its era, alternating simple, naturalistic dialogue and incidental effects with louder, heightened bits for the sake of suspense and scares. It probably wouldn’t have worked to have loads of directional cues crammed into an intimate, handheld thriller. John Murphy’s eerie score keeps the stereo channels engaged, bolstering the dreamy, yet subjective feel of the camerawork with low-key strings, guitars, and synth that builds to a wall of noise where needed.
Disc 1 (4K UHD) – R-rated Cut
Commentary by David Flint and Adrian Smith – Horrorpedia.com’s Smith and Reprobate Press’ Flint offer up a largely positive, but still honest reevaluation of the remake, exploring the differences between it and Craven’s original film, how each film fits its own era, and comparing/contrasting the approaches taken by filmmakers and casts. They arguably spend too much time on the ‘72 movie, but it’s hard to blame them, because it really is required context.
2023 introduction by director Dennis Iliadis (6:02, HD)
A River of Blood (31:27, HD) – Actress Sara Paxton discusses her career beginning as a child actor, getting the part, working with Iliadis and the cast, the atmosphere on and off the set, watching the original film with the cast and filmmakers (she had already worked with Dillahunt on a failed Mr. Ed reboot pilot), shooting in South Africa (they had baboon alarms), and physical/emotional challenges, such as acting while swimming in an unforgiving lake.
The Notorious Krug (27:01, HD) – Actor Garret Dillahunt chats about his training and career, his passing relationship with horror, his (well informed) opinion of the original film and differences between the versions, trying to make Krug a human character, the positive vibe of the set, South African crews and locations, contacting David Hess for his blessing, and watching the final film with an audience.
Suspending Disbelief (18:26, HD) – Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth also begins by running down his early career, before getting into changes made for his adaptation, being approached directly by Craven, visiting the set, developing his draft separate from credited co-writer Adam Alleca, and the controversy that followed the head-microwaving coda.
Reviving the Legend (33:06, HD) – Jonathan Craven recalls growing up as the son of Wes Craven, watching his father make movies like Last House on the Left, the ‘00s remake of Hills Have Eyes, and working with his dad on the sequel of that movie at almost the same time they were approached for a Last House remake, on which he became the creative producer. Towards the end, he delves into the challenge of securing an R rating.
Look Inside 2009 EPK (2:41, HD)
Deleted scenes (8:58, SD) – These are fully removed sequences, not trims for the R-rating, except for a raw look at the head exploding effect.
Disc 2 (Blu-ray) – Unrated cut
The images on this page are taken from the BD copy – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.