BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT

By • Apr 17th, 2002 •

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(MGM Home Entertainment) 1972
Unrated

I’m thrilled with this one, and mystified by three things. One: the cover art, which never represented the film theatrically anywhere on the planet. Two: the sell-through price of under ten dollars for a special edition which entailed a lot of work. Three: the producer’s decision to use less than half of the footage I supplied them, unseen for three decades.

The documentary credits me as ‘archivist’. So kind. Thirty years ago I was a ‘pack rat’. But it’s funny how, as the decades slip by, what was once fanatical hording becomes archiving… Much obliged for the fancy moniker, nonetheless. What happened was, back in ’72, I went to a theater in Scarsdale to see Last House, loved it, saw it for what it was – a first film by someone, shot in 16mm and blown up to 35 – and shot off a letter to its director praising him for a job well done. Two weeks later I got a box in the mail full of outtakes, rough cuts of scenes, and various versions of the script, advising me that if I liked it, I could have it. Wes wasn’t’ even putting it on his resume. We became friends, and have remained so, though I see him only occasionally. He used to visit my class at The School of Visual Arts when he was in New York; now that I’m retired from teaching, I guess the occasions to get together will become even less frequent.

Anyhow, I put the box up on a shelf, and when I moved uptown from 56th to 83rd Street in 1984, emptying half of my belongings into the garbage, the box made the cut. Rumors had spread about its contents. Rumors that I had in my possession the lost gore footage, and more importantly, the lost hard core sex footage, from the film. And as the years rolled by, rumor changed to myth. Truth was, I did indeed have said footage, though the sex was soft, not hard, and the first person to seduce some out of me was David Szulkin when he wrote and compiled his wonderful book, Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, published by FAB Press. When MGM announced that it had the rights to Last House on DVD, David pursued the company relentlessly, determined to supervise the film to disc, which he did. And at that point I relinquished my sole dominion over the footage-in-the-box for the sake of posterity. I didn’t do it for free, mind you, and I recall how apprehensive MGM’s Greg Carson sounded when he negotiated the deal with me over the phone, and then sent the check prior to my sending him the goodies. Was it really the footage he’d heard about? How much of it was there?

How great it was when he received it and I detected the joyful tone in his voice: the film had been out in so many incarnations, it really needed that footage to sell it yet again to the public, to make the DVD feel definitive, and now he had it. I’m told that some of it wasn’t used for legal reasons – the soft porn material. Well, maybe some day. However, the film looks great, with the reds pumped up as high as I ever remember seeing them on screen, and certainly higher than they were on VHS or Laserdisc. It was equally intoxicating to witness the good-humored participation of Wes and Sean Cunningham, both looking great, as well as appearances in the documentary by many of the film’s participants, particularly the stupefying presence of Lucy Grantham, who had long been rumoured dead…killed, actually. I got a call from David Szulkin asking if I could find him a sound studio in NYC on a day’s notice, to film her interview. I was lucky – filmmaker Tony Lover owns Liberty Studios on 26th off 2nd Avenue, and he was kind enough to provide space and lighting. The production provided their own videographer. I was thrilled to meet Ms. Grantham, and asked her in between the shooting if she knew why she ran in the film as if she were in a nightmare where, try as she might, she could barely move. I think she attributed it to being scolded by her mother about not running when she was young; her explanation wasn’t quite clear to me. It’s one of my favorite things about the film, a sample of cosmic luck, since I doubt the Last House team tested actresses on their running ability. And conversely, Jeramie Rain bounded around those woods like a gazelle. One of the rough cut scenes MGM didn’t use was of Rain crossing a fallen tree and almost losing her balance.

David Hess appears in the doc, and his music is another of the film’s virtues. David has released the soundtrack of Last House on the Rock Bottom Rules label. It’s got all the wonderful cuts, some of which amusingly counterpoint thegrim tone of the film, and also includes snatches of dialogue. Hess appeared in one of my unfinished opuses called Tales That’ll Tear Your Heart Out,. He played opposite Victoria Lacas, who has appeared in several of my films, including Street Trash and the soon-to-be-released The Sweet Life. And the ‘Tale’ that they appeared in was directed by none other than Wes Craven.

Also fortunate for the doc was the inclusion of Fred Lincoln, who played “Weasel” Padowski in the film. Before and after working with Wes, Lincoln had a rewarding career…directing porn. He looks back on Last House as the low point of his vocation. Such opinions make for a more well-rounded and amusing documentary, don’t you think? I once went to a screening (of a non-porn film) and there he was, sitting with a woman, just part of the audience. I got his attention and said, “Hey, weasel.” He looked at me, confused, and the best he could muster was, “Is that nice…?” He had no idea what I was referring to.

As to the film’s merits, I leave it to you. Wes has always spoken of its basis in a Bergman film called The Virgin Spring, and that he hand held and changed film stocks during the rape-murders to approximate the concentration footage he’d seen as a child. All of this is true, it always has been, it isn’t the rationale of an embarrassed Hollywood filmmaker looking back at the black sheep on his resume. And it enriches the film to know these things. But Last House on the Left isn’t even an acquired taste. You either like it or you don’t. If you like it, then the background material will only make it better. If you don’t, be careful: heed Wes’ advice in the film’s recently filmed introduction and keep your finger on the fast forward button. In Wes’ words, “I’ve gotten much better as a filmmaker, but I’ve never again been allowed to put such raw violence on the screen.”


(ps – This may be the longest version of the film around, but it’s not the director’s cut. That was the second version released by Vestron Video on VHS. Back in ’75, annoyed at the cuts that had been made in the film over the years, and at Vestron’s R-rated first VHS release, I suggested to Wes that we find a complete print and restore it at least to what he felt was the right length. In a closet in Sean Cunningham’s office was a mint 35mm print, and we went through it, picking what he wanted back in. What he put back was several minutes less than what was actually there, and perhaps two or three minutes less than what is here, but he just didn’t want the other material in. And since he seems to sanction this version on the DVD, I’d go for it. If you want to know what else I saw that’s not in there, drop me a line…)


Many extras including both standard and widescreen versions, commentary track by director Craven and producer Cunningham, Two docs on the making of the film, outtakes provided by yours truly, etc.


Written and directed by Wes Craven.
Produced by Sean Cunningham. Music by David Hess.

Super 16mm cinematography by Leo Hurwitz.
Sound by Jim Hubbard.
Starring David Hess, Lucy Grantham, Jeremy Rains, Fred Lincoln,
Disc produced by Greg Carson.
Documentary produced by David Szulkin.

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One Response »

  1. I am trying to contact writer Mr. Roy Frumkes per his request in his review of 1972’s “Last House on the Left.” I read Dave Szulkin’s excellent book, met the cast in NYC a few years ago, and have followed the movie since I was a kid unable to see it! I am trying to find out about “all the missing footage” he mentions.

    Many thanks.

    Glenn Allen
    apchat@hotmail.com

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