Saturday, February 27

Last House on the Left DVD Comparison - U.S. vs. U.K. vs. France

I revisited Wes Craven's still brutal-as-ever The Last House on the Left last night. It really is a deserving landmark in American exploitation cinema, despite obvious amateurish warts of those behind the camera. Even though The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is often credited as the film to usher in modern horror filmmaking; the writing of this raw tide was clearly gouged into the golden age's wall with Craven's controversial debut a year or so earlier. Instead of the traditional hero eventually conquering a chimerical evil, a device that had near complete genre domination beforehand, Last House... is all about anticipation amidst a realism that could be happening right now all the while getting far too close to those perpetrating the horrible deeds. In this respect, this wait to see the fate of the girls and who gets the upper hand in the last reel is probably a larger part of what actually drove pissed off patrons storming from theaters in 1972. Craven, perhaps accidentally, teaches a masterclass in the steam being much hotter than the heat source.

Though Last House... is by no means perfect and the grumbles rest in Craven's treatment. In an attempt at failed levity, the whole bumbling cops routine (even with a young "Sweep the Leg" Martin Kove) is damn near as soul-shredding as seeing Phyllis become a gutpile. Especially the whole chicken truck bit. It makes you wish they would have run into an armed and irritated Krug. Also the Collingwood's letting the gaggle of murderers into their home posing as investors. If I had a child and he happened to missing for nearly a day; the last thing I'd want would be to play houseguest to any stranger(s). Of course, this sets up one hell of a climax, but it doesn't really ring true. Also Mari's parents running down to the pond to conveniently find her dead on the shore with no prior indication she was killed anywhere near the house. One last thing would be the vagueness of Junior being Krug's strung out son. Craven should have cast a younger man, maybe even an adolescent boy, to be Junior. Although I imagine theaters would have burned if a meth-headed twelve-year-old committed suicide at the angry command of his father on-screen. So maybe Craven was just looking out for theater owners. I'm actually tempted to check out last year's remake now more than ever to see what it does with these rough patches.

Onto the DVD comparison, but first a little of my personal history with copies. The very first copy I witnessed was provided by a trader friend I knew years ago. He was a big VHS dupe guy and usually sourced his tapes from Japanese Laserdiscs in his personal collection. I can't find the tape, but I remember the cover being a scan of CIC's Canadian VHS. The presentation was quite rough looking and very dark. Some scenes were so black it was virtually impossible to see what was going on besides the Japanese subtitles. Still, it was the most complete version long before MGM heard the cries of fans with their initial DVD. I've made it sort of a hobby within a hobby to collect various releases of the film. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck with interesting VHS editions, but have a few DVDs from around the world.

I have both of MGM's U.S. editions, Anchor Bay's U.K. 2-Disc Special Edition, and Imatim Diffusion's French edition. Despite doubts, last year's MGM U.S. Collector's Edition edges out all others. It's a little brighter and features better compression than MGM's 2002 disc with a new encode. The Full Screen flipside of the 2003 MGM is definitely cropped and not merely unmatted.

Anchor Bay's 2003 British Special Edition is actually edited of 31 seconds mostly in the scenes of Mari's chest carving (completely omitted) and shots of Phyllis's stabbing. The picture quality isn't too different from the MGMs aside from some messier compression. The Anchor Bay SE also has a slightly alternate cut entitled "Krug & Company" which has the same violence cuts. Krug & Company is taken from a battered reddish print, but actually has a little more clarity and its frame opened more than any of the other releases. I've yet to check out the new British Metrodome uncut 3-Disc Ultimate Edition released in 2008. This release probably presents Krug & Company uncut as well. So maybe I'll update this entry with that one eventually...

Finally, the French Imatim Diffusion disc has the distinction of being the first DVD released of the film, limited to only a few thousand copies, and matches the unrated status of MGM editions. The picture quality leaves a lot desired. The clumpy transfer is quite yellowish, has compression issues, and covers this up with ample digital noise reduction. The framing is also strange with some shots noticeably zoomed in while others zoomed out more than the other editions shown here. Click the following shots for full size.

MGM U.S. 2002 TOP (R1, anamorphic, progressive, unrated) | MGM U.S. 2009 BOTTOM (R1, anamorphic, progressive, unrated)

Imatim Diffusion French 2000 (R2, PAL, anamorphic, progressive, unrated)

MGM U.S. 2002 TOP (R1, anamorphic, progressive, unrated) | MGM U.S. 2009 BOTTOM (R1, anamorphic, progressive, unrated)

Anchor Bay U.K. 2003 (R0, PAL, anamorphic, progressive, edited)

Anchor Bay U.K. 2003: KRUG & COMPANY (R0, PAL, anamorphic, progressive, edited)

Imatim Diffusion French 2000 (R2, PAL, anamorphic, progressive, unrated)


Mr. Fiendish said...

if you do check out the 3-disc edition, let us know if it includes the 'supposedly' long-lost footage that made this movie look like a XXX film that's mentioned in the book, Nightmare USA

Unknown said...

this movie is so disturbing, i hate it... i tried to watch the remake and was so shaken by the memory of the original, i turned it off... just something about... creeps my out...

though thanks for the awkward memories...

Jayson Kennedy said...

The MGM Collector's Edition has that footage too, Mr. Fiendish. It's five and a half minutes of rough footage of the forced lesbian scene between Mari and her friend. It could be re-inserted in the film, but the sound is still missing.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend the 3 disc UK version. Never compared it to the other versions (I only have an old VHS and the 2002 MGM version, along with the 3 disc) but I'm pretty sure it's the most complete version out there. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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