• Last House On The Left, The (Collector's Edition)

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: July 3rd, 2018.
    Director: Wes Craven
    Cast: David Hess, Marc Sheffler, Jeramie Rain , Fred Lincoln, Martin Kove, Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham
    Year: 1972
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    The Movie:

    A low budget remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham's 1972 The Last House On The Left was one of the hardest hitting horror films of its era. Even now, more than four decades after its release, it remains a tough watch and, in an era where horror fans are supposed to be jaded and desensitized, that counts for something.

    The plot is a fairly simple one. When the movie begins, two pretty teenage girls, Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) and Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) are on their way to a rock concert. They want to celebrate Mari's seventeenth birthday with their favorite band, Bloodlust. They decide to hitchhike and wind up getting kidnapped by a group of escaped convicts made up of Fred 'Weasel' Podowski (seventies porno actor/director Fred J. Lincoln), lone female member Sadie (Jeramie Rain), Junior Stillo (Marc Sheffler) and their sadistic ringleader Krug Stillo (David Hess). The girls do their best to fight the thugs but wind up drugged and thrown into the back of a car. The gang takes them out to the woods but after a strange turn of horrifying events, the gang is forced to take refuge in the home of Mari's parents...

    Say what you will about the contents of the film but it's impossible to deny just how harrowingly effective The Last House On The Left really is. Shot on Super 16mm in Connecticut and New York with a small crew and a low budget, the film has an unsettlingly realistic feel to it that elevates it above your standard cheap horror movie and makes it something more akin to a cinematic punch in the groin. The unflinching realism and incessant brutality of the movie result in a genuinely frightening film. It really does feel like one that 'could happen to you' in the way that it mixes sex and violence with all the expectedly nasty results right up there on the screen in front of you. It might be gratuitous, but it never feels unrealistic.

    Central to the film's success is the performances. While the gritty, documentary-like feel of the cinematography and camerawork certainly put the audience in there with the protagonists, it's the actors who convince us of the film's authenticity. Sandra Cassel and Lucy Grantham are utterly convincing in their roles likely because, particularly in Sandra's case, they were genuinely scared of their co-stars (Hess in particular). Fred Lincoln, Marc Sheffler and Jeramie Rain all deliver effectively manic performances and do a fine job here but it's David Hess who really gets under your skin. You don't get the impression that he's acting here, rather, you get the impression that he's venting and the movie is all the more frightening for it. Just how much of Krug is really Hess is hard to say but his performance in this picture has rightfully become the stuff of legend. Hess was also responsible for the film's soundtrack, a strange mix of ambient music and acoustic folk tunes that, at times, make for a strange contrast to the images shown on screen.

    Of course, as all horror fans know, the film has had a massive influence. You can easily trace back the origins of the so-called 'torture porn' (a completely insulting term but at least a point of reference) pictures like Saw and Hostel to Last House while 2005's Chaos, directed by David DeFalco and starring Sage Stallone and Kevin Gage is basically an uncredited remake (they even ripped off the marketing campaign). For better or worse, Craven and company permanently changed horror films with this one, ushering in a new era of violence and depravity. The film met with some pretty harsh audience response when it played theaters as moviegoers hadn't really seen anything like this up to this point. The resulting controversy lead to local theaters trimming prints of various naughty bits which meant that it was tough to know if you were seeing the film in its full-strength version or not. Thankfully the unrated version contained on this presentation from Arrow Video presents the movie in its uncut version, or at least as close to its uncut version as we're likely to ever get (as did previous editions from MGM).

    It's also interesting to note where bits and pieces from Last House pop up. Not only are parts of the score, namely the track 'You're All Alone' which is actually heard here in a longer version, recycled in a 1975 porno film entitled Angela The Fireworks Woman (which Craven is rumored to have co-directed - he does appear in the film in a non-sex role) but deleted scenes were used in a 1973 mockumentary entitled The Evolution Of Snuff (also known as Confessions Of A Blue Movie Star), also directed by Craven. In 2004 Fred Lincoln reprised his role as Weasel Podowski and appeared in and directed a XXX parody entitled The Last Whore House On The Left that was put out by VCA, and then of course, there's the big studio 2009 remake...

    Note: Arrow has included not only the unrated cut on disc one, but also the Krug & Company and R-rated cuts on a second disc. The film plays best in its full-strength version as is found on the first disc but it’s great to have these legitimate alternate edits preserved for posterity’s sake even if neither is likely to be anyone’s ‘go to’ version of the picture.


    All three cuts of the film newly restored in 2K from original 16mm film elements and presented on 50GB discs framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. All three versions look very similar here, each one showing very little in the way of actual print damage but absolutely retaining all the film grain that you’d expect given the picture’s origins. Detail is very strong considering, and color reproduction looks great. We get nice, deep black levels while at the same time the transfer offers strong shadow detail and is free of any obvious compression artifacts. Grain is presented naturally, properly resolved and never looking clumpy or noisy. Skin tones appear lifelike and natural and the picture is free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. All in all, a very nice upgrade over the previously released Blu-ray from MGM (reviewed here).

