Last House On The Left

Last House On The Left

Who would have believed it, thirty odd years down the line and eventually one of the most important modern horror movies gets an official release in the country that's censors have spent so long loathing it…of course there has been a price to pay and same said censors got their pound of flesh by way of 30 or so seconds of trims (more on that later) but at least now UK genre fans can pick up the long infamous 'Last House on the Left', and would you believe it's out on a double disc special edition DVD.

For those of you that have not yet seen this gem (well you never know) here's the premise of the story…it's young Mari Collingwood's birthday and to celebrate she is going out with her friend Phyllis to see their favourite band 'Blood Lust' playing live in town. Mari's parents are less than pleased that not only is their beloved daughter going out skimpily dressed (well damn she has no bra on) on her birthday night but is heading into the big smoke (where drugs and crime are boundless) with her wayward more worldly friend. Needless to say their worries are not unfounded as soon after hitting town Phyllis is trying to score some hash from a loitering junkie, but as the girls follow him to his flat to pick up the dope they're met by a gang of depraved dope fiends who see the hapless girls as their new source of particular demented amusement. Following some humiliation Phyllis is beaten and raped whilst a stunned and terrified Mari looks on, but if you think that this is as bad it could possibly get for the girls then think again…this motley crew are far from finished with their new captive playthings and soon the girls are going to be wishing for a swift death to bring an end to their catalogue of brutal misery.

Last House On The Left

Very much a modern retelling of Ingmar Bergman's 'The Virgin Spring', 'The Last House On The Left' is without doubt the most important film in the unsavoury but alluring rape/revenge genre and the power of this film in particular is undoubtedly down to the finished product as a whole. The casting in 'Last House' is exemplary, more so considering that this is low budget cinema, the female victims truly do make you feel their suffering, the assailants (led by David Hess in the stunning career forming role of Krug) are not portrayed as comic book baddies but as dangerously unbalanced deviants more in tune with real life sexual criminals - something that had rarely (if ever) been seen before on the big screen. But none of this would be of any value whatsoever without a good director behind the camera and (then) newcomer writer/director Wes Craven new exactly how to bring his vision of brutal horror to the screen with what at times feels like part documentary (the despair the viewer feels watching the girls been attacked in the woods whilst nearby you can hear a family dog bark hits a nerve so raw the tension is tangible) and the potency of this terror is so strong that neither can you look away but you also at times welcome the cut away scenes (albeit somewhat out of place) of bumbling cop joviality as way of coming up for air from the overpowering brutality.

Of course (as is the standard for the genre) following the violent assault and murder the 'revenge' scenario unfolds with Mari's parents wreaking bloody just revenge on their daughter's assailants. The enactment of such acts not as powerful as the gangs actions but act as a way for the viewer to feel some sort of redemption for the brutality that they earlier witnessed. It's interesting to note that with the parental revenge that perhaps the film loses its realistic brutality that was unflinchingly portrayed in the films opening half by opting for the appeasing somewhat fantastic justice dealt conclusion. In reality, it would have to be noted that it would perhaps be weeks (if at all) before the bodies of the girls would be found, during all this time the parents would be rolled out onto TV news mentally despairing for firstly the girls whereabouts then inevitably the knowledge of the location of their abused corpses. But this is exploitation cinema and the audience only have 90 minutes to have both their senses assaulted and conscience salving justice being done and 'Last House On The Left' does this splendidly and the controversy that followed it to this day alone speaks volumes for the power of it as an artistic work.

Last House On The Left

In the early 1980's here in the UK the horror fan had an all too brief period of genre ecstasy when the home video boom swamped the market with (for the first time) unregulated unrated and uncut material. Of course whilst we were bombarded with quite literally hundreds of genre movies, many of which were in fact low budget drivel some gems slipped out onto the market also. 'Last House' was one of those home video diamonds. The major industry players though were less than happy about the fact that many of the low budget video companies were grabbing a lions share of their market, so they joined together with the news desperate media, the police, procensorship pensioners and the British Board of Film Censors to seize back control of their monopoly of the industry under the pretense that viewing graphic violence (the main stay of most low budget companies releases) would be harmful to the allegedly less intelligent working classes. A concept in itself that is morally corrupt and worryingly one that the Film Censors still hold to this day. In 1984 the Director of Public Prosecutions issued their now infamous list of 'Video Nasties' which was to act as a guideline for police and customs officers when seizing and prosecuting innocent genre film fans, the list however would also act as an essential shopping list for same said horror loving viewer. It did however remove unclassified material from the market place and led to hundreds of local video stores across the country closing down along with the video producers, some of whom were prosecuted for handling (god forbid) a horror movie…and inevitably 'Last House On The Left' was banned and hence outlawed into the underground.

