The Last House on the Left (1972)Overview -
Before horror fans Saw the current wave of shockers featuring fiercely Hostel villains, Wes Craven delivered this "important genre landmark" (Science Fiction Horror and Fantasy Film Review) that's thrilling, disturbing, action-packed and filled with unrelenting terror. On their way to a rock concert, two teenagers (Sandra Cassel and Lucy Grantham) are kidnapped by a gang of escaped convicts. Although they put up the fight of their lives, the girls are drugged, tossed in a car trunk and driven into the woods by the savage, murderous gang... only to wake up to a horror they could not have imagined. Filled with shocks, twists, turns and action, this knuckle-whitening film "never lets us out from under almost unbearable dramatic tension" (Roger Ebert).
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
In spite of its graphic, stomach-churning violence, there's one notable moment in 1972's 'The Last House on the Left' which hints at it being worth more than its individual parts. After gruesomely eviscerating one teen girl and raping the other, the low-budget exploitation shocker suddenly turns to the faces of the despicable killers (David A. Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain and Marc Sheffler). As they pull pieces of grass from their sticky fingers and try to wipe dried blood from their hands, the camera lingers on their faces while they look at one another. In these few silent seconds, we see the monsters realize the viciousness and damage of their crime, revealing a small sliver of humanity still residing deep within. It also reminds viewers they're watching people commit horrifying acts of violence upon other, often innocent, people.
Almost immediately afterwards, the film's appallingly dark and cruel tone unexpectedly shifts to a zany comedy act with two bumbling cops (Marshall Anker and Martin Kove). At first, this sudden about-turn is disconcerting and tastelessly bewildering, but after pondering it for a while, it becomes clear the switch is intentional. Earlier, these same police officers appeared clueless and surprisingly unsympathetic to the fears of very concerned parents — their daughter is one of the young girls murdered. In fact, their response feels coldly scripted, like excuses for not doing their job. The change in tone not only interrupts the movie's dim subject matter, but it also suggests the incompetence of authorities is due to some ignorance and an inability to understand a world that seems increasingly more violent with each generation.
In 1972, the hippie counterculture was slowly starting to wane, but their message of peace, love and cultural diversity remained a lasting ideology. We see this in the two teenage friends (Sandra Cassell and Lucy Grantham), a pair of free spirits roaming about in the forest before heading to a hip rock concert in the city. We're even given a moment of a private sexual revolution when Mari (Cassell) refuses to wear a bra. To drive the hippie idea home, her parents (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr) give Mari an early birthday present — a peace symbol necklace which her mother lovingly places around her daughter's neck. Sadly, this is all meant to be ironic since we obviously know (or least, it's easy to figure out) where the narrative is going and what happens to the young girls.
The U.S. was also coming out of a very turbulent political atmosphere in the early 70s. And as more Americans grew weary of the conflict in Vietnam, more people became exposed to the grisly images of war through television media. Arguably, Wes Craven, who made his writing and directing debut with 'Last House,' explores the irony of seeing the peace generation greeted by more violence and has an incompetent police force be ineffectual at ending the hostility. Furthermore, his script gives Mari's parents the opportunity to realize a revenge fantasy, which basically questions social ethics in conflict with natural instincts and the endless cycles of violence. In essence, Craven has shockingly politicized — at least in a deep, unconscious level — Ingmar Bergman's 'The Virgin Spring,' on which the plot is loosely based.
'The Last House on the Left (1972)' is a great cult horror film from two filmmakers — Craven and Sean S. Cunningham — who later became well respected names within the genre. The classic shock exploitation feature has also grown into an influential movie, remembered not only for its disturbing nature but also for some of the creative smarts which give the story a bit of substance. The only area holding the film back (and it's really only a matter of preference) is its production value. It really shows its limited budget, direction and editing is clearly amateur and the acting is cheesetacular. Then again, these aspects actually add to the movie's grindhouse charm and still make for an interesting watch.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment bring 'The Last House on the Left (1972)' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc. It's housed inside a blue eco-case with the "Collector's Edition" cover art. When placed into a BD player, the disc goes straight to the movie without any menu options and defaults to lossless audio.
