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MGM

MOVIE INFO
Director:
Wes Craven
Cast:
Sandra Cassel, Lucy Grantham, David Hess, Fred J. Lincoln, Jeramie Rain
Screenplay:
Wes Craven

Tagline:
It rests on 13 acres of earth over the very center of hell...!

MPAA:
Unrated.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 84 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 2/24/2009

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln
• “Still Standing: The Legacy of Last House on the Left” Featurette
• “Celluloid Crime of the Century” Featurette
• “Scoring Last House” Featurette
Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out Unfinished Short Film
• Deleted Scene “Mari Dying At the Lake”
• Never-Before-Seen Footage
• Trailers


PURCHASE
DVD

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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


The Last House on the Left: Collector's Edition (1972)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 17, 2009)

Before I watched 1972’s The Last House On the Left for the first time, I knew of its reputation as an extremely graphic and unpleasant film. Check out these comments from readers of IMDB:

“Without a doubt, the most disturbing film I have ever seen”;

“Nightmarish”;

“Harrowing, sickening and disgusting.”

Perhaps my thoughts about House will brand me a sicko, but I have to say it: I didn’t get what caused all the fuss. While I admit that House certainly depicts a great deal of depravity, rarely did I feel shocked or disturbed by what I saw, mainly because the filmmakers portrayed the material in such a ham-fisted manner.

House starts with a focus on lovely young Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell). About to celebrate her 17th birthday, she goes to a rock concert with her mildly seedy friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham). After the show, they try to score some pot, but this goes awry. They meet junkie Junior (Marc Sheffler), and he leads them to a gang of escaped prisoners. These folks weren’t put away for ripping tags off of mattresses; they’re violent nutbags. Led by the extremely sadistic Krug (David Hess), the group also includes his second-in-command Weasel (Fred Lincoln) and a butch gal named Sadie (Jeramie Rain).

To start matters, the gang rapes Phyllis, and when they leave their hotel the next day, the stick the girls in the trunk of their car. As they hightail it out of town, they encounter mechanical trouble out in the middle of nowhere, and they then decide to have some more sadistic fun. This starts small with odd control games; Krug tells Phyllis to wet her pants or he’ll slice Mari. Eventually matters escalate, and Krug gets really mad when Phyllis tries to flee. When that occurs, Mari attempts to convince the fairly pacifistic Junior to let her go; in the best hippie tradition of the era, she renames him “Willow” and works on him.

In the meantime, Mari’s parents worry about her and involve the authorities. The local sheriff (Marshall Anker) and his deputy (Martin Kove) assure them that Mari’s just exercising youthful rebellion, but they start to take notice when they get a report on the car driven by the escapees. They saw that vehicle parked on the side of the road earlier. They then dash to get back there but run into their own auto troubles. I won’t add any more to my synopsis because it would be tough for me to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say that much violence and immorality ensues.

If nothing else, House would be notable because it launched some careers. Producer Sean S. Cunningham went on to success with the Friday the 13th flicks, but his achievements pale beside those of the movie’s director. Wes Craven became known as one of the biggest names in horror via flicks like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream. (For my money, however, I think Music of the Heart is his scariest flick.)

From small things, mama, big things one day come, but you’d not be able to tell that from the insanely amateurish House. Others may disagree, but I saw nothing in this film that signaled any form of future talent. A lot of that was out of Craven’s control, I suppose. The actors must have come cheap, for not a single one of them provided anything that remotely resembled a decent performer. (Most of them failed to achieve theatrical success, though Martin Kove actually managed a decent career as a bad guy in flicks like The Karate Kid and Rambo: First Blood Part II.) The poor acting actively undermines the tension. For example, Cassell’s reaction to the rape of Phyllis shows nothing that supports the distaste associated with the act.

Craven doesn’t get away scot-free either, for he makes plenty of his own bad choices. House features some of the most awkward framing I’ve ever seen. The camera wobbles about and often cuts off characters for no apparent reason. In addition, the film’s pacing seems very uneven and becomes simply bizarre at times. In particular, the comic relief of the bumbling cops seems ridiculously odd and inappropriate. In fact, if I had to pick the single most shocking thing about House, it’d be the fact that the filmmakers thought the police scenes merited inclusion in the movie.

