The Last House on the Left Blu-ray delivers stunning video and great audio in this enjoyable Blu-ray release
The night she arrives at the remote Collingwood lakehouse, Mari and her friend are kidnapped
by a prison escapee and his crew. Terrified and left for dead, Mari's only hope is to make it
back to parents John and Emma. Unfortunately, her attackers unknowingly seek shelter at the
one place she could be safe. And when her family learns the horrifying story, they will make
three strangers curse the day they came to the Last House on the Left.
For more about The Last House on the Left and the The Last House on the Left Blu-ray release, see the The Last House on the Left Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 6, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Few horror films have endured more mass-market controversy and earned more cult clout than Wes Craven's 1972 directorial debut, The Last House on the Left. Rape, murder, genital mutilation, suicide, disembowelment... if a family values advocate could be offended by it, Craven tossed it in. Its now-infamous movie poster even read, "to avoid fainting, keep repeating it's only a movie, it's only a movie, it's only a movie." Yet despite its reputation and (some would say unwarranted) elevation to classic status, the film hasn't aged well at all. Cursed with decidedly low-rent '70s performances, as well as a story designed to disgust rather than unsettle, Last House is little more than an exploitative relic; an early Craven outing that, were it not for the controversy surrounding its release, would have faded from most everyone's memory three decades ago. I've never been a big fan of the film, nor have I understood how it's survived the test of time, but I was slightly intrigued by the prospect of a remake, if for no other reason than to see how a modern filmmaker would approach such seedy material. The result both surpasses and falls short of Craven's classic, offering a more believable narrative with more convincing characters, but failing to duplicate its progenitor's relentless temperament.
Guess who's coming to dinner...
While it makes several dozen drastic departures from the original, director Dennis Iliadis' The Last House on the Left remains somewhat faithful to Craven's characters and structure. Vacationing at a remote lakehouse near a small mining town, a family of three -- John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma Collingwood (a slightly miscast Monica Potter), and their teenage daughter Mari (sullen-eyed waif Sara Paxton) -- decide to make the best of their getaway, relishing in the sights and sounds of the forest instead of the hustle and bustle of the city. But when Mari and her fearless BFF Paige (Martha MacIsaac) spend an afternoon with a shy young stranger named Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), the Collingwoods' weekend plans fall apart. It seems Justin's extended family -- his father Krug (Garret Dillahunt), his uncle Francis (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul), and Krug's girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome) -- is a clan of murderous fugitives who aren't particularly pleased to find two visitors in their hotel room. After kidnapping the girls, stealing their SUV, and smashing into a tree (during a scuffle with Mari), Krug and his brother rape and murder their captives.
Seeking shelter from a storm and medical attention for a broken nose, the villainous family comes to -- wouldn't you know it -- the Collingwoods' doorstep. While Emma is suspicious of the ungainly clan, John (a doctor, of course) patches up Francis' wounds and offers the seemingly stranded motorists the use of his guest house. But things change when Mari, having survived her assault and a near-fatal gunshot wound, claws her way home to the loving arms of her frantic parents. It doesn't take much time for John and Emma to put two and two together and, before long, they're skittering about their home gathering weapons and preparing to exact vengeance on their daughter's attackers. Unfortunately for them, Krug and his detestable companions aren't the type of people who go down without a fight. Before the credits roll, John has to face a cold-hearted killer, Emma is forced to contend with a leering rapist, and a young boy is forced to choose between his own father and Krug's innocent victims.
Iliadis' remake is remarkable for a variety of reasons. It not only injects a bit of arthouse flavor into Last House on the Left (calling to mind recent horror gems like Martyrs and Haute Tension), it makes Mari's rape an unbearable tragedy in the vein of Gasper Noé's Irréversible (certainly not in severity or intensity, but in tone), her parents' vengeance an act of unwavering love, and her attackers' assaults an ugly assault on the senses. While Craven's treatment of the girls' abuse bordered on exploitation, Iliadis' tastefully treats it as a necessary evil that spurs the true protagonists of the piece, John and Emma, into action. The horror of the act is still in full effect, but it feels less like a twisted joyride and more like a stomach-churning violation. More importantly, Dillahunt and his creepy companions deliver more disquieting performances than their 1972 counterparts. Krug is thoroughly unpredictable and unwieldy -- I almost believed he might let Mari go free until she decided to attack Sadie. The always exceptional Aaron Paul infuses his character with enough pent up rage to make him a true threat, one that barely seems able to control his own desires. And Clark allows Justin to emerge as a moral blank slate; a young boy burdened with the belief that he can't stand up to his father. The remake may have toned down the boundary-pushing content of its predecessor, but its antagonists are more disturbing, more contemptible, and more terrifying as a result.
