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Default Last House on the Left, The








Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: August 31, 2002

Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/27/2002
MSRP: $14.95
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Open Matte 1.33:1



inline ImageThe 1970's will be forever known as a time of revolution, both in reality and on film. While hippies paraded on streets and revolted against the government, moviemakers rebelled against the glossy and superficial filmmaking techniques of the past. The new goal of filmmakers was to inject films with the grittiness and reality that was seldom demonstrated on film. Sex, drugs and violence were finally exposed on film in gratuitous amounts in the 1970's, and motion pictures from then on were never again innocent.

Horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre first frightened people with the notion that yes, things as gruesome as torture and ruthless murder can (and do) happen in real life. Before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's impact on North America though, there was a little film that broke all the rules and pioneered the neo-realism horror movement of the early 1970's. That film was Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left. Notoriously cut, censored, banned and protested against, Craven's first (and best) film has endured quite an adventurous 30-year lifespan. But now The Last House on the Left is ready to invade the digital medium, so let's take a look inside MGM's new feature-laden release.

The Story

inline Image Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) emerges from the shower as she readies herself to go with her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) to the new Bloodlust concert. She puts on her shirt, minus a bra (gasp!), and wishes bye to her folks. But her mother (Cynthia Carr) and father (Gaylord St. James) are hesitant on letting her go. Her father does not want her parading around town with her breasts in plain sight, while her mother, more importantly, worries about her going to one of the city's bad neighborhoods. Mari ventures out anyway, and along with Phyllis, both girls journey through the wilderness together behind Mari's isolated house as they head over to the concert.

inline Image Before the concert, Phyllis takes Mari down the mean streets of NY in search of some marijuana. At the same time, Mari's parents decorate the house for Mari's upcoming birthday, and little do any of them know that she will not live long enough to celebrate it. The two girls meet Junior (Marc Sheffler) who lures them up into his convict father's apartment, which starts the beginning of the girls' worst nightmare. Both girls are ravaged and beaten by the sly and sneaky Fred Podowski (Fred Lincoln) and the gritty and vulgar Krug Stillo (David Hess). The two, along with Junior and their main squeeze, Sadie (Jeramie Rain), are wanted for various sexual offenses and crimes, and decide to head up to Canada with the two girls as hostages.

inline Image On the way their car breaks down and they are stranded amidst the engulfed wilderness. To satisfy their sadistic desires they slowly torture, belittle, rape and murder the two innocent girls in a most unsettling fashion. They cleanup, and trudge on through the woods until they embark on Mari's house, in which they seek shelter. Mari's parents unknowingly take them in, but soon enough realize that the group is responsible for the death of their missing daughter. What follows is a night of vengeance, where the parents avenge their loved one's death when not even the police can help. It's realistic, it's at times unbearable…and it's all at The Last House on the Left.

inline Image When it was released in theaters back in 1972, The Last House on the Left was arguably the first film to deal with realistic subject matter like motiveless sexual abuse and murder in a graphic fashion. So intense were the scenes on viewers that many vomited and even protested against the film's exhibition. Thirty years later, the film remains a haunting reminder of the kind of crimes that go unpublicized, and it's graphic torture scenes still manage to unsettle. Unlike films like The Devils Experiment, which revel in the graphic abuse it depicts, The Last House on the Left uses the gore sparingly and with much greater effect. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wes Craven's film stands remembered as being much more graphic than it actually is because of its shocking subject matter.

inline Image David Hess makes the material all the more shocking with his ruthless and hardnosed killer. He can talk about sex and murder without even a change of voice, and always projects an intimidating persona. During the scenes when he tortures the two girls, his glare and suavity are so merciless that he will forever go down in history as one of the most frightening villains in film history. Never has their been a character this brash and unsettling, and his performance even upstages the notorious gore.

