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Last House on the Left (1972) [Arrow Video Limited Edition], The
Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left is not for everyone. It contains rape, murder, forced urination, suicide, drug use and depravity, but it is a movie that has grown on me over the years. It is also pretty damn effective at getting under your skin, and, thanks to the talents of its late director, is a lot more technically impressive than it ought to be. This is the movie that kicked-off the careers of Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham, become notorious worldwide for its violence and disturbing sexual content, and inspired countless imitators to plot films based on rape, murder and revenge. The deaths here are startling and undignified, and bring about a realization from the killers themselves that they have gone too far. These criminals are soon preyed upon, as The Last House on the Left shifts gears in its final act. Gritty, harrowing and memorable, Craven's notorious horror classic is deserving of this Arrow Video deluxe treatment.
Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody) leaves her parents Dr. John (Gaylord St. James, the porn-iest of names) and Estelle Collingwood (Cynthia Carr) to attend a concert in the city for her 17th birthday. She is accompanied by friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham), of whom her parents disapprove, and takes with her a peace symbol necklace as a token of love from her parents. Mari and Phyllis meet heroin addict Junior (Marc Sheffler) while trying to score some marijuana, and are taken upstairs into an apartment occupied by sadistic serial killer and rapist Krug Stillo (David A. Hess); child molester Fred "Weasel" Podowski (Fred Lincoln); and Sadie (Jeramie Rain), a sadist and sexual deviant involved with Weasel. The girls soon realize they are trapped, and Phyllis is later gang-raped by Krug, Weasel and Sadie. The next morning, the girls are bound, gagged and tossed into the trunk of Krug's car, which ultimately breaks down near the mailbox of Mari's house. Though Mari is close to home, her oblivious parents are inside planning her surprise party as Mari and Phyllis endure hell on earth.
Folk soundtrack not withstanding, it would be hard to label The Last House on the Left a pleasant film. It puts its female victims through such torture, humiliation and pain that it borders on exploitation. The raw, on-the-fly filmmaking and gritty, cinema verite qualities of the production enhance its effectiveness, placing viewers inside the madness. Needless to say, these gals meet tragic fates, and the gravity of their fates is heightened by Mari and Phyllis' own realizations that they are not long for this earth. The merry band of criminals is nonetheless compelling, as sadistic, taunting demons. Junior is a tragic figure fed dope by Krug to keep him under his control, and Rain commands the screen with her fiery performance as Sadie. The opening scenes take some time, but once the story is in motion, Craven keeps things moving at a breezy clip. The antagonists end up knocking on the Collingwoods' door for shelter, but John and Estelle soon discover the fate of their beloved daughter and realize what they are dealing with.
That is when Last House on the Left switches gears and becomes a revenge thriller. These demons had the upper hand on the girls, but they are no match for devastated, primal parents hell-bent on revenge. This is a film important to the horror genre, and one that is not easily duplicated or updated for modern audiences (See the graphic but forgettable remake). Craven looked to Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, itself a harrowing tale, for inspiration, and this movie is simply not for a mass audience. I have watched The Last House on the Left several times now, and it only becomes more effective. I have also noticed subtle details within the frame and related to the characters that heighten its impact. For horror fans, this is a must own.
Arrow presents The Last House on the Left on Blu-ray with a brand-new transfer, sourced from a 2K restoration culled from the best-available elements. The included booklet details the process and sources, which include Cunningham's own 35mm duplicate negative. This is not exactly a film shot to look pretty, but the Blu-ray does its 16mm source justice with this impressive 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that is healthy upgrade from the MGM Blu-ray release. Although the restoration was meticulous, Arrow wisely avoids correcting gate hairs, original negative damage and production mistakes, as detailed in the aforementioned booklet, that give the film its unique appearance. The source necessitates heavy, variable grain, but the transfer handles that with ease, offering clear upgrades from the MGM disc. This new 2K scan provides much better clarity, and the compression issues that faced the earlier release are all but absent. That means details are more impressive, colors bolder and more natural, and landscapes more appealing. There is plenty of texture amid the gritty exterior, shadow detail is much improved and, overall, it feels like Arrow has just handled this restoration beautifully.
