BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT

By • Aug 27th, 2002 •

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(Anchor Bay England) 1972
84 mins. Aspect Ratio 1.85:1, 16X9 for widescreen monitors. Optional Dolby Digital Surround.

This British release contains more than double the supplementary material in the domestic MGM DVD last year, including twice as much material from my personal archives (read: closet). The MGM disc had David Szulkin, author of the definitive book on LAST HOUSE, shepherding the presentation, but the Anchor Bay boys, fighting an uphill battle with the censors, and wanting to give this presentation things the U.S. release didn’t, so that people would shell out even more shekels on the title, have succeeded royally.

The story is by now familiar. Ingmar Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING without the arty approach. Which isn’t to say there’s no art to the film. There is, or it wouldn’t have endured all these decades, causing walkouts and true acrimony to be leveled at its creator. Once I had Wes up to a class I was teaching at SUNY Purchase in Westchester, New York, as a guest for a screening of the film. I had a few other friends there, as well, and when the film was finished I said, “One of these people is the film’s writer/director”. Wes smiled…until members of the adult education class started screaming at the entire group, not knowing which one he was. They were so vicious that I decided not to introduce him, apprehensive about what might happen.

Another incident occurred one night at a restaurant. I was there with Wes, sitting at the bar discussing the film that is excerpted on this disc, TALES THAT’LL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT, and we started flirting with a waitress, who was not put off by our shenanigans. At one point I asked, “Have you seen a film called LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT?” She replied that she had. I said, “I know the director, and…” before I could finish the sentence she launched into a diatribe which included a couple of unsavory names and a threat to throw him out of the place if she ever became aware of his presence. During all this, Wes just sat there, his smile fading into sad resignation. Obviously we didn’t push that line of conversation any further.

Thing is, Wes is a nice guy: he just happened to have a vision that fit the demands of the project the distribution company wanted, and he had the budding talent to make it happen in a way that was truly disturbing to audiences. Beyond that, luck factored into it: Lucy Grantham, the tougher of the two kidnapped teenagers, has a way of running that makes her seem like she’s almost standing still, as in a nightmare. She explained it to me as the result of her mother’s restrictive upbringing. I didn’t entirely understand, but it’s one of the subtleties of the film. Another strong feature is David Hess’ original score, wide in range, both emotional and musical, with good lyrics, sung by the actor, who in front of the camera brutalizes the two young ladies as if he were born to it. In one of the supplementary sections, he’s interviewed at a horror convention signing autographs, flanked by TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE’s Leatherface, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’s Freddie Kruger, and complaining that as one of the modern horror genre’s great monsters, he’s the only one not wearing a mask! Hess’ influence on the genre endures, as anyone visiting the recent flick CABIN FEVER will discover. His score for LAST HOUSE is partially reprised in this effective horror shocker, with surprisingly nostalgic results.

I happen to think it’s a very good film. Wes has admitted to me that in terms of raw cruelty he’s never equaled it, partially because his path took him to Hollywood where such excesses would not be allowed. Technically he’s advanced way beyond it (thirty years beyond it), and his willing involvement in the DVD’s creation is most generous.
There are typos in my several page introduction to the outtake reel, and the disc’s producers get the name of TALES wrong, except when my intro references it, but still it’s a beautiful package, detailing the difficulties the film has had with the censors over the years. The DVD cannot be supplied to any person below the age of eighteen (in the U.K.). And it’s in PAL format. Still, with the growing number of region-free machines out there, this is a given for the Horror Shelf.


Special Features:
Audio Commentary with Director/Writer/Editor Wes Craven and Producer Sean Cunningham. Second audio commentary with stars David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln. 40-min featurette with Craven, Cunningham, Hess, Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Martin Kove and Sheffler. Scoring LAST HOUSE, with David Hess. Krug Conquers England: doc charting the theatrical tour of the UK. Twenty minutes of out-takes, dailies and rough cuts supplied by yours truly. 24-page collectors booklet. Poster & stills Gallery. Craven’s sequence, fine cut but without dialogue or music, from TALES THAT’LL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT, produced by, and supplied by, again, yours truly. And KRUG AND COMPANY, an alternate cut of the film with the alternate title.


Credits:
Directed, Written and Edited by Wes Craven. Produced by Sean Cunningham. Sound by Jim Hubbard. Cinematography by Leo Hurwitz. Music by David Hess.

Cast:
David Hess, Lucy Grantham, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, Fred Lincoln, Martin Kove,

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