To the film's benefit, it also contains a crude and gritty filming style by Craven that adds to the realism of the happenings. This looks just like a documentary, and its amateur nature does nothing to lessen the film's impact, but instead transcends it above other gruesome horror films. The only thing scarier than watching murder on screen is to witness it as a bystander, and Craven's coarse photography and editing make the film at times almost unbearably realistic.

inline ImageThe film manages to stay tasteful and remain watchable because of Craven's elaborate use of comic relief. The first portion of the film is at times witty and at others funny, and when the material does get more serious, Craven thankfully intercuts his violent scenes with a humorous back-story involving two inept policemen. Although movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were able to endure very lengthy chase and torture sequences without becoming too unsettling, one must take into account the time and environment in which The Last House on the Left was filmed. This was the first time any such material was ever shown on screen, and had it contained the intensity of Tobe Hooper's film, it would have been too overwhelming for such a virgin audience of the early 1970's. Many argue that the comic antics in the film are dated, but as Wes Craven has demonstrated in his other works, his comic timing has been a vital asset to his films, and is one of his major auteur attributes.

What makes The Last House on the Left the classic it has become though, is its honesty and commentary on the changing of the times and how society became much different in the 1970's. The conversation between Mari and her father at the beginning of the film regarding her not wearing a bra interestingly sets up this subtle theme that would be interlaced throughout the film. Much like Mari's not wearing a bra indicated a change of presentation in society, The Last House on the Left alerted audiences of the changing state of film. No longer were things going to be glamorous and padded like the bras and films of the 50's and 60's, but instead they would be realistic and bare, like Mari's dress and the new wave of films in the 1970's.

What is also intriguing about The Last House on the Left's social commentary is the fact that the parents take the lawful matters into their own hands. Although initially they tried to confide in the police, the ineptness of law enforcement fueled an urge for the parents to avenge their daughter's death personally. Instead of relying on the police to solve matters like what was done in the olden days, Mari's parents sought vengeance through weaponry and acted as vigilantes. In order to battle villains raised in the 70's, they'd have to resort to the same kind of criminal acts, suggesting to the viewer that society must adapt to its changing ways. Like viewers had to adapt to seeing graphic violence in film, Mari's parents had to face a similarly unbearable situation. All this vigilantism and more, and Death Wish was still two years away!

Even in the conversations between Krug and Sadie, the rising women's rights liberations were blatantly obvious. Although Krug wants her as a sex toy, she demands more rights, and inadvertantly gets them. During a brutal castration scene in the final reel of the film, women's power reaches an apex. This film must always be seen with its time of release in mind, because its truthfulness and insight on a very revolutionary time are very important to the movie's effectiveness. This is not so much a film about torture, but more an exercise in alerting audiences of the changing political and motion picture climate.

inline ImageWes Craven would go on to change the manner in which slasher films were made with A Nightmare on Elm Street, but with The Last House on the Left he forever alters the way motion pictures were made in America. This is a landmark film, ushering forth a gritty neo-realism in North American cinema in the same manner that Open City changed European films nearly thirty years prior.

Image Quality

Presented in a newly discovered widescreen master that is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen TV's, the film looks ugly, fuzzy, washed out, grainy and weakly colored, but thankfully this is the best the film has ever looked. Shot on a meager budget of $90,000 and now over 30 years old, it is no surprise that the film looks brash and amateurish, but it is that realism that makes the film so effective.

Although full of blemishes like color stains, lines and speckles, the print is still light years ahead of its VHS counterparts. No longer are the last ten minutes a dark haze like on some older videocassette tapes, thanks to the nicely balanced black levels. Blacks indeed look week, but at least everything on screen remains comprehensible. At times the print looks fairly soft, but it does look much clearer in many parts than it ever has. Fans of the film know that the original print materials have been almost impossible to come by, and with that in mind, this print is a blessing. MGM has done a fine job with this transfer, considering the poorly intact materials they had to work with.

An open matte 1.33:1 version is also included on the other side of the disc.

