The Last House On The Left

cast: David Hess, Lucy Grantham, Sandra Cassel, Marc Sheffier, and Martin Kove

writer and director: Wes Craven

81 minutes (18) 1972
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jeff Young

Greatly reviled by the pro-censorship lobby, yet much admired by fans of hard-horror movies and followers of groundbreaking cinema tackling issues of sex, violence, voyeurism and exploitation as entertainment, The Last House On The Left (aka: Krug And Company; Sex Crime Of The Century) is the cult film which inspired that now iconic poster art which urges audiences: “keep repeating, it’s only a movie…” (See below.) Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s celebrated art film The Virgin Spring, Wes Craven’s directorial debut is surely one of the most controversial rape/revenge shockers ever seen and, in a way, deserves the often-extreme (positive or negative) reactions it receives from jaded professional critics, because the whole point of this emotionally searing film is to provoke. Unavailable legally in the UK (except for a brief outing on VHS during the early 1980s, and some uncertified theatrical screenings) for 30 years, Last House On The Left remains to this day a skilful attack upon the conventions of screen violence as entertainment, and is designed to make audiences question their reasons for watching such things in the first place. Yes, it’s unpleasant and threatening. It’s supposed to be, because isn’t that what real violence is like? Although the BBFC (an organisation of cretins that deserves our contempt) have decreed this film be cut by 31 seconds for this DVD release, I don’t think those omissions weaken the film in any significant way, or lessen its cumulative impact.
While trying to buy some dope, wayward teenagers Mari (Sandra Cassel) and Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) are kidnapped by escaped convicts Krug (David Hess, now something of a cult personality on the festival circuit) and Weasel (Fred Lincoln), helped by Krug’s sleazy girlfriend Sadie (Jeramie Rain), and his junkie son Junior (Marc Sheffier). When the girls struggle to escape during the brutal gang’s road trip towards the Canadian border, Krug recaptures them, killing one and leaving the other for dead. Later, needing help to get their car fixed, Krug and his gang knock on the door of a local doctor, John Collingwood (Gaylord St. James) and his wife Estelle (Cynthia Carr), unaware at first, that the couple are Mari’s parents…
What Last House… illustrates perfectly is the agony and moral degradation that violence inflicts upon both victim and aggressor. Although the middle-class Collingwoods are shocked and naturally outraged to discover the appalling cruelty suffered by their 17-year-old daughter, the film’s gruesome finale suggests their equally heinous revenge upon Krug’s gang makes them no better than the perpetrators. The film is uncompromising in its determination not to glamorise the seemingly malevolent violence, or its after-effects. The booby-traps rigged up by Dr Collingwood to ensure his own home is the last house Krug’s gang will ever visit show that the educated folks can be just as vicious as the uncultured crooks, while the coldly premeditated nature of the supposedly respectable man’s actions can be likened to the seedy and callous mindset of Krug himself. In its exploration of unsavoury depictions of sexual violence and sheer brutality, Last House is thought-provoking and generally serious, despite its faltering narrative pace and the few irritating scenes of comic relief, which involve two cops searching for convicts Krug and Weasel.
The DVD is a two-disc package loaded with quality extras. The main feature is an anamorphic presentation (enhanced for widescreen TV) with Dolby digital 5.1 audio, plus two commentary tracks, one by director Craven with producer Sean S. Cunningham, and a second featuring Hess with Marc Sheffier and Fred Lincoln. Celluloid Crime Of The Century(40 minutes) is a new documentary with cast and crew interviews, Scoring Last House (10 minutes) looks at the music, while Krug Conquers England charts the uncut film’s UK tour. Krug & Company is a chance to see a rare 80-minute alternate version of the main film, though (as you would expect) the picture quality is not as good. There’s also 20 minutes of outtakes and rushes, biographies, trailers and TV spots, and Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out – an exclusive release of Wes Craven’s unfinished short film. The slipcased package has a 24-page booklet of stills, with copious notes by David Flint and Mark Kermode.