Originally shot on Super 16, Wes Craven's 'The Last House on the Left' does not translate well onto Blu-ray.
The grain structure is thick, and resolution will fail to impress anyone. The print is also in need of some light cleaning as vertical lines suddenly appear and hairs float in midair in a few scenes — one actually moves across the screen while Estelle seduces Fred to walk outside the house. Definition is about average, with a few good scenes here and there, but considering the film's age, fine object detailing isn't all that bad. Contrast and brightness is well balanced for a low-budget feature with decent blacks, and colors are unexceptional though cleanly rendered.
All things considered, the video is probably the best it will ever look in HD.
Given its limited origins, this mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is quite good and accomplishes was it's meant to do with little effort.
Delivering excellent, well-prioritized vocals in the center of the screen, the original design places the emphasis on character interaction. There's some background activity which can heard clearly, providing the track with a sense of presence, however canned it may sound in various scenes. The lossless mix exhibits a clean and stable mid-range and there's no low end to really speak of. But again, this is more the result of a limited production than a fault in the transfer.
'Last House' may not come with an exciting audio presentation, but it gets the job done for a low-budget cult horror feature.
Just shy of its 40th anniversary and studios decide to simply carry over the same bonus features from the Collector's Edition DVD of 2009. It's somewhat of a shame, but it's also a fairly nice collection for fans to enjoy.
- Audio Commentaries — Two commentary tracks kick off with a very funny conversation between director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham. The two men talk about various tidbits on the locations, the filming and interesting background on the cast while also making hilarious wisecracks about the production. It's loads of fun and a great listen for fans.
The second track features another amusing conversation, this time with actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler, and Fred Lincoln. The discussion is, of course, more focused on the cast and performances, and the men clearly enjoy each other's company. Sometimes remarks are scene-specific and plain, but overall, the comments and discussion are light-hearted and entertaining.
- Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on the Left (SD, 15 min) — An interview with Wes Craven looks back at the film's origins, its making, and the director's background. Best parts are talks on issues of violence and the public's reaction.
- Celluloid Crime of the Century (SD, 40 min) — Made by Blue Underground, this in-depth documentary explores the movie's history, from its origins and reception to its lasting legacy. This is great stuff.
- Scoring Last House (SD, 10 min) — Another featurette from Blue Underground looks at the film's music by David A. Hess.
- Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out (SD, 11 min) — A collection of short clips from an unfinished production by Craven showing cowboys and zombies.
- Deleted Scene (SD, 1 min) — A brief segment that has Mari indentify the killers to her parents before dying in their arms.
- Never Before Seen Footage (SD, 6 min) — Assortment of scenes, like the infamous lesbian rape sequence, that were deleted and once believed lost.
- "It's only a Movie" (SD, 29 min) — After getting through the other featurette, this short feels rather repetitive, discussing all the same topics. Still, for fans, this is a good talk on Last House and its reaction.
- Outtakes & Dallies (SD, 14 min) — As the title suggest, this is a series of outtakes and footage later used in the movie.
- Forbidden Footage (SD, 8 min) — Interview with filmmakers offers their thoughts on the movie's graphic violent scenes.
- Trailer (SD) — The original theatrical preview completes the supplemental collection.
Wes Craven made his writing and directing debut with the shocksploitation feature, 'The Last House on the Left,' a suspenseful revenge flick best known for its graphic displays of violence. The cult classic remains just as disturbing and unsettling today as it did when it originally premiered in 1972, and was met with its own erratic and violent reaction by an unsuspecting audience. The movie looks the best it will likely ever look on Blu-ray, but could probably benefit greatly from a frame-by-frame restoration of the original negatives. With a good audio presentation and a strong collection of supplements, the package makes a decent purchase for first-timers and the curious.
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