When I first saw Wes Craven’s debut film, The Last House on the Left (originally titled Sex Crime of the Century, and then Krug and Company), it wasn’t in my teens on some unlabeled, beat to hell and back VHS. It was in my early twenties on MGM’s 2002 DVD release with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which maintained its grindhouse appeal of grainy textures and flat colors. It was, like its depictions of backwoods violence, unpleasant to look at, and it quickly became the last film I wanted to relive. Yet I couldn’t unsee what I had witnessed, and the acts that transpired on the 13 acres of earth over the very center of hell – as the poster dictates – replayed on a constant loop. It was like a film reel stuck in the purgatory of my subconscious, repeatedly bearing its vile, blood soaked soul to me.
Now newly released in an immaculate 2K restoration courtesy of the fine folks at Arrow Video, the images I couldn’t seem to forget are even more clear, even more crisp, and I can finally see why they stuck with me for so long.
Not because they are deplorable (they are), wildly horrific (that too) or abominably offensive (that all depends), but because they actually speak about their actions. These are reprehensible acts that border on tasteless, and would have been had its director not actually had a taste for violence.
Coming off the ashes of Vietnam, which was on the cusp of ending its eight year parade of bloodshed, The Last House on the Left introduces us to Mari (Sandra Peabody) and her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham), two young women who head into the city to catch a favorite band of theirs, aptly named Bloodlust. After the show, they attempt to score some pot, which leads them into the hands of four fugitives; Krug (David Hess), his strung-out son Junior (Marc Sheffler), the groups animalistic psychopath Sadie (Jeramie Rain) and child-molestor Weasel (Fred Lincoln). After kidnapping the two girls and taking them into the rural woods, they proceed to torture, rape, and murder them – a scene that’s as startling to us as it is to our sadistic group – before coincidently taking shelter in Mari’s home.
What follows is the revenge portion, which unfolds without much glee or hurrah, where acts of violence are met with further acts of violence. It’s all gripping, and in a sick way captivating, though I can barely call it entertaining; at least not in the general sense of the word. Watching retribution unfold in such a grisly manner, especially after witnessing such a cruel and barbarous performance – it takes up over half the runtime – is difficult and near exhausting, which is precisely its intention. This is after all, violence with a point.
Wes Craven hardly highlights or romanticizes the heinous acts perpetrated by both rapers and avengers, going as far as to show remorse and even disgust on the faces of our killers, who contemplate their blood covered hands with stunned regret. It certainly grew audience animosity when it premiered, as nobody wanted to register the films villains as human, despite abhorrent images from thousands of miles away in Vietnam pouring in from documentary filmmakers that showed the victims on both ends; an unjust war that housed violence as a means to an end or an answer to a diplomatic question of peace.
As Krug and his thugs are picked off one by one at the hands of Mari’s parents, Craven bluntly illustrates a war back home of human rage and savagery, forcing those who stay seated to confront what violence looks like, how it feels, and what it really means.
There’s practically zero style, or at least what a budget of $87,000 can get you, and little interruptions except for the bumbling antics of two police officers (played by Marshall Anker and Martin Cove) who are trying to reach the titular house. They are so inept that one forgets to get gas for their squad car, sending them out on foot once it hits empty. When they hail an oncoming vehicle filled with cop hating teens, a Yakety Sax style tune plays, further embarashing the film with an unbecoming foolishness that severely undermines the severity of what Craven and cinematographer Victor Hurwitz (who died one year later in New York City) establish.
David Hess – who would continue his string of brutish goonary in Hitch-Hike [’77] and The House on the Edge of the Park [’80] – brings a dual craft to the film, scoring the soundtrack alongside Stephen Chapin. Most notable is the theme that accompanies Krug and his ill band of escapees titled Baddies Theme, which undercuts their on-screen actions. Where dark, ominous horns would carry most any other film, Hess and Craven build off contrasting choices – visually too, as shocking acts are bathed in natural light – that forces you to see, point blank, the violence that befalls Mari and Phyllis.
Like I said, it’s more captivating than entertaining. Yet nearly a half century after its rather successful release (pulling in a generous $3 million), The Last House on the Left still manages to disgust and sicken in its exploitation roots despite current films like Inside [’07] and Martyrs [’08], carrying with it a to-the-tooth message on violence that hardly falters. It’s a film that in another fifty years will out speak and out last the torture shock films of Hostel [’05] and Human Centipede [’09]. Because in the end, it’s less a film of violence and more about violence, and for the first time ever that message is unequivocally clear.
Disc One [Blu-Ray] – The Unrated Cut
• 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 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
• Deleted Scene
• Outtakes and Dailies
• Trailers, TV Spot & Radio Spots
• Image Gallery
Disc Two [Blu-Ray] – The Krug and 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 The Last House on the Left
• Tales That’ll Tear Your Heart Out – excerpts from an unfinished Wes Craven short
DISC THREE – The Last House on the Left Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
• 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