THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (BLU-RAY)
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Mari and her friend head to the city for a rock concert and get abducted by a group of convicts, sadistic perverts who rape, torture degrade and ultimately kill the girls. Seeking shelter from a storm, the killers unwittingly end up as guests of Mari's worried parents. And so the classic 70's revenge madness ensues!
Is it good movie?
It's kind of funny, I watched this one recently with some peeps who had grown up in the era of 90's horror flicks, most of whom had of course seen the wimpy 2009 remake, and for them the original fell flat. It wasn't shocking or horrifying to them, as the violence, degradation and human depravity seemed like weak sauce compared to what most young modern audiences grew up with. The tense revenge filled ending even drew some snickers.
And all of this just proved my point yet again - horror changes, and what was shocking and groundbreaking 40 years ago will of course seem weak compared to the excessive levels seen in horror (even shitty remakes) made today. In order to appreciate the horror and the full impact of this, one of Wes Craven's earliest efforts, I think one had to have grown up during the brutal and gory 70's grindhouse and underground horror explosion, or at least have been old enough to remember the shock and impact that movies like this produced. At the time, no one had seen this level of depravity and mad violence outside of European horror. But what made this particular movie special was not the minimal violence, or even the rape scenes (which still have impact today, despite being topped so many more times, such as by the cult disturbing film Irreversible), but rather it's the human degradation and the humiliation that the girls suffer that make this a tough watch. Even a scene so simple as the killers forcing one of the girls to urinate on herself is still disturbing, especially when all of these scenes of cruelty and nihilistic atmosphere are juxtaposed with scenes of slapstick comedy.
And that's one more reason that this movie resonates with me, because of the massive mood whiplash that I get from having such jarring cuts from violence to comedy, then from cruelty to slapstick, then from rape to family normalcy. It sets a tone for the flick that leaves the audience bewildered and battered, increasing the impact of the negative scenes tenfold. It would also set the bar for Craven's work, as he continued to juxtapose horror and comedy effectively throughout his long career (with varying results of course). It may be unappreciated by modern audiences, but it's still a vital piece of horror film history that remains difficult to watch today, one of the "video nasties" that has stood the test of time, enough so that it was mined for a remake!
Anyway, that's enough ranting from the 70's horror geek. For those who appreciate 70's horror, and the evolution of the genre, the Blu-ray version of this classic is a must have. It's not the long awaited complete cut of the film (it's still missing 5 minutes from its original 91 minute print, cut to death by irate theatre owners and distributors), but the special features give us a glimpse of the full picture, and the fact that this film could have been even more shocking and groundbreaking. Awesome stuff here!
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1. It looked ace in 1080p, and it holds up incredibly well. 70's flicks remastered are a hit or miss thing, but this one looked sweet. But I think it may be the same quality as the DVD release, so the Blu-Ray release could just be an MGM cash grab? Who knows?
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS in English, with subtitles in English, Spanish and French. The score by David Hess sounded awesome!
First there is an Audio Commentary by Craven and Producer Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th), a funny and fact jammed chat that makes for a good listen. This is followed by another Audio Commentary with Actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler, and Fred Lincoln, which is a great and informative listen, with a different perspective on the making of the film. Then there is the Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on the Left Featurette with Wes Craven, which is a standard interview piece with Craven today about the impact of his first feature. This is followed by the Celluloid Crime of the Century Documentary, about the reaction to the film and its content. There is a short Scoring Last House Featurette, featuring Hess and his haunting music. There is one of Craven's unfinished shorts Tales Thatíll Tear Your Heart Out, and a deleted scene of Mari Dying at the Lake, a scene that makes her parents discovery of her body make so much more sense!
There is also a large collection of Never-Before-Seen Footage, Outtakes & Dailies and Forbidden Footage that show short snippets of some of the still missing footage, including some more playing with guts! Finally we have the featurette Itís Only a Movie about the inventive and influential promotional campaign for the film, and the Theatrical Trailer.
The simple fact that this flick had the balls to go places that the remake almost 40 years later sanitizes and ignores in the name of modern sensibilities and political correctness (ie. the haunting death of Mari in the original as opposed to her improbable survival in the remake) says more about its importance in the history of horror than any anecdote of audience reactions or clinical analysis can provide. Craven, in his wish to do a hardcore X-rated version of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring actually wrote a much more brutal script, but the actors ultimately convinced him to use story over more graphic violence and cruelty, resulting in an R rated movie. Even so, it still has the power to shock and disturb, and even now, 20 plus years since I first saw it, it still makes me sick to my stomach watching it. For me, that's no better mark of an excellent horror movie for me. It thoroughly unnerves me. And watching this, with the great David Hess's haunting country score and his brutal and detached performance as Krug, around the time of the actor's death made this watch even more poignant for me in particular. Craven, Hess and company created a nasty and entertaining little piece of horror hell, one that will stay a part of my "most disturbing" collection despite whatever new levels of depravity modern horror serves up.