Granted, the film's internal logic (the eternal nemesis of the genre) is put to the test on more than one occasion, and a series of plot devices are concocted for no other reason than to do away with the characters' cell phones, boat keys, and escape routes. It doesn't help that the Collingwoods make plenty of stupid decisions, Mari is initially too cool and collected to register as a realistic teen, and Sadie is an over-the-top caricature whose presence is extraneous at best. More distressingly, Iliadis' camera spends far too much time gliding up and down Paxton's body in the early stages of the film -- presumably to establish the unblemished and untouched nature of her character's skin before she encounters Krug -- but the shots are voyeuristic oddities in an otherwise elegant horror film. Considering Last House boasts striking cinematography, carefully staged assaults (that readily avoid gratuitous nudity), and a mesmerizing musical score that adds a sense of delicate beauty to Iliadis' gory and grisly imagery, I was surprised to see such disconnected Michael-Bay-money-shots make their way into the final product. And don't get me started on Iliadis' last scene; a schlocky, haphazard nod to gorehounds who already got their fill during John and Emma's kitchen kill.
Problems aside, The Last House on the Left is a better film than Craven's original, offering more credible characters, sharper performances, and a more plausible screenplay. You won't have to fend off fainting or remind yourself that it's just a movie, but you'll probably find it to be a more satisfying and effective genre pic than its predecessor. It's certainly better than The Unborn, Rob Zombie's Halloween, the new Friday the 13th, The Uninvited, and nearly every other horror flick that's earned a Blu-ray release of late. I'd even go so far as to say it's one of the better horror remakes in recent memory. Give it a shot and see if you agree.
The Blu-ray edition of Last House on the Left features an exceedingly faithful 1080p/VC-1 transfer that, vile and repulsive imagery aside, looks fantastic in high definition. Grain-haters will despise every noisy frame of Sharone Meir's gritty photography but, in my estimation, it results in a snuff aesthetic of sorts that enhances the atmosphere of the piece and pays homage to Craven's original vision. Sure, contrast is hot and colors are muted, but the outcome is undeniably effective and unsettling. Blacks are deep and foreboding, skintones are consistently arresting, and shadow delineation, while unforgiving, matches the tone of the film. Detail is exceptional as well. Foreground objects are crisp and well-defined (without the aid of any distracting edge enhancement), fine textures have been nicely preserved (in spite of the prevailing grain field), and dimensionality is thoroughly convincing. Moreover, artifacting, banding, DNR, and other pesky anomalies are nowhere to be found, and source noise is only an issue during the darkest scenes (most noticeably when Emma and John are sneaking through their home). All things considered, Universal has delivered a wholly proficient transfer that captures every speck of blood, fleck of dirt, and bead of sweat that graces Iliadis' remake.
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is just as impressive, embracing the film's hushed conversations and classy musical score with the same meticulous care it affords its characters' guttural screams and its other nauseating sound effects. Regardless of intensity or volume, dialogue remains clear and intelligible, only disappearing from the soundscape when Iliadis allows Stephen Coleman's haunting orchestral harmonies to dominate the stage. The rear speakers give the forests depth and the third-act rainstorm life, and bless the Collingwood homestead with enough acoustic excellence to increase the tension of John and Emma's inevitable hunt. More importantly, ambience is engaging, directionality is precise, and LFE output is confident and refined. It's an odd compliment to pay to the track, but the soundfield was so immersive that I lowered the volume several times just to distance myself from the on-screen violence. If it weren't for a few normalization mishaps (that primarily occur during the Collingwoods' climactic struggle), I probably would have given this one a higher score. In the end, horror fans will be pleased with how well the track enhances the sense of dread that permeates the film, and audiophiles will be satisfied with its overall sonic prowess.
For a remake of such a touted horror classic, I'm surprised the Blu-ray edition of Last House on the Left doesn't offer more supplemental content. Do we get an audio commentary comparing the new film to its forebearer? Nope. An extensive documentary examining the production? Sorry. All we get is a nine-minute reel of bland deleted scenes (in standard definition no less), a three-minute HD promo with Wes Craven, Universal's "My Scenes" bookmarking feature, BD-Live functionality, and D-Box support. Ah well, at least the disc includes both the theatrical and unrated cuts of the film.
Last House on the Left is a tricky film to review. In many ways it's superior to Wes Craven's low-budget original, in others it's an over-polished imitation. As it stands, Dennis Iliadis' flick will continue to divide horror fans into three camps: those who prefer Craven's 1972 version, those who favor this wholly competent remake, and those who can't understand how anyone could enjoy either one. Thankfully, its Blu-ray release is a solid one... regardless of which camp you call home. While the disc's limited special features are a definite disappointment, its faithful video transfer and affecting DTS-HD Master Audio track help soften the blow. Ultimately, fans will find Universal's AV presentation justifies the cost of admission, but newcomers will want to rent the film before committing to a purchase.
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