Thursday, August 30, 2018

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) Blu-ray Review

The Last House on the Left (1972) d. Wes Craven (USA)

Groundbreaking offering from the nascent producing/directing team of Sean S. Cunningham and Wes Craven borrows the elemental plotline of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, then marinates it with brutality and shocking discomfort the likes of which moviegoing audiences had never witnessed before. While attempting to score some pot en route to a rock concert, two teenage girls (Sandra Peabody aka Sandra Cassel and Lucy Grantham) are kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a “family” of ex-cons. Then, in an ironic twist of fate, the killers’ car breaks down, forcing them to take refuge in the home of one of the dead girl’s parents (Richard Towers aka Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr) … who soon learn the truth about their new guests.

As the odious leader Krug, David A. Hess (who also provided the oddly jangling and melodic soundtrack) is thoroughly riveting, with Jeramie Rain and adult-film staple Fred Lincoln offering fine support. Unfortunately, with the exception of Grantham, the rest of the performances fall short of convincing, and the enterprise is nearly derailed by a series of ill-advised comic vignettes featuring a dum-dum duo of law officers (Marshall Anker and future Karate Kid baddie Martin Kove).

It is ironically fortunate, then, that the indelible scenes of violence and humiliation are so powerful that they overcome these shortcomings. Imperfect, but undeniably potent and influential, LHOTL opened the doors for a darker breed of exploitation film (inspiring a host of "House" rip-offs, in title if not subject matter, and two remakes: one unofficial, Chaos, in 2005, and a studio-backed version in 2009) as well as introducing the world to the future fathers of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.

Arrow’s stellar new Blu-ray release is among the finest of the year, with a brand new audio commentary by podcasters Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes, as well as the original tracks ported over from the MGM DVD release featuring Craven and Cunningham together and Hess, Lincoln, and Marc Sheffler (who plays Krug’s son “Junior”) for the other. Sheffler gets a lot of play on the special features, as it turns out, with “Junior's Story,” a new interview with the actor, as well as “Marc Sheffler in Conversation at the American Cinematheque.”

Hess, perhaps the most famous cast member (excepting Kove, whose mainstream success far exceeded that of his counterparts), is highlighted in two featurettes, “Songs in the Key of Krug” and “Scoring Last House on the Left.” We also learn the story of how Kove, who was originally called in for the role of Krug, declined, saying that he wanted to do more comedy, but recommended his friend Hess and loaned him numerous sweaters to give him a bulkier appearance for the initial audition.

There are two archival documentaries on hand, “Celluloid Crime of the Century” and “It's Only a Movie: The Making of The Last House on the Left,” which cover (unsurprisingly) similar ground, as well as “Forbidden Footage,” which sees the cast and crew discussing the film’s most controversial scenes. There are also a collection of outtakes and dailies, and a new interview with wardrobe and make-up artist Anne Paul (who went on to perform pre-interview make-up chores on many celebrities and politicians).

The second disc features the “Krug and Company” re-release version and the noticeably trimmed R-rated cut of the film, as well as “The Craven Touch,” a new 17-minute featurette that celebrates the horror icon on and off screen, with talking heads that include Cunningham, composer Charles Bernstein, producer Peter Locke, cinematographer Mark Irwin, and actress Amanda Wyss (the ill-fated “Tina” from A Nightmare on Elm Street). This is paired with “Early Days and ‘Night of Vengeance’,” a personal love letter from filmmaker Roy Frumkes (Document of the Dead) to Craven and his shocking screen debut.

The 3-disc set is rounded out with a CD of the film’s soundtrack, whose unsettling juxtaposition between image and sound definitely deserves attention. Hess, who famously penned songs for Elvis including “All Shook Up,” “I Got Stung,” and “Sand Castles,” as well as “Speedy Gonzales” for Pat Boone, and quite a few others, never got the attention he probably deserved as a musician, overshadowed by the long and dark shadow of Krug and the similar roles that followed (Hitch-Hike, The House on the Edge of the Park).

The Last House on the Left is available now from Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment and can be ordered HERE:


No comments:

Post a Comment