The Last House on the Left LE Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
On the eve of her 17th birthday, Mari and friend Phyllis set off from her family home to the big city to attend a concert by shock-rockers Bloodlust. Attempting to pick up some marijuana on the way, the pair run afoul of a group of vicious crooks, headed up by the sadistic and depraved Krug (David Hess). Gagged and bound, the young women are bundled into a car trunk and driven to the woods, where the gang subjects them to a terrifying ordeal of sexual humiliation, torture and murder. (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. As such, it is probably the second or third most influential horror movie of the period (behind Night of the Living Dead and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974). Its value is tied to its context, such as the fact that Craven, a former college professor, used Swedish arthouse darling Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960) as a template or that he used violent exploitation (specifically exploiting ongoing fears of hippy/drug culture crimes, such as the Manson Family murders) as a means to explore the deterioration of the Baby Boomer family unit. By film’s end, when the parents of one victim discover that the people they’ve welcomed into their home are the same people that raped, tortured, and murdered their daughter and her friend, their Nam-era liberal ideals appear meaningless in the face of relentless, real-life horrors. Retaliatory violence was their only logical reaction.
Unlike Romero (or Hooper), who had gained experience making commercials, Craven was a rank amateur at this early point in his career. His perhaps accidental (or at least incidental) attempts at cinéma vérité realism create an erratic, documentary-like feel. The slapdash production serves the film’s more unnerving elements well and the rape and torture sequences are genuinely chilling to this day. Craven’s lack of name recognition and his cast of amateur thugs & victims both bolster the unpredictability of the violence, as if Craven was a real-life psychopath who simply pulled two of his sadistic murderer buddies off the streets. However, the misplaced comedy, weak characterizations, and ugly photography do weaken the overall effectiveness, leaving the relentless rape/torture/murder sequences as the only cinematically notable parts of the film. The clumsy bits surrounding this pseudo-snuff film offer an exhausted audience relief, but they are rarely worth the effort. The last 30-plus minutes drag between scenes of Mari’s parents taking too long to piece together clues, the gang bickering, and an idiotic, supposedly funny Keystone cop subplot. The bloody vengeance bits turn the film back in the right direction, but never ascend past Craven’s limited skillset. Most viewers are reasonably baffled that such a jittery, unkempt, and inconsistent movie could be lauded in so many circles. Late superstar critic Roger Ebert’s affection for Last House on the Left is especially bewildering – both for other mainstream critics, who considered the entirety of exploitation cinema a worthless endeavor, and for genre fans, who endured years of Ebert’s very public disdain for most of their favorite movies.
Rape/revenge has existed in fiction for generations, but it was the popularity of Last House on the Left that opened the floodgates for much more extreme iterations during the ‘70s. Movies like Bo Arne Vibenius’ Thriller – A Cruel Picture (Swedish: Thriller - en grym film; aka: They Call Her One Eye, 1973), Jack Hill’s Foxy Brown (a case where rape/revenge is only a subplot, 1974), Lamont Johnson’s Lipstick (1976), and Arthur Jeffreys’ Demented (1980) obliterated decency standards. In Italy, the market was also flush with Last House on the Left-inspired movies that didn’t necessarily depend on rape/revenge motifs, including Ruggero Deodato’s House on the Edge of the Park (Italian: La casa sperduta nel parco, 1981) and Pasquale Festa Campanile’s Hitch-Hike (Italian: Autostop rosso sangue, 1978) – both of which starred Last House on the Left lead David Hess – and Franco Prosperi’s Last House on the Beach (Italian: La settima donna, 1978). The most notorious title of the bunch was Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (aka: Day of the Woman, 1978), which featured a gut-wrenching, (roughly) 25-minute long gang rape sequence. Generally speaking, these movies were better than Last House on the Left , but Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 (1981) and Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders (Italian: L'ultimo Treno della Notte; aka: Late Night Trains, 1975) are the two that definitely improve on Craven’s themes.
Considering its shocking content, it is no surprise that Last House on the Left suffered decades of censorship throughout the world. North American VHS releases were pretty heavily cut with the exception of a rare unrated Vestron Video tape. In the UK, it was cut even more and temporarily banned as part of the BBFC’s Video Nasties list. All this effort left us with multiple versions of the film, including the R-rated US cut, the longer Krug and Company cut that made the rounds in the UK and Australia, and the unrated cut. According to legend, no version is entirely complete, but, regardless, Arrow has included all three edits mentioned above as part of this super-special Blu-ray edition.