The lone soundtrack is a LPCM Mono mix that preserves the intent of the filmmakers. The mix can be a bit anemic, with some production anomalies and looping issues, but it is representative of the theatrical experience I suspect. The David Hess score is somewhat weighty and nicely integrated amid dialogue and ambient noise. Shrieks are loud and effective, and hiss and distortion are absent. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Arrow Video offers up a new Limited Edition version of The Last House on the Left that should please horror fans and collectors. This three-disc set includes two Blu-rays and a soundtrack CD. These are packaged in an Arrow-staple clear case with dual-sided artwork, and inside that case are lobby cards. A full-sized movie poster and handsomely crafted booklet are also included. All these items slide inside a study slipbox that will look great on the shelf alongside Arrow's release of Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. The package includes three versions of the film: The Unrated Cut (1:24:12/HD/Disc 1); Krug & Company Cut (1:23:50/HD/Disc 2); and R-Rated Cut (1:21:52/HD/Disc 2). The Unrated cut is preferable, though the Krug & Company cut is interesting. Although trimmed in spots like the R-Rated Cut, it does feature some alternate and deleted footage. Extras are extensive and interesting:
- Introduction by Wes Craven (0:40/HD/Disc 1) - This is found on the main menu, and the film automatically follows this brief intro.
- Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on the Left (14:54/HD/Disc 1) - This 2009 archival piece offers interviews from Craven and others about the impact of the film.
- Celluloid Crime of the Century (9:44/HD/Disc 1) - This piece gets its title from another name considered for the film, Sex Crime of the Century, and is a 2002 archival featurette with remarks from Craven, Cunningham, and several actors.
- Scoring Last House on the Left (9:44/HD/Disc 1) - This 2002 piece concerns composer David Hess' interesting score.
- It's Only a Movie: The Making of The Last House on the Left (29:01/HD/Disc 1) - This is another 2002 piece that surprisingly offers remarks different from the other featurettes.
- Forbidden Footage (8:12/HD/Disc 1) - Here, the cast and crew discuss the film's most controversial scenes.
- Junior's Story (14:24/HD/Disc 1) - A new interview with Sheffler offers candid remarks from the unique actor.
- Blood & Guts (13:52/HD/Disc 1) - This is a somewhat dry, newly produced interview with make-up artist Anne Paul.
- The Road Leads to Terror: The Locations of Last House (5:48/HD/Disc 1) - A short look at the locations in the film as they appear in 2018.
- Deleted Scene: "Mari Dying at the Lake" (1:04/HD/Disc 1) - This is an extended version of a scene shown in the Krug & Company version of the film.
- Outtakes and Dailies (47:38/HD/Disc 1) - This silent reel offers some interesting, unseen footage.
- Trailers, Radio Spots and Image Gallery (HD/Disc 1) - These promotional materials all appear on the first disc.
- Audio Commentaries (HD/Disc 1) - You get three commentaries here. A newly recorded track with Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes, an older track with Craven and Cunningham, and a track with Hess, Sheffler and Lincoln.
- Isolated Score (HD/Disc 1) - The film's score is presented in LPCM 2.0 audio.
- The Craven Touch (17:10/HD/Disc 2) - This newly shot retrospective includes Cunningham, Charles Bernstein, Mark Irwin and others, and covers Craven's filmmaking legacy.
- Early Days and "Night of Vengeance"(9:04/HD/Disc 2) - This retrospective offers remarks from Roy Frumkes.
- Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out (11:19/HD/Disc 2) - This is silent footage from an unrealized Craven project.
- Marc Sheffler Q&A (12:25/HD/Disc 2) - Sheffler provides remarks after a 2017 screening of the film in L.A.
- Songs in the Key of Krug (9:41/HD/Disc 2) - An older interview with Hess about his role.
- Krug Conquers England (24:12/HD/Disc 2) - Another archival piece that explores the screening of the unrated version in the United Kingdom.
Wes Craven's seminal The Last House on the Left may not be for everyone, but horror fans are going to love Arrow Video's Limited Edition release. This three-disc set offers restored picture, exhaustive extras, a soundtrack CD and handsome packaging. The film is brutally effective, and inspired a host of imitators. DVD Talk Collector Series.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.