Sound

Only an English mono track is provided, but given the subject matter and its realistic presentation, a full blown 5.1 channel remix would be out of place. The audio condition is variable, from weak to poor, but it still sounds on par with previous releases on other mediums. There was only once part in the film where the sound effects crowded out the dialogue and that was when Mari's father was chasing Krug with a chainsaw. Other than that everything is audible and decently sounding. This mix is about all that can be expected from a film of this age and shape.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageFans rejoice, this is where the disc really shines! Although not labeled a special edition on the packaging, there is a vast abundance of supplemental material. Firstly is an introduction on both sides of the disc by Director Wes Craven. He assures the audience that this disc contains "the most complete version since its original theatrical release" which was mastered from a newly discovered uncut film negative. Also on both sides of the disc is the entertaining and nostalgic commentary recorded by both Wes Craven and Producer Sean S. Cunningham. They talk and joke about various facets of the film's history, and it is very personal and at times laugh-out-loud funny (Craven's comments about Gaylord St. James' sideburns are the highlight). Both have not seen the film in over 20 years, so they do have a limited memory of the production, but the track is still very entertaining and will surely please fans.

The final accessible feature from the widescreen side of the disc is a substantial 30 minute documentary, "It's Only A Movie". Included in the documentary is reminiscing from nearly the entire principal cast and crew. In it we hear Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham talk about how they met and how the film was kick started into production. There is then further talk from cast members about how they came to be involved, and what they think of the final product. David Hess chimes off on how he thinks the film is a folk tale, and Lucy Grantham even reveals that she actually urinated her pants during the controversial scene in the film. More talk is directed to the film's guerilla filmmaking style and its various name changes and public responses. Although Sandra Cassel's absence is a bit of a let down, this is an exceptional featurette, and is undeniably the best part of the disc.






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On the flip side of the disc there are three other supplements. Shortest of all is the legendary "It's only a movie…" trailer presented in full screen (the widescreen trailer can be accessed by going to Title 5 on the widescreen disc, thanks to dvdfan for the update). The trailer is truly a classic, and it is great to see it included on the disc. It gives away little-to-no spoilers, so give it a look before you pop in the film.

Next up is an Outtakes & Dailies clip which runs 14 minutes and is divided into three sections. The first is "Murder Sequence" which contains some new gore, alternate angles, added scenes not seen in the film and even a bit with David Hess picking his nose. "Mari and Junior" is the next section that has more unseen footage, and the final are some dialogue scenes entitled "Lost Parents". The feature is unfortunately presented without audio, so some of the dialogue scenes come across as meaningless. Still though, this is a noteworthy inclusion.

Finally, there is an 8 minute featurette entitled "Forbidden Footage" which is slightly misleading. There is not really much lost footage included here, since most of it lies in the Outtakes featurette. But this is still a vary interesting inclusion because it contains interviews with Craven, Cunningham and even Steve Miner regarding the cut footage and the clips that many objected to. The packaging unfortunately comes without an insert, but overall this is a stellar batch of supplements that puts even some of the best special editions to shame in terms of content.

Final Thoughts

The Last House on the Left is one of the classic films of the 1970's, and it's commentary on society and its intense graphic torture sequences are still as involving and effective today as they were back then. The video and audio are in poor quality, but they amount to arguably the best presentation the film has ever had. The supplements on this disc are top notch and do justice to this highly influential and revolutionary film. For only $14.95 this is arguably the best disc of the year, highly recommended.

Rating

Movie - A
Image Quality - B
Sound - C+
Supplements - A

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Subtitles
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles
  • English Mono
Supplements
  • Commentary by Director Wes Craven and Producer Sean S. Cunningham.
  • Introduction by Wes Craven
  • "It's Only A Movie" featurette
  • Outakes & Dallies featurette
  • "Forbidden Footage" featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer
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Old 01-23-2005, 09:58 AM
Nice review, but... I think the paragraph about the Directors Series featurette is included accidently here when it belongs in the Hills Have Eyes review. I just got this disc today and while it is very good (especially the commentary), it doesn't have that featurette. No bother, I was planning on buying the HHE DVD next!
 
 

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