MGM // 1972 // 84 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 7th, 2002
To avoid fainting keep repeating...
it's only a movie...
only a movie...
only a movie...
only a movie...
Everyone's gotta start somewhere, and for writer/director Wes Craven (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Scream, Swamp Thing) and producer Sean S. Cunningham (the Friday The 13th series) it was the no-budget horror shocker The Last House on the Left. Made for a meager budget of what appears to be 65¢, The Last House on the Left has gone on to achieve some kind of cult status with a rabid following of fans. For the first time ever (I think), The Last House on the Left is being presented in a widescreen "unrated" cut from MGM, with all the blood and guts fans have come to expect, plus a whole lot more!
Cute Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) and her rebellious friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) have taken the night off to see a Bloodlust concert for Mari's 17th birthday. On the way to the concert, the girls are unwittingly caught up with a group of on-the-lam cons led by the vicious Krug (David Hess). Krug's group of homicidal thugs includes the sleazy "Weasel" (Fred J. Lincoln), the dimwitted Junior (Marc Sheffler), and their girlfriend Sadie (Jeramie Rain). Feeling like they need some female companionship (even if the females don't reciprocate), the group kidnaps Mari and Phyllis, tosses them into the trunk of their car, then rapes and humiliates the innocent girls to no end. What happens next -- which not only involves the girls but Mari's parents as well -- will shock and terrify even the most strong-willed of viewers! Heed the warning and stay away from The Last House on the Left!
I have no idea why The Last House on the Left became such a huge cult classic. I guess it's because the film depicts human terror and suffering in such a vile and straightforward manner that audiences were both drawn to and repelled by it. Certainly I'm an admirer of Wes Craven's work -- A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and Scream are all frightening, well produced horror tales that never pander to the audience. While Craven may not be the perfect filmmaker, his films are at least complex, emotional rides with intelligent thought behind them. The Last House on the Left is not that type of movie. It seems interested in one thing only: grotesque shock value.
The movie strangely opens as if it were a hippie comedy from 1972. The lead characters both and walk and talk like typical teens while a twangy folk song that sounds like a mix between John Denver and Kenny G plays in the background. After a few moments of characterization (the girls like pot and are interested in their boobs filling out), the movie suddenly takes a sick turn when the girls are kidnapped by the vicious convicts looking only for a good time...at any cost. Suddenly the film decides to dwell on the torture, rape, and mutilation of these two hapless women who were just looking to score some weed. This is a real warning against drugs if I ever saw one.
Now, before you call me a hypocrite, let me say that I realize I love all kinds of viciously deranged horror movies. However, I want to point out that I've never enjoyed watching movies that completely dwell in human tragedy. While some of you out there might get a kick out of Faces of Death and its sequels, I've tried to avoid such reprehensible drivel. The Last House on the Left may not be quite that bad, but it's still a movie that isn't at all entertaining or enjoyable. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to film this story. I can just picture how Craven's direction went:
"Okay guys, in this scene you're going to rip off her bra, suck on her nipples, and then slice open her belly. After that we're all heading to the lunch cart for bagels!"
The best compliment I can give The Last House on the Left is that it does have a certain "documentary" feel to it. Except for some stilted and very dated dialogue, The Last House on the Left pushes forward with an ambience of true death. There are moments in this movie that feel so real that I almost had to turn away. True, the film wasn't quite as gory or evil as I thought it would be; nonetheless it's still a shocker that will haunt you well after the screen as gone dark. Cassel and Grantham do a good job or portraying truly scared teens who know their slim odds of survival. The actors playing the killers are a little too cartoonish for my tastes -- Marc Sheffler's character Junior often goes so over-the-top with his wackiness that you assume he accidentally wandered off of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Do I recommend The Last House on the Left? Not really. I know there are a lot of people out there who like this film, and seeing as Craven is such a rare and insightful director, maybe I've missed some underlying social theme in the story. If this is the case, please let me know. Otherwise, I would spend my time wisely by watching one of Craven's better directing efforts. As for producer Sean S. Cunningham's film canon...well, your choices are either the Friday the 13th series, Deep Star Six, or My Boyfriend's Back. Tread lightly.