    Each version of the movie is presented in LPCM Mono with optional subtitles in English only. Again, no complaints here about Arrow’s presentation. Yes, things do sound a little bit flat in spots but this has everything to do with the original recording. The music has good depth to it, however, and the dialogue remains clear throughout. The levels are properly balanced and there are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion to note.

    Extras for this set – which are ridiculously comprehensive - are spread out as follows:

    Disc One – The Unrated Cut:

    The special features for the first disc kick off with an all new audio commentary featuring podcasters Bill Ackerman (of the Supporting Characters podcast) and Amanda Reyes (of the Made For TV Mayhem podcast and blog – she’s also written for Film Threat and a few other publications) that proves to be quite a worthwhile listen. Given how the two archival tracks included here feature those who were involved with the making of the film and cover its history in a lot of detail, this track rightly takes a different approach – a much better idea than simply regurgitating what the older tracks have already covered. Sure, there’s some trivia and historical discussion but there’s a lot more focus on how the movie stands as a reflection of the period in which it was made as well as insight into its impact and influence. There’s also quite a bit of talk here about the film’s unorthodox score, the quality of the performances, details of the script and quite a bit more. These two go the extra mile and manage to deliver what couldn’t have been easy – a commentary that manages to discuss an extremely well-known and iconic horror film without simply repeating what seasoned fans already know about it, and to do it with plenty of personality that makes it as enjoyable as it is interesting.

    Carried over from the MGM disc is a commentary track from stars David Hess, Fred Lincoln and Marc Sheffler. This track originally appeared on the 2-disc PAL release from Anchor Bay UK. This is an interesting track done with a pretty snarky sense of humor, particularly from Fred J. Lincoln who starts the track off by remaking 'oh it's based on a true story, no wonder it's so good!' The three participants riff on Craven and Cunningham in spots as well as some of their co-stars, making fun of Fred's accent a few times as they go. They point out some interesting bits and pieces about the locations (parts were shot at Cunningham's house) and the performers and generally keep the conversation going as the movie plays out. They don't seem to take anything too seriously, Hess joking about his 'chain of gas stations' and talking about how their female co-stars were so afraid of them while they were making this film (something Craven confirms in Still Standing). They also talk about how 'everyone got caught with Lucy' - apparently, she was a little promiscuous - and about where they were at, career wise, during the time that this film was made. It's an interesting commentary that really does give a pretty decent look at the picture's production from the point of the three core villains. A second commentary track gets Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham in front of the microphone for a pretty detailed talk about the history of the film. They discuss where they were at in their respective careers at the time, why the various participants were cast in the roles that they wound up playing, what it was like on set, editing the film, some of the controversy that surrounded it and more. It's a more structured and formal commentary than the cast track and in some ways more informative but both are worth listening to.

    From there, check out the fifteen-minute documentary Still Standing: The Legacy Of "Last House On The Left” from Red Shirt Pictures. This is an archival interview with Craven that starts with the man himself admitting that they didn't really realize what they'd made until they saw the film in theaters. From there, Craven talks about how his background and world events influenced the script that he wrote, particularly how the media was portraying the war in Vietnam. From there he talks about response to the film, how he didn't think of the film as art but rather as an unrepressed film that 'allowed me to be bad for the first time in my life.' He then elaborates on the influence and lasting appeal of the film before finishing off by discussing the 2009 remake of the film.

    Up next is the excellent Celluloid Crime Of The Century forty-minute documentary, which Blue Underground made for the Anchor Bay UK release from 2003. This is a pretty in-depth look at the making of the film that features interviews with director Wes Craven, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor (and pornographer) Fred J. Lincoln, actress Jeramie Rain, actor Marc Sheffler, actor Martin Kove, and of course, Krug himself David Hess. Each of the interviewees talks about making the film and what it was like working with each other, how they all bonded on many different levels and how everyone had to work as a unit. They cover casting, the influence of world events and of The Virgin Spring, and they talk about their careers in film up to this point. As the documentary plays out, there is a wealth of behind the scenes pictures shown as well as pertinent clips from the film. There's a lot of attention given to Hess' unusually realistic performance but even so, it's still a pretty fantastic piece that shines a lot of light on the history and making of this picture.

    The ten-minute Scoring Last House, again done by Blue Underground, also appeared on the Anchor Bay UK DVD, and it's basically a sit-down talk with David Hess about the score that he wrote and performed for the film. He talks about how he got into music at a young age and about some of the music he'd done before Last House before discussing his work on the film itself and how the music in the film makes the picture 'more horrific.'

