The Last House on the Left (1972) (Blu-ray)
Every Halloween Hollywood studios rush to get as many horror films into the market as possible. This includes the re-release of many older films, especially since the advent of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. I usually celebrate the holiday by going to the movie store and picking out one (if my wife is lucky) that I’ve never seen. This year, I got to watch THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), a new Blu-ray release. This is not the re-imagining of the story that was released in 2009, starring Monica Potter (PARENTHOOD) and Garret Dillahunt (WINTER’S BONE).This version was the first feature written, directed, and edited by filmmaker Wes Craven, now a mainstay of the genre.
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT tells the story of Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody). On the eve of her 17th birthday, Mari tells her parents that she’s going to a concert but instead goes with her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) and takes the family car to a dangerous part of the city. As her parents are preparing for her birthday, Mari and Phyllis head to the concert but decide to stop on the way to try to find weed. As we watch Mari and Phyllis having fun and Mari’s parents preparing for her party, we meet Krug Stillo (David A. Hess) and Fred “Weasel” Podowski (Fred Lincoln), two prison escapees who are hiding out with heroin-addict Junior (Krug’s son, played by Marc Sheffler) and Sadie (Jeramie Rain). The four are trying to stay hidden from the law after killing two guards and a dog in their escape.
While walking to the theater they see Junior standing outside awkwardly and think he might be dealing. He lures them into the apartment to make the purchase, where the girls are restrained and Phyllis is raped. From here we are taken on a disturbing and violent journey along with Phyllis and Mari, just waiting to see what might happen next, waiting for the hammer to fall. This is where the film succeeds more than any other. As we watch with growing dread the terrible things happening to these girls, we can’t help but wonder what could possibly be next. I won’t ruin the little plot device that makes this film standout more than any other – because then you wouldn’t be able to enjoy it fully. If you’ve seen the new one or know about THE VIRGIN SPRING (Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 classic) which served as inspiration for this film, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
This movie is far more interesting as an anthropological treasure than as an entertaining piece of cinema. When originally released, there weren’t genre films like this anywhere, in fact they were considered pornographic. This was so evident that Craven’s original script for the film featured some truly pornographic sex scenes including some very disturbing images that just wouldn’t have been possible in 1972 (thankfully). The acting isn’t anything special, but David Hess is certainly believable as Krug, the inspiration for Craven’s later NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET anthology.
By all rights the most amateur of Craven’s films, this took all common film conventions of the time and threw them out the window. The actors are a strange bunch of people you probably won’t recognize. In fact, it is, in the director’s own words “an assaultive film… completely uncompromising, and does not make you comfortable.” That really ties this movie up nicely. The point is to see the result of personal violence, to take it and push it all the way to the limit. And this movie certainly does that, from open to close, with a mismatched score featuring upbeat country music to the horrifying images to a disturbingly gratifying ending, this is a very interesting movie but not my cup of tea.
Video: (1.85:1 Widescreen) This is the worst transfer I have seen. I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision, as Craven discusses wanting to make it gritty, but in this case I’m not sure why they re-released the film.
Audio: (English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio) The sound is a big sack of fine. Nothing really good about it, but competently presented.
Audio Commentary with Director Wes Craven and Producer Sean Cunningham: This is a really interesting commentary with Craven and Cunningham (who would go on to create the Friday the 13th franchise). They were kids when they made this movie but they have some interesting insights. Technical at times.
Audio Commentary with Actors David Hess, Fred Lincoln, and Marc Sheffler: This commentary is like the movie – amateurish but incredibly interesting. These are the only three actors from the film who kept going in the industry; Hess as a musician, Lincoln moving into adult cinema, and Sheffler writing and producing shows like WHO’S THE BOSS and CHARLES IN CHARGE. They provide some interesting takes on the film, but Lincoln is just annoying as he tries to claim credit for every little bit of the film that he likes (which is not much, but frustrating over time).
Celluloid Crime of the Century (39:34): The first truly HD feature on the disc, this is a nice discussion of how and why the movie was made. It’s really interesting to hear it talked about as a cultural and genre-changing phenomenon. This contains most of what is included on all of the other special features in one place.
Scoring Last House (09:44): David Hess (who played Krug) was actually a musician when he was cast in the film. After being cast, Craven asked him to do the score (which is very, very strange). This is an interesting take on the scoring process different than anything I’ve seen up to now.
Tales That’ll Tear Your Heart Out (11:29): Footage from a Wes Craven anthology picture that was never released, shot in 1976. No sound so it’s all a bit hard to follow. They also didn’t spend time working on the conversion rates which leaves much of the footage appearing to move far too quickly. Really weird.
Deleted Scene (00:59): A scene rightly cut from the film.
Never Before Seen Footage (05:36): More footage without sound. Very rough. This scene is one of the more pornographic moments removed from the film. This footage suffers the same conversion rate issue as above, making it difficult to watch.
“It’s Only A Movie” Featurette – The Making of The Last House on the Left (29:01): Another featurette about the making of the movie. This incorporates some different interviews and footage, all-in-all a very complete package, but I would recommend the above “Celluloid Crime of the Century” feature as the best overall presentation. This one was put together in 2002 for the DVD release.
Outtakes and Dailies (14:01): Once again, the footage for this is presented without sound. While interesting to present this much without any sound at all, it brings out other flaws. Only for the die-hards. Many of these are the violent or “pornographic” scenes.
Forbidden Footage (08:12): Misters Craven and Cunningham discuss some of the footage that had to be cut.
Also included is the Theatrical Trailer for the film.