Wes Craven's seminal horror masterpiece The Last House on the Left returns to churn stomachs on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video. 46 years after its original theatrical release, the film still packs an emotional wallop. Age, countless imitations, and a misguided remake have not diminished the stature of this landmark film. Arrow Video gives horror fans the complete package with this release. Including all three versions of the film, an updated transfer that doesn't betray the film's grindhouse amateur-filmmaker origins, terrific audio, and hours of bonus features to pick through. Whether you're a fan or if you simply appreciate independent horror cinema, this Blu-ray is Highly Recommended.
Our man M. Enois Duarte did an excellent write up for the FOX/MGM release from 2011 and I strongly encourage you to give his review a read HERE.
"Are you folks on vacation?"
"No, we're sort of, um, on a business trip."
The Last House on the Left is one of those films whose reputation precedes it. If you haven't seen it, you've no doubt heard about it and/or saw the weak remake from 2009. This film is vile, violent, repugnant and in so being all three it becomes all the more relevant. Wes Craven and his partner Sean S. Cunningham would stake their careers in horror filmmaking on tearing down the facade of safety within societal norms. Craven brilliantly deconstructs the peace counterculture movement of the 1960s and the Vietnam war and brings it crashing home with brutal depictions of human behavior in the face of an inept and powerless police department.
It wasn't until I was around 19 that I actually discovered The Last House on the Left. Amongst my core group of friends, it was the horror flick of legend that everyone had heard of by reputation but few if any had actually seen it. Those that claimed to have seen it were probably lying just so they could sound cool and be looked at with adoration. Growing up in South East Michigan, at the time there was only a single video store in a forty-mile radius that had a badly worn out VHS tape for rent. One week where my parents went on a trip for their anniversary, I took that opportunity of having the house to myself to catch up on every film I'd never seen but knew I needed to see. In between rounds of early Kubrick, Fuller, and Bergman I dutifully picked my way through the horror section making sure to bring home The Last House on the Left. It gutted me.
At this point, I was no horror movie novice, having digested any number of low budget exploitation movies and grizzly horror films with any amount of blood, guts, gore, and human evisceration. I would have considered myself marginally desensitized by onscreen acts of brutality. But The Last House on the Left hit hard. Part of what makes this film so effective is how deceptively goofy it all is. Little of anything terrible happens for about thirty or forty minutes. Even when Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) and her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) first meet Krug (David Hess) and his band the film still has a cheap and easy grindhouse playfulness to it that keeps you at a hands distance. Then the action moves to the woods not far from Mari's home and the violence becomes all too real - and close. Even watching the drastically neutered R-rated cut of the film, the initial hit of Krug's depravity was too much. I had to take a break before finishing it.
After seeing the film a few more times over the years, my horror and revulsion at the content wained and I've come to appreciate what Wes Craven was going for. I still feel the humor at the expense of the dopy cops is a bit too goofball and abrasive against the rest of the movie. The jump from gut-churning horror to bumbling dumbbells complete with silly soundtrack is still a bit of a head-scratcher. Comparatively, I appreciate how Sean S. Cunningham depicted inept police in Friday the 13th as a guy more interested in busting harmless potheads and rounding up the town drunk than actually worried about any real threat roaming around in the woods. It's lest comical while still being completely ineffective.
As a whole, The Last House on the Left is not in anyway a fun movie. Truth be told I still have difficulty watching it, but it's been a piece of my collection since the first DVD release because I feel the need to keep revisiting it. It's not an annual watch like the best pieces of my collection, but every couple of years something draws me to this film's darkness and nihilistic view of society. For a first film, it's often overlooked in Wes Craven's roster as later successes overshadow it due to its roughshod stylings. But, to this day, I feel it's one of his most impactful. He went for the gut and didn't stop punching once he got there.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Arrow Video gives The Last House on the Left a much needed and long deserved Limited Edition three-disc set. Pressed onto two Region A BD-50 discs, the discs are housed in a three-disc clear case with reversible artwork depicting the new cover art or the original poster artwork and is housed in a hard sturdy sleeve with booklet and reversible poster. The discs load to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. The Unrated Version (1:24:12) is found on Disc One, the "Krug and Company" (1:23:50) and R-Rated (1:21:52) cuts are found on Disc 2. Disc three is the film's soundtrack by David Hess.
Shot on 16mm, The Last House on the Left displays all of the earmarks of a low budget production. Unfortunately, the film's original AB negative has been lost so Arrow had to scrounge to find the best elements available starting with the 35mm dupe negative as well as some interpositive elements to complete the various cuts of the film. Again, as I said before, this film has never looked amazing nor will it. But this 1.85:1 1080p restoration performed by Arrow's team is a massive improvement in overall quality compared to the MGM release from 2011.
The first noticeable improvement to my eyes was color saturation. I would say that this release is a tad darker in shading than the 2011 disc, but as a result, colors look a bit better. This image displays a much more natural and organic color range than the previous Blu-ray which always felt like was pushed too hot leading to skewed skin tones and pinkish reds. Reds have a much more natural primary appearance and blues and yellows display a nicely refined pop and presence. Earth tones also come through nicely.
Film grain is still heavy and present throughout the film but now appears more organic and a lot less pixelated and noisy than it has in previous releases allowing for details to appear more refined allowing for intricacies in facial features, clothing, and the various settings to come through. Mari's sweater, for example, has a lot more texture to it than before and close-ups feature more skin texture. The image also feels like it has a better-resolved sense of depth and dimension. Black levels are still a bit hit and miss largely due to the source elements. Some scenes display nice even inky blacks, others tend to skew slightly crushed without any sort of shadow gradience. Some dirt, small scratches, and slight staining remain but those are minimal defects. As a whole, this film has never looked better on home video. Not perfect, but considering age and how various elements have been stored for 45 years, this is much better than anything that's come before.
Presented uncompressed, the LPCM Mono tracks for The Last House on the Left are crisp and clear with all of the baked in anomalies of the low budget production. Taken as a whole dialogue is relatively clean and clear, sound effects have a nice presence while Hess' score rounds out the film's mix and gives great weight to certain scenes. Issues of sync still remain because of badly looped dialogue and there are moments where dialogue still sounds tinny and flat like a set recording that didn't get cleaned up. Thankfully serious issues of hiss and pops have been tamped down or mitigated to the point they're hardly noticeable anymore.
One of the things I love about a good Arrow Video release is how "go for broke" they are with their bonus features. They really pull out the stops here grabbing every bit of archival material as well as a whole host of new content. There's a lot of great stuff to pick through so fans of the film have a few hours ahead of them to get through it all. Thankfully all of this material is worth the time and it isn't a just a collection of talking head EPK cast off junk.
The Last House on the Left is not an easy film to watch. That may be a bit of an understatement for some folks. While I know many who can't finish the film or flat out refuse to even acknowledge it, I've come to appreciate it as an impactful piece of terror horror filmmaking. It's brutal and unsettling while amateur and cartoonish all at the same time. It's a visceral experience that will impact each viewer individually. Hate it or love it, Arrow Video has given The Last House on the Left the due respect it deserves with this terrific three-disc Limited Edition release. With all three cuts of the film, hours worth of bonus features, including the film's score, the A/V quality is a leaps and bounds improvement over the previous 2011 MGM Blu-ray release. IF you're a fan of the film, this is the release to have on your shelf Highly Recommended.