    There's also a pretty great twenty-nine-minute retrospective featurette included here entitled It's Only A Movie that once again includes interviews with Hess, Craven, Cunningham and the rest. It covers much of the same ground as the other pieces but it's here for those who want it even if it is a bit redundant. Another archival featurette appears in the form of the nine-minute Forbidden Footage wherein Craven and a few cast members discuss some of the film’s more notorious scenes and deleted material as well as its marketing and its trailer.

    New to this release is a fourteen-minute piece called Junior’s Story which is an interview with a heavily bearded Marc Sheffler wherein he speaks quite candidly about how he landed the role, his acting experience prior to this part, Fred Lincoln’s importance behind the camera, Hess’ real-life terrorizing of Cassell, how he himself got along with Hess and quite a bit more. Interesting stuff. Another new featurette, Blood And Guts, interviews makeup artist Anne Paul for fourteen minutes about her work on the picture. Here she speaks about having to makeup the cast members for the film and what that was like, how she got along with everyone and how some of the picture’s stronger gore effects were conjured up using some primitive but remarkably effective tricks of the trade. In The Road Leads To Terror we spend six-minutes with another new piece that explores the film’s shooting locations as they exist today. Hosted by Mike Gingold it’s an interesting piece that shows off many of the main locations used – some have changed, but just as surprisingly, some really haven’t.

    Familiar to those who have owned past editions will be the deleted scene entitled Mari Dying At The Lake. This is exactly what it sounds like, a quick snipped bit where Mari dies in her parents’ arms near the lake. More interesting is the forty-eight-minutes of Extended Outtakes And Dailies which are presented “newly transferred in HD.” There’s obviously a lot of material here, taken from throughout the film. There’s quite a bit more footage that shows off the opening scene but what really sticks out is the nastiness involving the rape in the woods, which is shown here from a few different takes. We also see some of the gut ripping/fondling outtakes and quite a bit more, much of which doesn’t appear to have been available on previous editions.

    Also included on the first disc is an isolated score option that is newly remastered from the original 17.5" magnetic tracks, a quick archival introduction to the film by Wes Craven, two theatrical trailers for the feature, a TV spot, six minutes of radio spots, two separate still galleries, menus and chapter selection.

    Disc Two – The Krug & Company And R-Rated Cuts:

    Extras on the second disc start out with The Craven Touch, a brand new seventeen-minute featurette made up of interviews with aa host Craven’s collaborators such as Sean S. Cunningham, composer Charles Bernstein, producer Peter Locke, cinematographer Mark Irwin and actress Amanda Wyss. It’s an interesting piece that lets the participants look back on the time they spent with Craven before he passed, discussing what he was like to work with and how he got his start on low budget fare like Last House before eventually becoming one of the biggest names in the horror movie business once the seventies turned into the eighties and his career really took off.

    Up next is Early Days And 'Night of Vengeance,' a ten-minute interview with filmmaker Roy Frumkes wherein looks back on his relationship with Wes Craven and offers up his thoughts on the man was well as his own feelings on Last House On The Left. Also on hand is eleven-minutes of Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out footage that also originally appeared on the Anchor Bay UK DVD and its footage from an unfinished Wes Craven film that starred David Hess. It's presented here in its original fullframe aspect ratio without any audio, as none was ever recorded for it.

    Arrow also includes a twelve-minute Q&A with Marc Sheffler that was recorded at a 2017 screening of the film held at The American Cinematheque where he talks about being cast in the film, his thoughts on the part, working with Hess and Lincoln on the picture and more. Disc two also contains a ten-minute interview with Hess entitled Songs In The Key Of Krug wherein the late actor talks about his work in the music industry, specifically his work scoring Last House and what he tried to bring to the movie by contrasting its strong content with softer, mellower musical selections. Arrow has also carried over from the UK release the twenty-four-minute Krug Conquers England archival featurette form the UK DVD release that is an interesting document charting the theatrical tour of the first ever uncut screening of the film in the UK that took place in 2000 where Hess was in attendance and interacting with a lot of British fans for the first time.

    Note that this review is based off of test discs that do not include some of the ‘physical supplements’ Arrow has said they are including. Finished product should come with the film’s score newly remastered on CD, six lobby card reproductions, a double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork, reversible sleeve art featuring original and newly commissioned artwork and a limited edition 60 page perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by author Stephen Thrower. If that materials is made available, we’ll update this review with thoughts and some accompanying images.

    The Final Word:

    Arrow Video’s special edition Blu-ray release of Wes Craven’s infamous Last House On The Left in an excellent restored transfer with three different cuts of the film included and an amazing array of extras. The movie still packs a pretty serious punch, it’s a grim and unrelenting slice of low budget horror done right, and it really has been given the deluxe treatment with this release. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    And some screen caps from the extras...