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MGM Studios DVD presents
"Don't worry about it, sweetheart. You'll have plenty of time to feel the pain."
DVD ReviewThese are quite the times to be a movie fan. For decades, film and video collectors have been trying to obtain an uncut, complete copy of The Last House on the Left, the legendary gore/revenge shocker that initiated the career of Wes Craven. Notorious for its violence and sexuality, it was regularly cut to ribbons by censors and infuriated projectionists. Its video releases were invariably distorted by using these censored prints. Devotees resorted to buying copies from around the globe and attempting to piece the picture together again. And here, MGM provides what is surely the definitive version of this horrific tales, for a list price under $15. Life is good.
Young Mari Collingwood (Sandra Peabody, billed as Sandra Cassel) and her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) are on their way to a concert when they decide to score some pot. When they are lured by Junior (Marc Sheffler) into a building, they learn that the pot is just bait and they've been lured into a trap, sprung by Junior's father, Krug (David Hess), and Weasel (Fred Lincoln), a pair of escaped murderers, and the depraved Sadie (Jeramie Rain). The foursome haul the two girls out into the woods where a nightmare of torture, rape and mayhem await them. And that's just the first twenty minutes....
Impossibly shocking and brutal in its day, Last House still carries a huge impact. Part of this is the documentary style used by Craven, the result of his experience in making such films. The handheld camera lends this a verisimilitude not dissimilar to the period camerawork by Vietnam reporters. The casting also is inspired, with David Hess as terribly intense as they come; his Krug would give Dennis Hopper a serious run in the question of who was the closest to volcanic eruption. Fred Lincoln's Weasel is appropriately sleazy and vicious as well. But at the same time, the foursome makes a perverse little family, the members of which clearly care for each other while terrorizing the world at large.
The comic relief is primarily presented through the idiot police, portrayed by Marshall Anker and Martin Cove. While their slapstick appearances are pretty much over the top, certainly comic relief is necessary here; otherwise this film would simply be too hard to take (and I say that as a veteran horror and gore viewer). Mutilations, disembowellings, torture, rape and chainsaw hackings all come at the viewer with surprising effectiveness for a very low budget picture. Between the cops, the dimwitted parents of Mari and the music, which is often a rollicking kazoo-and-barrelhouse setting to the non-mayhem episodes, this often crude comedy helps keep the audience from going completely into the abyss.
While some Internet discussion has been critical of omission of some of the outtakes from the finished film, this version was assembled by David Szulkin, probably the foremost authority on the picture, and the author of a book about its making. I'm prepared to accept Szulkin's reconstruction; he certainly seems to have left no stone unturned in his research. The brief (15 seconds or so) segment omitted, since it was never part of the film proper, couldn't be included for legal reasons. This disc is certainly light years ahead of trying to piece a Japanese laserdisc together with a Dutch videotape. In its complete state, this is as harrowing as they come, and recommended for those wanting a highly disturbing film.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: MGM presents the film in both an anamorphic widescreen and a pan & scan version. Since the original was shot in 1.66:1 ratio and generally exhibited soft-matted, the widescreen version best reproduces the theatrical experience. However, since there's not a huge difference between 1.66:1 and 1.33:1, not much is lost from the sides. Compositions are not too badly affected either, due to the handheld camera work that precludes artistic framing.
Since Last House was shot on 16mm, there's a limit to how good it's likely to look. There's a ton of grain, as is to be expected, and the image is often a bit soft. However, color is excellent and detail is captured faithfully to the extent it's present in the film. Black levels are decent, and certainly passable. The source material demonstrates hardly any damage at all, which is quite surprising.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono is mostly live sound, and it has the slightly echoey character that often characterizes shot-on-video pictures. Occasionally it's a bit muffled, but again, it's hard to say that the film ever has or ever could sound any better than this. Hiss and noise are surprisingly limited. The music comes through quite well. For those lines that are hard to make out, the subtitles come in useful.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
The pan & scan side contains the rest of the special features. A set of outtakes and dailies (14m:00s) provides a look at some unused footage, including a more extending segment on the disembowelling. This isn't terribly convincing, however, and the judgment to use only a short clip of it in the feature was a wise one. The audio has unfortunately been lost over the years, so they are presented silent. Finally, there's a featurette (8m:10s), Forbidden Footage, which discusses the censorship issues that the picture faced, as well as focusing on some of the more lurid moments in the picture. I really would have liked to have seen a similar featurette on the reconstruction of the film, since Craven here notes that when he tried to get an uncut print he was told that it was impossible; all of the prints had been censored in one way or another. There surely must have been a fascinating story behind the piecing together of the feature, which still is the most special feature of the disc.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsA long-awaited definitive special edition of one of the great cult classics, bringing this harrowing picture in about as good a presentation as could be desired by even the most hardcore fan. It looks and sounds about as good as is possible considering the circumstances under which it was shot. And if it gets to be too much, just keep telling yourself, "It's only a movie....it's only a movie."
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