Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left was one of the most shocking film debuts - ever. A grungy grindhouse take on The Virgin Spring, the film ignited immediate controversy and was banned in numerous countries throughout the world. Now held as a classic in the genre, it still packs a visceral punch to the guts. While the 2009 Remake may have been (and still is) unnecessary but thanks to a great cast and Dennis Iliadis' keen direction, the newer take on an old story gains some new relevance while satiating modern horror hounds’ need for bloody visceral vengeance. Distributor Turbine Medien delivers an exciting three Mediabook, 7-Disc box set offering two cuts of both films with two exceptional documentaries with hours of additional bonus features. Highly Recommended
It’s difficult to believe that there is a horror fan out there that hasn’t at least heard of The Last House on the Left. Growing up as a kid I was aware it existed, but more than that I was aware of the marketing campaign. “It’s only a movie… it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie” was movie marketing genius but it wasn’t applied to a big-budget studio operation or an 80s slasher franchise, it belonged to Wes Craven’s directorial debut. And for good reason. It was and remains an intensely visceral experience that is extraordinarily difficult to watch but just as hard to look away from. The gritty realism coupled with the excellent performances from the main cast of amateurs lend to the rawness of the film. Tapped as one of the “Video Nasties,” it was banned throughout Europe for ages and unless you had a sympathetic video store in your neighborhood, it was nearly just as difficult to find in the states.
Following the river of horror remakes in the early aughts, 2009 saw the arrival of a “new” Last House on the Left that wasn't anything resembling an amateur effort of unseasoned actors and filmmakers. Now, the original film was hardly accused of “subtlety” in its era, but this new version practically makes Wes Craven’s classic blush. Krug and Company headlined by Garrett Dillahunt as the diabolical Krug and Tony Goldwyn as the murderously protective father is bloodier and relishes in the violence. This film, like so many remakes, is little more than a photocopy of the original with glitzed-up visuals and gore effects. Not without its own moments, the film does feel hollow as we kick back to gloriously horrifying parental revenge.
As someone who appreciates both entries, I do my best to compartmentalize them and let them stand aside from one another. While the stories are the same their aims are completely different. Wes Craven made his film when the U.S. was just coming out of Vietnam and the horror stories soldiers were bringing home with them were very rich in the cultural mindset. This film is a reaction to the shattering of America’s sense of cultural innocence. Even after David Hess’ Krug and his Company of violent miscreants has committed one of the most horribly depraved acts imaginable, there’s a moment where they have to confront what they’ve just done. There is actual blood on their hands and they briefly can’t reconcile that. And when the parents exact their revenge, it’s bloody and earned.
On the other hand, Dennis Iliadis’ version doesn’t exhibit that kind of pathos. Instead, it leans heavier into the mindset of taking a head for an eye. Exact tenfold onto those who have wronged you – and Tony Goldwyn’s John does just that. Where I feel this film is unjustly dismissed is the extent of the parent’s revenge. Some say it goes too far or is unwarranted to some degree, but what I feel works best is Goldwyn’s John reconciling his past actions. Overly trusting, he didn’t listen to his wife (Monica Potter) and let their daughter have the keys to the car without a second thought. When a group of sketchy strangers appears on his doorstep, he doesn’t think twice about letting them in and providing medical aid. His revenge on these people is just as much his anger at himself unleashed as it is towards Krug. Watching this film again after becoming a father, yeah, I get John’s methods. Maybe not the microwave… but everything else is certainly understandable.
At the end of the day, we have two very different takes on the same story. If you have to pin me down and force me to rank them, obviously Wes Craven’s 1972 film is the superior version in nearly every way. It’s a film that just can’t be repeated without being dumbed down and commercialized, and that’s exactly what the 2009 remake is. There wasn’t a single person out there saying we needed a remake of The Last House on the Left but some bean counters in some studio accounting office someplace got the idea that this film tied to Wes Craven’s name would be a draw for modern audiences. Of the modern remakes of that era, it’s certainly not the worst – especially within the confines of the rape/revenge exploitation subgenre. That honor goes to the 2010 version of I Spit On Your Grave and its 2013 sequel. Funnily enough, the director of those films has gone on to enjoy a fine career making family-friendly Hallmark movies (seriously). The 2009 The Last House on the Left certainly didn’t need to be made; the 1972 original packs enough of a punch to be felt for generations to come.
The Last House on the Left (1972) - 4/5
The Last House on the Left (2009) - 3/5
High-Def Digest previously review both versions of The Last House on the Left - click the links below to read more fun content.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Last House on the Left: The Legacy Collection invades your home with a new deluxe 7-disc box set from German distributor Turbine Medien. This set offers up a trio of Mediabooks: a two-disc Mediabook for the 1972 original, a two-disc Mediabook for the 2009 remake, and another two-disc Mediabook for the documentary double feature The Last Word on the Last House on the Left and 42nd Street Memories with a CD reserved for the 1972 film’s original score by David Hess. Also included is a 100-page book “The Legacy of The Last House on the Left” that features essays and interviews about the film - in German. While that’s a bit of a hangup for some, I’ve been using the Google Translate app on my phone to work my way through it and it does a pretty good job translating the material - and it’s a very interesting read. Even though it’s not advertised as such, all discs are Region Free, I tested each on multiple setups without issues. Each disc loads to a static image main menu that’s in German but is easy to navigate nonetheless.
