Of the early 1970s films from future horror masters, Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) is my least favorite. In fact, I don’t like it very much at all. While its content may have been shocking in its day, it’s made with virtually no style or suspense. I realize that’s part of its point: to be matter of fact about it so it’s more real (particularly with the disclaimer at the beginning stating it’s based on a true story.) Today, though, this just makes it dull and lifeless. Having said that, if you’re going to watch it, there’s no better way to do so than with Arrow Video’s new limited edition release.
The late Craven himself introduces the movie, if you select the option to watch it. He says this version is the most complete, with all scenes restored that had been edited or censored over the years. (He suggests removing children and innocent animals from the room before watching The Last House on the Left.) My distaste for the movie comes mostly from its almost comical approach to the subject matter. Some humor would be welcome to provide relief from brutal depictions of murder, rape and torture, but a zany musical score during these depictions is simply inappropriate.
Perhaps I just don’t know how to take it. It seems like cruel irony to me when pretty young Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody) announces to the world that she feels like a woman for the first time, then meets the most terrifying fate that a woman can suffer. It feels like she’s being punished for celebrating her freedom. This could be an indictment of the youthful counterculture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but that seems odd considering Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th) were part of that demographic. Does their light touch mean they found the cultural environment funny? Are they spoofing it?
The story is full of coincidence. For example, what are the chances that the car in which Krug Stillo (David Hess) and his "family" of degenerates are heading for Canada would break down right in front of the house in which Mari, who's currently locked in the trunk with her friend, Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham), lives with her family? It sets up the final act, but it's still a big pill to swallow. Speaking of the final act, in which Mari's parents execute their revenge upon Krug & Co. when they find Mari's body in the woods… perhaps they're in shock, but they express no emotion while calmly planting their Home Alone traps all over the house.
The Arrow Video limited edition has three discs, two Blu-rays with different versions of the movie and one CD with the soundtrack. The first disc is the Uncut Version with three audio commentaries and several bonus materials. Two of the commentaries come from previous releases, one with Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham and one with stars David Hess, Marc Sheffler (Junior) and Fred Lincoln (Weasel). The new commentary is by podcasters Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes. Depending upon what you like to get out of a commentary, there's something for everyone.
The second disc has both the "Krug & Company" version of the film and the R-rated version. Krug & Company was one of the titles given the movie after its initial name, Night of Vengeance, and investor-changed name, Sex Crime of the Century. (It was intended to be released in Australia as Krug & Company, but was rejected by the country's censorship board due to violent and sexual content.) Interestingly, this version solves one of the coincidences from the Uncut Version. Mari's parents find her alive and she tells them exactly what happened to her. Finding her dead in the Uncut Version leaves them with a big case of putting two and two together.
"Junior's Story" is a 14-minute bonus feature consisting of a 2017 interview with actor Mark Sheffler. He talks mostly about working with David Hess, who he said was method acting 24/7, "all Krug all the time." For him, The Last House on the Left took violence that had only been seen in the background and threw it in your face. He concludes by talking about his "very successful, mediocre career." He said he had three goals for his life that he has been able to achieve: smoke as much weed as possible, have as much sex as possible, and make enough money for both.
More interesting in terms of filmmaking is the brand new, 14-minute bonus feature, "Blood & Guts: A Conversation with Anne Paul." Paul auditioned for a role in the movie but did not get it, so she lied about her experience and took $25 a day to see if she really could be a makeup artist. She learned everything from the film's special effects artist, Troy Roberts, who was hired for only three days. When he left, she took over, creating on the fly effects such as Junior's suicide splatter. Her recipe for intestines? Fill condoms with mud and sew them together.
I'm also fond of "The Road Leads to Terror: The Locations of Last House." It's another short (6 minutes) tour of locations with film journalist Michael Gingold, who has presented similar features on other Arrow Video releases. In this case, some of the physical areas haven't changed much in 46 years. The old cemetery even looks recognizable, a fact that Night of the Living Dead can't claim. There's one big change, though. The big, flat rock on which Mari and Phyllis relax by the lake has vanished over time (or else Gingold couldn't find it, which seems unlikely.)
For a better representation of horror filmmaking potential, I'd watch some early Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13), Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), or Romero (The Crazies) before I'd watch The Last House on the Left, (Heck, I'd even watch Hooper's second feature, Eaten Alive, again before I watched this.) I nevertheless enjoyed Arrow's release; it seems like the definitive version of the movie, as well as the most complete collection of bonus features ever assembled in one place.
LIMITED 2 X BLU-RAY EDITION CONTENTS:
Three cuts of the film newly restored in 2K from original film elements
Original Uncompressed Mono Audio
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
6 x lobby card reproductions
Limited edition perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by author Stephen Thrower
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
DISC ONE – THE UNCUT VERSION:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Uncut Version
Brand new audio commentary by podcasters Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes
Archival audio commentary with writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham
Archival audio commentary with stars David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln
Junior’s Story – a brand new interview with actor Marc Sheffler
Marc Sheffler in Conversation at the American Cinematheque
Brand new interview with wardrobe and make-up artist Anne Paul
Songs in the Key of Krug – never-before-seen archive interview with David Hess
Celluloid Crime of the Century – archival documentary featuring interviews with Wes Craven, Sean S. Cunningham, actors David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler and Martin Kove
Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on The Left – archival interview with Wes Craven
Scoring The Last House on the Left – archival interview with actor/composer David Hess
It's Only a Movie: The Making of The Last House on the Left – archival documentary
Forbidden Footage – the cast and crew of Last House on the film’s most controversial sequences
Outtakes and Dailies
Trailers, TV Spot & Radio Spots
DISC TWO – THE ‘KRUG & COMPANY’ & R-RATED CUTS:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Krug and Company and R-rated cuts of the film
The Craven Touch – brand new featurette bringing together interviews with a number of Wes Craven’s collaborators, including Sean S. Cunningham, composer Charles Bernstein, producer Peter Locke, cinematographer Mark Irwin and actress Amanda Wyss
Early Days and "Night of Vengeance" – filmmaker Roy Frumkes remembers Wes Craven and Last House on the Left
Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out – excerpts from an unfinished Wes Craven short