The Last House On the Left appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Shot on Super 16mm stock for a budget of about $90,000, one can’t expect House to look very good. The DVD definitely lives up - or down - to those expectations; while I thought it provided picture quality that accurately represented the original material, the experience remained severely problematic.
Sharpness seemed fairly weak. Occasionally, close-ups came across as reasonably accurate, but the rest of the image appeared rather soft and fuzzy. The movie remained indistinct and bland most of the time. At least this meant I saw no issues related to jagged edges, moiré effects or edge enhancement.
Print flaws caused a mix of concerns, though they didn’t seem as bad as I expected. Throughout the film, I noticed occasional examples of streaks, grit, spots, hairs, speckles, dirt, vertical lines and scratches. Although these intensified somewhat as the movie progressed - the first half seemed cleaner than the second - they never became overwhelming; for the most part, I thought House delivered visuals reasonably free from secondary defects like those mentioned.
However, I did observe heavy levels of grain throughout the movie. Very few parts of the flick didn’t become affected by this issue. I didn’t regard this as a print flaw per se because the grain obviously came from the original cheap film stock. Nonetheless, I wanted to mention that the grain popped up quite frequently.
Colors consistently appeared drab. The film offered bland, messy tones that never displayed any form of vibrancy or life. In theory, they could have been less lively, I suppose, but the hues nonetheless seemed flat and runny. Black levels looked pale and inky, while shadow detail was fairly thick and dense. Low-light scenes were visible, but the lackluster nature of the project made those shots tough to watch. Ultimately, though I felt the DVD correctly replicated the source appearance of The Last House on the Left, it presented an ugly piece of work.
The monaural soundtrack of The Last House on the Left didn’t do much to improve on the visuals. Overall, I felt this was a lifeless mix that also clearly was restricted by the film’s low budget. Speech tended to sound muddy or thin and sibilant. Lines could become difficult to understand at times; while not genuinely unintelligible, I ran much of the film with the subtitles activated because the recording was so inconsistent. Effects seemed similarly flat and toothless, though they lacked any significant signs of distortion. Music lacked much range and failed to deliver a bright and distinct experience, but the score did display a little passable bass at times. A little noise crept into some parts of the track, but those instances seemed infrequent and didn’t intrude badly. Overall, the audio for House was weak but represented the original recordings.
The DVD release of The Last House on the Left packs a nice roster of extras. The movie itself deserves some comment. For one, you can watch it with or without a 40-second introduction from director Wes Craven. Essentially, he tells us that this is the most uncut version of the film since its first theatrical release and warns us to keep sensitive pets out of the room.
The edition of House found on the DVD offers an unrated cut of the film. As mentioned by Craven, neighborhood censors heavily butchered the movie when it hit screens, and from the quick research I did, it looks like prior home video versions also lost footage. Apparently this cut restores that material to the film.
The DVD tosses in an audio commentary from director Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham. Both men were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Craven heavily dominated the track. Cunningham didn’t offer a lot of information, and most of what he said came in response to Craven’s material. However, Cunningham did provide the commentary’s funniest crack toward its end. Craven covered a mix of elements related to the production as well as tidbits about the cast, reactions to the film, and other issues. He also offered a smart-assed critique of the flick, which he clearly doesn’t regard as his best hour. The commentary suffered from more than a few empty spaces, unfortunately, but in general it provided a reasonably informative and useful discussion.
While the commentary appears alongside both the widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film, the other extras show up only on one side or the other. On side one, we get a documentary called It’s Only a Movie. The 29-minute program mainly combines movie clips and new interviews with Craven, Cunningham, production assistant/assistant editor Steve Miner, and actors David Hess, Marc Sheffler, Fred Lincoln, Lucy Grantham, and Martin Kove. Some dailies, production materials, and still photos also appear; the show’s worth a look in just to see hippie-era Craven
Happily, that’s not the only attraction during this strong documentary. The program offers a solid discussion of the production. The participants cover the genesis of the collaboration between Craven and Cunningham and it also discusses the casting. They also toss out a lot of good production anecdotes and we get notes about the development of the film’s title and reactions to the flick. A few of these repeat material heard in the commentary, but most of it remains unique to this very entertaining and lively program.
That finishes the first side, so we now go to side two. Outtakes & Dailies gives us 14 minutes of silent footage. We see behind the scenes shots from the creation of a few different scenes. Most of these don’t seem very interesting since we can’t hear anything, but the shots of Jeramie Rain as she plays with some fake intestines are very gross.
In addition to the movie’s silly theatrical trailer, side two provides a featurette called Forbidden Footage. Although the title implies it’ll include deleted scenes, nothing we see here fails to appear elsewhere on the DVD. Instead, the eight-minute and 10-second program adds some additional comments about the film from Craven, Cunningham, Miner and actors Lincoln and Grantham. The material offers some interesting moments, but I’m not clear why the producers didn’t just incorporate it into the longer documentary.
Thirty years after it first hit screens, The Last House on the Left still maintains a reputation as one of the most brutal and unnerving films ever made. I must admit I don’t get it. To be sure, the movie includes a lot of unpleasant material, but the ridiculously amateurish production defuses much of the impact. I found it impossible to take any of the action seriously due to the poor manner in which the filmmakers executed the piece.
The DVD provides picture and sound that seem weak, but those problems appear unavoidable due to the extremely low budget of the project. Happily, MGM turned House into a very nice special edition, a fact that becomes even more exciting given the startlingly low list price of the disc. I disliked The Last House on the Left too much to recommend it, and I know this kind of film will appeal to a relatively small audience. However, the folks who dig the flick should feel very pleased with this package. With a list price of less than $15, anyone with any interest in House will definitely want to pick up a copy.