Both the 1972 and 2009 versions of The Last House on the Left arrive with uniformly excellent transfers; the 1972 version is of course limited to source elements. For fans of the 2009 remake, they should be pleased to hear this set offers up a marked improvement for both cuts of the film. So let's dive in.
After doing a lot of disc flipping, the transfer for the1972 The Last House on the Left is identical to the version Arrow released in 2018. Sadly the original negative is lost or no longer exists so that transfer was sourced from a 35mm dupe negative and various other interpositive elements to complete both the theatrical and the Krug & Company cuts of the film. Without the original 16mm elements to work from, this is likely the best The Last House on the Left will ever look on disc or any other format. You’re already one or more generations removed from the negative on top of decades of age and storage issues – outside of a miracle, I just don’t see this film ever getting any better than this, which is a sad shame because 16mm classics like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Hills Have Eyes have been exceptional 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray releases.
Now for fans of the 2009 remake, Turbine gives both the Theatrical and Unrated cuts of the film its own BD-50 disc with a AVC/MPEG-4 encoding. I didn’t have this on Blu-ray in my collection, weirdly only on DVD and my library curiously doesn’t have a copy – but suffice it to say I was very impressed with this release. I saw this film in theaters and it had a gitty heavy-grain vibe with stylized lighting and coloring and that was all on display here. Film grain looks appropriately cinematic here with crisp details and fine lines without any signs of smoothing or edge enhancement. Colors may favor the bright harsh yellows but they’re accurate for this film’s appearance. Black levels were lovely allowing for some excellent shadows and deep inky blacks without the crush problems of past releases.
The Last House on the Left (1972) - 3.5/5
The Last House on the Left (2009) - 4.5/5
Both versions of The Last House on the Left arrive with German/English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio tracks. German is the default so you’ll have to switch to English at the main menu, but that’s easy enough.
For The Last House on the Left (1972), both the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are solid efforts, the 5.1 actually makes solid use of the surround channels, but I still prefer the 2.0 track. It’s closer to the original mono experience that’s really what this film needs. It’s tighter, more claustrophobic, and in that way more impactful. Not to say that the 5.1 is bad or ineffective in its own ways. It actually stands tall on its own, but when it gets right down to it that 2.0 track feels more natural and organic.
As for The Last House on the Left (2009), you also pick up an excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 track, but in this case I lend my interest to the 5.1 over the 2.0. This mix largely keeps to the front/center channels for most of the heavy lifting with sides coming in more for incidentals and atmospheric ambiance for a lot of the film. However in the latter half when the big thunderstorm is hitting and Krug and Company arrive at the titular house, that extra spacing and imaging in the channels comes to life nicely. Flipping on my receiver’s DTS Neural:X function helps expand and energize the soundscape.
Given how many discs are present for this set, it shouldn’t be any surprise that this set is fully loaded in the bonus features department. You get all of the archival materials with plenty of new interviews to pick up. The biggest gain for this set are the two excellent Calum Waddell documentaries 42nd Street Memories which is an awesome look at the famous stretch of New York City that had all of the best movies, some of the worst, and all of the colorful characters that come with it. The second documentary The Last Word on the Last House on the Left was a fantastic look at the genesis of that film and how Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham came to work together. Great, great stuff if you’re game for that material.
Media Book One - The Last House on the Left (1972)
Media Book Two - The Last House on the Left (2009)
Media Book Three
The Last House on the Left Soundtrack CD
The Last House on the Left is not a movie for the faint of heart. Even for a number of hardened horror fans, it can be a lot to take in. Even for me, and I’d call myself an admirer of Wes Craven’s original film and would hold it up as a masterpiece of independent filmmaking – it’s not a movie I pull off my shelf for “entertainment.” It’s a terror film, that gritty subsection of horror films that puts you into sensory overload and exhaustion that by the time you come out of the theater you feel good to be alive. The 2009 The Last House on the Left aims for the grandeur of modern exploitation but falls far short. While there are thematic elements I enjoy, the film is there mostly to dispense painful retribution and gore. On that scale, it’s a success but still rings fairly hollow. Again, not a movie I pull off my shelf to enjoy but to experience. Now thanks to Turbine Medien, The Last House on the Left: The Legacy Collection brings both films together with an elaborate and thoroughly packed 7-disc 3-Mediabook set offering two cuts of both films and loaded with bonus features, on top of two exceptional feature-length documentaries from filmmaker Calum Waddell and a 100-page booklet. Collectors may have a tough time locating this set, but it's out there, and if you need either or both of these films on your shelf, this is the best way to fully experience The Last House on the Left - Highly Recommended