We cut to many years later and fledgling UK genre distributors Exploited have in their possession a lovely uncut theatrical print of 'Last House' that not only are they keen to get into theatres for selective screenings but the thought of potentially releasing it onto the home viewing market again is an alluring prospect also. Of course there is the stumbling block that is the UK film censor to contend with before this film is going anywhere. Thankfully, when it came to theatrical screenings local councils have power of veto over the film censorship board - but even then the censors tried to lean on the screening organisers and council bodies with veiled threats, sorry 'recommendations'. But it was to be the films submission to the censors board for home video release that would inevitably be both costly and emotionally draining for the Exploited team who by this point had now formed a welcome alliance with Bill Lustig to become part of the all encompassing genre newcomers Blue Underground. Bewilderingly after several submissions that resulted in glaring inconsistencies with the censor requesting varying alternate trims being made Blue Underground decided that enough was enough and took their case to the Appeals Committee. Much time, money and anguish was utilised in an overdrawn case that on paper stood good stead in favour of Blue Underground's case but perhaps not surprisingly when the verdict came through the Committee maintained the party line and stood behind the film censors inconsistent decisions. Disallusioned and demoralised this was perhaps the precise moment that Blue Underground decided not to launch independently onto the UK market and signed a deal to have Anchor Bay's UK branch lease their product for UK distribution.

And so here we have (eventually) the UK DVD debut of 'Last House On The Left', perhaps not the definitive package that Blue Underground had envisioned launching onto the market here but so close to being so that any hard core fan of the movie will savour this experience but also feel angered and frustrated at the damage that the British Board Of Film Censors has inflicted so demeaningly on this classic movie. Yes some may say it's only 30 or so seconds of cuts but it is 30 or so seconds of cuts too many. The cuts are not as much to do with any censor guidance on sexual violence but more to do with a bullish act of control by a deluded elite forum. The cuts take place in three segments, the first being the 'piss your pants' scene where the close up shot of Phyllis urinating in her trousers is missing, the next being the gouging of Phyllis against a tree by three assailants, the third cut being of shots of the word Krug being carved into Mari's chest. Of course the censor will hide behind their guideline on sexual violence but in none of these trims does actual sexual violence (real or dramatised) take place, in fact any dramatised sexual violence that does happen throughout the movie is left intact for all to see (including violent rape, traumatic forced sexual activity and more). Now let me make it clear that I am not saying that these remaining intact scenes should have been cut but more that I'm keen to point out the censors inconsistent misguided actions and prove evident that they were indeed taking a bullish stance and simply cutting for cuttings sake. What the British Board Of Film Censors seen to have forgotten is that (as the tag line says) "it's only a movie" and perhaps the only 'real' criminals here are the censors themselves for their own injustices to a classic genre movie.

But what then about this double disc special edition? Well first off the anamorphic widescreen print itself is fantastic, sharp and colourful throughout - in fact the film has never looked better (you might like to note that this is the same print/mastering utilised for the US MGM release) and to be honest the editing done by Anchor Bay UK to clean up the jump cuts by the censors are actually pretty well done (with only the chest carving being of any specific jump cut notice) and hence newcomers and casual viewers to this movie wont lose any of the films impact. The audio options on this UK release instantly surpass the recent US MGM version with not only the option of the 2 channel audio track but there's 5.1 surround and DTS options available also (alongside an English subtitle option also). The Wes Craven/Sean Cunningham commentary from the US release is here but also present is an exclusive Krug and Co commentary with lead baddies David Hess, Fred Lincoln and Marc Sheffler - this new commentary is excellent listening with stacks of great laid back banter going on between the three and hence essential listening for Last House disciples.