Actually, I suppose that’s not true. The most appalling aspect of House is David Hess’ score. Movies of the early Seventies suffered from lots of bad music; check out Joan Baez’s ludicrous songs in Silent Running, for example. However, nothing I heard there rivaled House’s score when it comes to bad taste. The music mainly fluctuated between simpy semi-folk tones and stuff with more of a bouncy banjo feel. Some bizarre electronic bleeps and blips punctuated a few significant scenes as well. None of it suited the material in the remotest sense.

In a nutshell, the music of House rendered the onscreen visuals impotent for me. Movies don’t need to be graphic to provoke a reaction. Some of the scariest, most tense flicks ever made barely showed any real violence. Of course, Psycho remains a classic in that regard, and I’d also include flicks such as Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs. With the possible exception of Psycho, each of those films depicts some moderately explicit material, but all three combined don’t show a third of what we see in House.

So why did the movie have such a weak impact on me? In large part, this occurred due to that damned score. The music so actively distracted me from the material that I couldn’t take it seriously. During the film’s climax, the footage packs a stronger punch; not coincidentally, that segment includes little to no music.

However, by that point, I think it’s far too little, far too late. The Last House On the Left remains a horror landmark, but as a film, it offers almost nothing of value. I don’t say that as a prude who feels offended by its graphic violence. I say that as someone who never became affected by the material due to the tremendously cheesy and amateurish way in which it was executed. Chalk up this alleged classic as a huge disappointment.


The DVD Grades: Picture D / Audio D+ / Bonus B

The Last House On the Left appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Shot on Super 16mm stock for a budget of about $90,000, one can’t expect House to look very good. The DVD definitely lives up - or down - to those expectations; while I thought it provided picture quality that accurately represented the original material, the experience remained severely problematic.

Sharpness seemed fairly weak. Occasionally, close-ups came across as reasonably accurate, but the rest of the image appeared rather soft and fuzzy. The movie remained indistinct and bland most of the time. At least this meant I saw no issues related to jagged edges, moiré effects or edge enhancement.

Print flaws caused a mix of concerns, though they didn’t seem as bad as I expected. Throughout the film, I noticed occasional examples of streaks, grit, spots, hairs, speckles, dirt, vertical lines and scratches. Although these intensified somewhat as the movie progressed - the first half seemed cleaner than the second - they never became overwhelming; for the most part, I thought House delivered visuals reasonably free from secondary defects like those mentioned.

However, I did observe heavy levels of grain throughout the movie. Very few parts of the flick didn’t become affected by this issue. I didn’t regard this as a print flaw per se because the grain obviously came from the original cheap film stock. Nonetheless, I wanted to mention that the grain popped up quite frequently.

Colors consistently appeared drab. The film offered bland, messy tones that never displayed any form of vibrancy or life. In theory, they could have been less lively, I suppose, but the hues nonetheless seemed flat and runny. Black levels looked pale and inky, while shadow detail was fairly thick and dense. Low-light scenes were visible, but the lackluster nature of the project made those shots tough to watch. Ultimately, though I felt the DVD correctly replicated the source appearance of The Last House on the Left, it presented an ugly piece of work.

The monaural soundtrack of The Last House on the Left didn’t do much to improve on the visuals. Overall, I felt this was a lifeless mix that also clearly was restricted by the film’s low budget. Speech tended to sound muddy or thin and sibilant. Lines could become difficult to understand at times; while not genuinely unintelligible, I ran much of the film with the subtitles activated because the recording was so inconsistent. Effects seemed similarly flat and toothless, though they lacked any significant signs of distortion. Music lacked much range and failed to deliver a bright and distinct experience, but the score did display a little passable bass at times. A little noise crept into some parts of the track, but those instances seemed infrequent and didn’t intrude badly. Overall, the audio for House was weak but represented the original recordings.

How did the picture and audio of this 2009 “Collector’s Edition” compare to those of the 2002 Special Edition? I thought both were virtually identical. If the 2009 disc differed in any way, I couldn’t see or hear it.

When compared to the 2002 disc, the 2009 CE provides a completely different set of extras. We open with an audio commentary from actor/composer David Hess and actors Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific look at cast and performances, working with Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham, the score, and a mix of anecdotes.