Last House on the Left was shot on Super 16mm by relatively amateur filmmakers who were purposefully trying to make it look rough. It is not and has never been the best candidate for high-definition restoration. Following more than a dozen DVD releases from various territories, MGM released a perfectly decent Blu-ray disc. Most fans were satisfied, but, apparently, Arrow was not, because they’ve gone back to the original film elements to create brand new 2K remasters of the unrated (84:12), R-rated (81:52), and Krug and Company (83:50) cuts. Their efforts are a little less extreme when one considers that this is the film’s BD debut in Arrow’s home territory of the UK, but, still. For this Blu-ray review, I compared Arrow’s unrated cut to my copy of the MGM Blu-ray. At first blush, there’s little room for improvement. Both 1080p, 1.85:1 transfers feature the same problems with heavy, unpredictable grain, blobbing throughout the darkest shadows, soft details, and inconsistent colors. However, if you click on each image to view it at its full size, you can see that Arrow’s rescan pays off in terms of clarity, texture, and lack of compression artifacts. The biggest improvements can be seen in the grain structure itself and the way it affects the softer blends, as well as the Arrow transfer’s slightly more vivid and naturalistic colors. There are also minor differences in framing, but neither disc has a clear advantage in this regard. Delineations aside, it appears that each company used the same source, because the most obvious print artifacts tend to match (note the streaks on the left side of the third caps).
All three cuts are presented in their original mono and uncompressed LPCM 1.0 sound. There’s not a lot to say about the quality of the sound, because, similar to the video, it wasn’t designed to sound very good. The raw quality of the audio is well-represented without intrusive distortion effects and the important dialogue/effects are separated from the messier bits well enough. The lack of compression keeps the high end buzz to a minimum. There is also an option to listen to star David Hess’ original score and songs on their own isolated LPCM track.
Disc one – Uncut Version:
Commentary by podcasters Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes – Ackerman of the Supporting Characters podcast and Made for TV Mayhem’s Reyes recorded this new track specifically for this release.
Commentary with writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham – This archival track has been included with a number of Last House on the Left home video releases since its debut on the MGM DVD.
Commentary with stars David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln – A second archival track, this time with major cast members.
Optional introduction to the film by Wes Craven (:40)
Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on The Left (14:54, HD/SD) – An interview with Craven that was filmed for the 2009 MGM DVD/BD release (which coincided with the theatrical release of the remake).
Celluloid Crime of the Century (39:34, SD) – This retrospective featurette was originally produced by Anchor Bay for their UK DVD in 2002. It includes interviews with Craven, producer Sean S. Cunningham, and actors David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, and Martin Kove.
Scoring Last House on the Left (9:44, SD) – Actor/composer David Hess discusses his musical career and the songs he performed for the film in this second Anchor Bay-made featurette.
It's Only a Movie: The Making of The Last House on the Left (29:01, SD) – An earlier MGM-produced retrospective featurette that covers a lot of the same ground as Celluloid Crime of the Century.
Forbidden Footage (8:12, HD) – The cast & crew talk about the film’s most controversial sequences and censorship issues in another AB featurette.
Junior’s Story (14:24) – The first new Arrow exclusive interview features actor Marc Sheffler, who runs through his early career, casting, and making the film.
Blood and Guts: A Conversation with Anne Paul (13:52, HD) – The next Arrow exclusive is with make-up artist Anne Paul, who gives a brief lesson in gore effects and has nice things to say about the cast & crew.
The Road Leads to Terror: The Locations of The Last House on the Left (5:48, hD) – A new then & now location tour hosted by former Fangoria Editor-in-Chief Michael Gingold.
Deleted Scene (1:04, HD)
Outtakes and Dailies (47:38, HD, no audio)
Trailers, TV spot, and radio spots
Disc Two – Krug & Company & R-rated Cuts:
The Craven Touch (17:10, HD) – In this Arrow exclusive featurette Craven’s collaborators, including Cunningham, composer Charles Bernstein, Scream 4 co-producer Carly Feingold, Hills Have Eyes producer Peter Locke, cinematographer Mark Irwin, and actress Amanda Wyss, share stories about the filmmaker.
Early Days and Night of Vengeance (9:04, HD) – Filmmaker Roy Frumkes (Document of the Dead, 1985) remembers Craven and shares his Last House on the Left artifacts in this new interview.
Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out (11:29, HD, no sound) – Raw excerpts from an unfinished 1976 Craven short, which was produced by Frumkes (whose own unfinished footage recently appeared on Severin’s Zombi Holocaust Blu-ray).
The American Cinematheque at the Historic Egyptian Theatre: Cinematic Void Rated X Triple Feature Discussion (12:25, HD) – Actor Marc Sheffler and moderator James Branscome field questions in this 2017 Q&A session.
Songs in the Key of Krug (9:41, SD) – A newly recovered, never-before-seen interview with Hess.
Krug Conquers England 2003 featurette (24:12, SD) – The final supplement is also taken from AB’s DVD. These fan interviews and footage of Hess playing guitar and signing autographs was recorded during the UK’s first ever public screening of the film uncut in 2000.
Disc three features a remastered CD soundtrack and this Limited Edition boxed version also includes a double-sided poster, six lobby cards, and perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by author Stephen Thrower.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.