Celluloid Crime Of The Century

Not technically present as such from the MGM release is the 28 minute 'Making Of' documentary as this has been replaced here by the new far superior (and polished) 40 minute 'Celluloid Crime Of The Century' documentary that fans and newcomers alike will find much more gratifying. Following this is yet another all new short (10 minute) documentary piece entitled 'Scoring Last House' where David Hess takes us (guitar in hand) through his soundtrack composing process, again another welcome valuable inclusion considering the strong impact his score has in elevating the atmosphere of the movie. Whilst the MGM release only contained the US trailer, this Anchor Bay release blows the trailer/ads scenario right out of the water with not only the US trailer but a nice German one too as well as an excellent double bill trailer for 'Last House' with 'Don't Open The Window' (aka Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue), a new UK trailer for this DVD release and six (yes six) rare radio spot ads from when it screened on a billing with the 'Amityville Horror'. Wrapping up the mouth watering smorgasbord of extra features on disc one are 14 extensive text cast and crew biography sections (which actually do make for good reading for a change), three lengthy stills galleries (under the categories 'behind the scenes', 'stills' and 'publicity material') that are a veritable wealth of rare materials and finally an 'easter egg' link to a UK 'Last House' website where you can type in the secret password included here and view the cut scenes from the movie.

Forbidden Gallery

But if you don't have internet access at home and want to view the trimmed scenes cut by the British Film Censors then you need look no further than disc two of this splendid release where you'll find a section called 'Forbidden Gallery' - on the US release this section was an overview of the films controversial scenes but here it has been utlilised to showcase the scenes cut by the BBFC, but each and every frame is presented here in slow motion in what can only be described as a massive two fingers up in the face of the censors (more so as these scenes are now taken out of context of the main feature, presented in slow motion in such an exploitative manner that it can only pander to the censors delusions that they will be the fodder for a viewing psycho deviant, we all know of course that this sort of myth just simply isn't true). But kudos to Anchor Bay UK for raising their finger up to the censors in such a manner and for throwing egg on the faces of the censor by showing them just how much more offensive their decision to censor and hence raise the profile of said scenes that otherwise would have went unnoticed outside of horror circles. Also included on disc two are the silent 'out takes and dailies footage' (complete with a new text Roy Frumkes intro) that much of which were also present on the US release, here it does seem to run for longer though is missing the gut pulling out take footage (which is a shame).

Krug and Co

Fans though will undoubtedly be very excited about the remaining extra features included on disc two. Firstly there is an excellent 25 minute documentary 'Krug Conquers England' that was filmed at rare UK double bill screening of 'Last House' and 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' back in 2002 which includes interviews with David Hess, Gunnar Hansen, Blue Underground's Carl Daft and others who both reminisce about said movies and berate with frustration the censors attitudes to our beloved genre. Respected film maker and genre historian Roy Frumkes brings to this release (along with much of the Last House content) the first ever public viewing of the Wes Craven segment of his unfinished anthology horror movie 'Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out' , a 12 minute silent short piece about an undead cowboy (killed incidentally back in the day by a not surprisingly mean spirited cowboy David Hess) who wanders the streets of modern day New York longing for his lost love. Sadly no audio exists for this piece and the film was never completed but it's a fascinating addition to this special edition and will be welcomed by genre completists. But perhaps for many fans the most interesting extra feature will be the inclusion of the virtually unseen 'Last House' variant print entitled 'Krug and Company', hard core fans will long have heard tales about an alternate titled print screening once in England and later appearing on bootleg video so here it is for all to peruse and make comparisons with - though for myself the only real difference I particularly noticed was the scene where Mari's parent find her alive by the riverside and chat briefly with her (confirming the assailants identities) before she passes away triggering off the retribution. That said, I'm sure that the more frame obsessive out there (you know who you are) will go through both prints seeking out the most miniscule of variations (and good luck to you!)

The long overdue DVD release of 'Last House On The Left' officially onto the UK market is a real mixed bag of emotions for the genre fan. This double disc release is simply stunning, the film looks fantastic and as for extras you really couldn't ask for more…but the missing thirty seconds forcibly removed by the UK film censors make this 30 seconds away from being the ultimate 'Last House' package. That said, I feel that fans of the movie (like myself) will need this in their collection, the extras alone are just far too alluring or else we can hope that Anchor Bay, Blue Underground or one of their European counterparts reissue this gorgeous set fully uncut over in mainland Europe where the censors waning powers cant quite reach (and if they were to chuck in a CD of David Hess' soundtrack I would quite honestly jump for joy). Meantime this along with either the US or current uncut Dutch releases will keep any fan of the movie happy. A classic genre movie and a falteringly excellent release. Buy it now.

Review by Alan Simpson

Released by Anchor Bay UK
Rated 18 - Region 2 (PAL)
Extras :
More than you can shake a stick at (see main review)