At times the commentary nearly becomes obnoxious. It certainly features a more crass tone than normal, especially when we hear about who banged who on the set. Nonetheless, it also comes with a lot of honesty – much more than we normally get from these tracks. I wish the guys – especially Lincoln – had toned down their personalities a bit, but we still find some interesting insights, so the commentary’s worth a listen.

Three featurettes follow. Still Standing: The Legacy of Last House on the Left runs 14 minutes, 54 seconds and presents remarks from writer/director Wes Craven. We learn about the project’s origins and how it reflects its era, script and the “documentary style”, the film’s tone and reflections on its cultural implications, and remakes. Craven provides some interesting thoughts about the original film. However, this brief chat doesn’t substitute for the mysterious absence of his commentary from the old disc, and much of the last five minutes just feel like an ad for the Last House remake.

During the 39-minute and 33-second Celluloid Crime of the Century, we hear from Craven, Lincoln, Sheffler, Hess, producer Sean S. Cunningham, and actors Jeramie Rain and Martin Kove. “Crime” looks at the roots and development of Last House, influences on the film, aspects of its tone and violence, script and story, cast and performances, camerawork, editing and music, the flick’s initial release and reactions to it, and how the movie affected the careers of its participants.

“Crime” essentially renders “Standing” moot, as it repeats the useful parts of that featurette. “Crime” accentuates the commentary well and gives us a very nice overview of the production. It doesn’t shy away from controversy, as it embraces the negative elements associated with the flick; heck, the show even examines Lincoln’s dislike for it. We find a solid examination of Last House here.

Scoring Last House goes for nine minutes, 44 seconds and features Hess. He talks about the film’s music and also sings some of its songs. Hess throws out a few minor insights, but don’t expect a ton. He already covers most of this stuff in the commentary, and I find it tough to take his discussion of the music seriously since I think Last House comes with one of the worst scores ever composed.

Next comes an incomplete short film called Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out. It runs 11 minutes, 24 seconds and comes from “a section of an unfinished anthology film directed by Wes Craven”. The 1976 flick failed to come to fruition due to monetary issues, and the footage we find is silent.

Which makes it of dubious value. I suppose Craven fans will be interested in it, but since there’s nothing here to set up the scenes or characters, we never have any idea what the flick’s about or what’s happening. Couldn’t they have at least provided dialogue subtitles for the silent footage? This is a forgettable reel.

Some cut material appears next. We get a Deleted Scene called “Mari Dying At the Lake” (0:59) as well as Never-Before-Seen Footage (5:34). The former gives a little more exposition that shows Mari when her parents find her, while the latter offers more material from the lakeside rape/torture sequences. As with Tales, the “Never-Before-Seen Footage” lacks sound, so it loses some value. We still see some moderately interesting outtakes. “Dying” isn’t terribly appealing, though, as it adds little.

Finally, we find a handful of Trailers. We discover ads for Pathology, Mr. Brooks, Asylum, Hit and Run and The Betrayed. No trailer for Last House appears here.

As I mentioned, the old DVD included a completely different set of supplements. It provided a commentary with Craven and Cunningham, a documentary, outtakes and dailies, a featurette, and a trailer.

37 years after it first hit screens, The Last House on the Left still maintains a reputation as one of the most brutal and unnerving films ever made. I must admit I don’t get it. To be sure, the movie includes a lot of unpleasant material, but the ridiculously amateurish production defuses much of the impact. I found it impossible to take any of the action seriously due to the poor manner in which the filmmakers executed the piece. The DVD provides picture and sound that seem weak, but those problems appear unavoidable due to the extremely low budget of the project. We do find a nice collection of supplements, though.

Since I think Last House is a thoroughly awful movie, obviously I won’t recommend it to new viewers. I also hesitate to recommend it for established fans, as I think the 2002 Special Edition was as at least as good and sells for less money. Both offer virtually identical picture and audio, but they differ in terms of supplements. I think the old set’s extras are a little more appealing than this one’s, though the 2009 CE includes many nice components. Die-hard fans will need to own both just to get all the bonus materials, but less obsessed folks will probably be happy with the old 2002 release.

To rate this film visit the original review of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main