The Last House on the Left is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. I wasn't very surprised to see this transfer in only mediocre shape seeing as the budget for the film was nearly non-existent. The film was originally shot on 16mm film stock and retains a very worn, rustic look that actually helps the film achieve a quasi-documentary feel. It sports a heavy amount of grain and image softness that's very distracting, but fans will be glad that this is probably the best this film will ever look. Colors and black levels are spotty at best, while a small amount of edge enhancement creeps its way into the print. Also included on this disc is a 1.33:1 full frame version of the movie on side B. Overall this isn't an impressive transfer, though you'll be hard pressed to find a better looking print of the film on any other medium...Beta, anyone
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono and sounds uniformly flat, lifeless, and sometimes muffled. There is a good amount of hiss and distortion in this mix, as well as some pops and crackles letting the audience know that this was probably recorded on a budget comparable to that of a Burger King Whopper. While a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix wasn't necessary, I'm thinking that MGM could have cleaned up this sound mix a tad more. Also included on this disc are English, Spanish, and French subtitles.
If you're a fan of this movie (which I'm obviously not), you're going to be thrilled to death to find a good amount of extra materials located on this disc. MGM has really pulled out most of the stops to make this version of The Last House on the Left a definitive DVD edition.
Starting off the disc is a very brief introduction by Wes Craven on both the widescreen and pan and scan versions of the film. Following this is an interesting commentary by director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham. Both of these guys are intelligent, well spoken individuals who seem to have a lot to say about the film. I was interested to learn that a lot of people who worked on the movie still don't like being associated with it. For those of you who like Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, there's a good amount of discussion about it in this track. Cunningham also interjects a few times, though compared to Craven he's far less chatty. Personally, I think this film actually works better with the commentary track on than off.
Next up is a fairly long (almost a half hour), newly created documentary titled "It's Only a Movie: The Making of Last House on the Left." This feature includes new interviews with Wes Craven, Cunningham, production assistant Steve Miner (who now has a lucrative directing career himself), and cast members David A. Hess, Martin Kove (yes, the bad guy from The Karate Kid!), Lucy Grantham, Marc Sheffler, and Fred J. Lincoln (who would go on to a profitable career directing and acting in porn films). This documentary was produced by David A. Szulkin, who was the author of the book Wes Craven's Last House on the Left: The Making of a Cult Classic, and is a well filmed and produced piece. Like the commentary, this documentary features a ton of information about the production, what it took to bring the film to the screen, and its impact on the horror genre. This is easily a must-watch for any fan of the film.
Some "Forbidden Footage" and "Deleted Footage" are included that allow the viewer to see what ended up on the cutting room floor (and rightly so, in my opinion). Some include intros by Craven and other crewmembers explaining why they were trimmed, where they belonged in the film, et cetera. While these scenes may thrill fans, overall I wasn't all that impressed with either the content or quality of the source elements.
Finally there is a theatrical trailer for The Last House on the Left presented in a full frame aspect ratio.
The Last House on the Left is nothing I ever need to see again. If, however, you're the type of hardcore fan who does like watching this movie once every month...please stay away from any members of my immediate family. MGM has done a very nice job on this disc's supplements, and probably about as good as they could have done on the audio and video portions of the disc. Recommended highly to those looking into become serial killers or psycho fiends.
The Last House on the Left is found guilty of being shameless in its depiction of violence. However, the sentence has been reduced due to Craven's involvement in the movie.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Introduction by Wes Craven
* Commentary by Director Wes Craven and Producer Sean S. Cunningham
* Outtakes and Dailies
* Forbidden Footage
* "It's Only a Movie: The Making of The Last House on the Left" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer