Release Date(s)1972 (July 3, 2018)
Studio(s)Hallmark Releasing/MGM/20th Century Fox (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
The Last House on the Left saw some unexpected success for fledgling filmmakers Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham when it was released in 1972. Craven, a filmmaker whose strict religious upbringing, professorial academic bent, and newfound expressive freedom all collided in a brutal and bloody way. The story of two young women who are subjected to kidnapping, humiliation, rape, and mutilation at the hands of a group of escaped convicts, eventually receiving their comeuppance at the hands of the young women’s parents, is a gut-wrenching piece of cinema that received an appropriately potent reaction from moviegoing audiences.
Last House has always been a tough one for me because it’s never been a film that I’ve ever really liked. I have no real complaints about the way it was made because I understand that it was made by folks who were developing and honing their skills as they went along, which means that not everything is consistent about it, but it’s not one that I’ve wanted to revisit all that often due to the content. It’s not an easy film to watch, or certainly one you want to pop in with friends for a good time. Even Wes Craven himself felt that he had gone a bit too far and wrestled for the rest of his life with whether or not making the film as vicious as it is was the right thing to do or not.
That all being said, The Last House on the Left is an important work for the genre as a whole. I can see more modern horror fans not being as taken with it as many of us were when we first saw it, either theatrically or on home video. One does have to wonder if the film’s power to shock has faded over time. Perhaps, but it’s all subjective anyway. Most avid horror fans have seen some pretty rough material over the years, including a remake of this film during a time when extremely visceral and ugly films like Hostel were popular at the box office. Whatever the case may be, it’s a film that’s meant to disgust more than entertain, and for that you have to give it some respect. After all, the tagline “Keep repeating to yourself, it’s only a movie... only a movie... only a movie...” had impact for a reason.
As far as its various incarnations are concerned, the full original theatrical version had a running time of around 91 minutes. An alternate version under the title Krug & Company, which was an early version of the film, ran around 84 minutes. An R-rated version of the film that was later released on home video ran for about 82 minutes. Then in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Wes Craven recut the film, excising a few minutes of footage for a final running time of 84 minutes. This version, later released on DVD and Blu-ray, became known as the Unrated version, which is factually incorrect due to what came before it.
Due to the film’s sordid and controversial history, which includes different distributors hacking out sections of theatrical prints before screening them for the public, finding all of the materials for the film in its various forms has likely been a daunting task. The original 16mm AB negative is now considered to be lost, and all that Arrow Video was able to get their hands on were 35mm interpositive, internegative, dupe negative, and various release print materials, some of which were provided by MGM, Severin Films, and, in the case of the dupe negative, Sean S. Cunningham himself. After extensive research, the dupe was identified as the highest quality element and the closest to the original negative. This element, as well as the interpositive and print elements, were scanned in 2K to recreate the various versions.
Keeping in mind that The Last House on the Left was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm later on, one has to expect a certain kind of look. After all, most blown-up prints often contain higher levels of grain, crushed blacks, and a significant loss of fine detail. In the case of Arrow Video’s restoration of The Last House on the Left, which has always looked rough over the years, there are certainly sections where that’s evident. Everything has been properly graded and cleaned to not just restore the look of the film, but also to meld its various sources together and make everything appear solid and even throughout. What we’re presented with is the highest quality presentation of the film that’s ever been available.
Despite the limitations, the restoration presented here looks quite good. The restrictions of the original cinematography, such as lighting, out of focus shots, and debris in the film gate, are still observable, being more prevalent than ever. Nighttime shots have particularly improved, meaning that shapes, figures, and events are less murky. Everything appears much sharper and more precise when given the opportunity, principally during scenes in the woods or in the latter half of the film within the unintentionally titular house. Color is merely good and still carries a somewhat washed-out appearance. Many might not consider this restoration to be a revelation at first glance, but if you’re ever had to watch this film on VHS, this transfer is likely to be an improvement to you in all respects. The audio, which is presented in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH, is cleaner and clearer as well with discernible dialogue. David Hess’ score and song selection is also much more crisp than previously heard. It’s a tad thin overall with obvious restrictions, but is well-represented.
There’s also a massive amount of supplemental material to dig into as well. Beginning on Disc One, which contains the “Unrated” version of the film, there’s an introduction to the film by Wes Craven; three audio commentaries, one with Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham, another with actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler, and Fred Lincoln, and a new commentary with podcaster Bill Ackerman and author Amanda Reyes; an isolated score track in 2.0 LPCM; Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on the Left, an archival 15-minute interview with Wes Craven; Celluloid Crime of the Century, a 40-minute documentary about the film from 2002 by Blue Underground; Scoring Last House, a 10-minute archival interview from 2002 with David Hess; It’s Only a Movie: The Making of Last House on the Left, a 29-minute featurette from 2002; Forbidden Footage, an 8-minute featurette about the film’s gory content; Junior’s Story, a new 15-minute interview with actor Marc Sheffler; Blood and Guts: A Conversation with Anne Paul, a new 14-minute 2018 interview with the makeup artist on the film; The Road Leads to Terror: The Locations of Last House, a new 6-minute featurette hosted by “Fangoria” film journalist Michael Gingold; a deleted scene of Mari dying by the lake; nearly 50 minutes of outtakes and dailies, some of which come from filmmaker Roy Frumkes; 2 trailers, both presented in HD; a double feature TV spot, with the co-feature being Don’t Open the Window (aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue); 6 radio spots (two paired with The Amityville Horror, one using the music from Psycho, and another using audio from The Exorcist); and a set of image galleries containing 65 behind-the-scenes stills and 65 promotional material stills.
On Disc Two, which contains the Krug & Company and R-Rated versions of the film, there’s The Craven Touch, a new 17-minute featurette containing interviews with Sean S. Cunningham, composer Charles Bernstein, producer Peter Locke, cinematographer Mark Irwin, and actress Amanda Wyss, who all discuss working with Wes Craven; Early Days and Night of Vengeance, a 9-minute piece featuring Roy Frumkes who remembers Craven and The Last House on the Left; Tales That’ll Tear Your Heart Out, which is 11 minutes of silent footage taken from a section of an unfinished anthology film directed by Craven from 1976 that ran out of funds before completion (also provided by Frumkes); a 13-minute Q&A session with Marc Sheffler taken from a screening of the film at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles in July 2017; Songs in the Key of Krug, a 10 minute archival interview with David Hess; and Krug Conquers England, a 24-minute archival documentary from 2000 about the first ever screening of the film in the UK. Also included is a third disc, which contains the film’s soundtrack on CD; a large, two-sided poster featuring the original theatrical art on one side and new artwork on the other; and a 58-page insert booklet, which includes the essay “Something Rather Dark and Bloody” by Stephen Thrower, as well as restoration details. All of this is housed in a handsome and sturdy cardboard slipcase. Unfortunately, the longest version of the film, which was not Craven’s approved cut, has not been included here. However, if you check the extras, you’ll find sections of it, including the infamous disemboweling scene, present and accounted for.
Arrow Video’s Herculean efforts to give The Last House of the Left its finest home video treatment are highly commendable. It’s a gorgeous package with enough material to cull through for hours, if not days. Whether you’re a fan of the film or not, it’s going to be difficult to disappoint you with this one. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons