The Last House on the Left (known as Night of Vengeance during production) was director Wes Craven's first feature film, which was released in 1972. Working with his producer Sean Cunningham and inspired
by Ingmar Bergman's 1960 film The Virgin Spring , Craven's film tells the story of two teenage girls, Mari and Phyllis, who are abducted, tortured, raped and murdered by a group of deranged criminals lead by the merciless Krug. The villains later
unknowingly seek refuge at the house of Mari's parents, but when the parents find out who they are sheltering they are seen to exact their revenge. Craven wanted to make something that was the antithesis of violent Hollywood movies; something that didn't
glamourize and celebrate violence as exciting but instead showed it for what it is -- ugly, dehumanizing and deplorable. Ironically, it was this well-meaning approach that ended up causing censorship headaches around the globe, particularly in America
and later in the United Kingdom.
Suffered multiple cuts in the US
Throughout this series of articles, we usually refer to 'cut' and 'uncut' versions when discussing the content or availability of a particular film. In the case of The Last House on the Left, the 'uncut' moniker can be a little confusing. It was released
in the States under various titles, including Sex Crime of the Century and Krug and Company , before The Last House on the Left was chosen as the official title. Additionally, there have been numerous different versions of the film released
at any one time between 1972 and the present day.
The film was maltreated throughout its original theatrical run in the US, with the MPAA, theatre owners, projectionists and distributors making their own cuts to various exhibition prints in order for
it to meet their own respective standards. With regards to the MPAA, Craven claimed that they demanded the film be cut by around 15 minutes in order to attain an R rating. After submitting several versions of the film, Last House was finally granted an R
rating, although the changes were not so extensive as to reduce the running time as drastically as the MPAA had first demanded. George Mansour worked at Hallmark Films, who distributed the film in 1972. He would later comment:
"We always had trouble with the MPAA, but we didn't care... As I remember, Last House on the Left was re-cut several times. Although we finally did get an R rating, we simply put all the censored footage back in after we got the
R and released it in its complete form. There were some prints of Last House on the Left that were cut and others which were not cut".
However, Craven also made cuts to the film himself as he later recalled in an interview in 1990:
"Our first cut of the film ran 90 minutes and was out in the theaters for about two weeks. Sean Cunningham and I became
convinced that it was simply too much, that we'd both be sent to Devil's Island if we didn't make some cuts".
The officially-classified R version ran for approximately 82 minutes, and omitted the strongest moments of violence. In
support of Craven's claim of a 90-minute version, Boxoffice Magazine reported in 1972 that the film's running time was 91 minutes.
The Last House on the Left was later reissued in American cinemas in 1981 by Filmways, although this print was the
heavily-censored R rated version. Vestron Video unknowingly released this truncated R version on VHS in May 1982. When they later became aware of the fact that the film was censored, they contacted Wes Craven and requested a complete print to replace it.
Craven referred the company to filmmaker and film historian Roy Frumkes, to whom Craven had gifted a box of deleted material from the film back in 1972. Working from a print that Frumkes had struck in 1975, along with two 16mm prints and a 35mm blow-up
that Frumkes obtained from producer Sean Cunningham, Craven and Frumkes assembled a more complete version of Last House. However, Craven did not restore all of the footage that had been present in the film's original theatrical release. This was partly
due to the fact that some of the excised footage was missing its synchronized sound. In other words, only the mute visuals existed, although some of this silent footage was later included on the DVD and Blu-ray releases as an extra feature. As Frumkes
"Some of the scenes were actually longer in the original cut of the firm, but Wes restored them as he saw fit, and I think the version he put together is, in that sense, a director's cut".
Director Wes Craven worried that the
original release was too strong.
Perhaps he thought the MPAA would send the boys round.
Vestron released this restored version on VHS and Laserdisc in June 1986 with a running time of around 83 minutes, with the video cover proclaiming that the film was "complete and uncut". Craven later commented on this version of the film,
"We did our best. I think there were a lot of pieces that had been lost. Unfortunately, the film was just cut a lot... I think the final negative was kind of a hash by the time it stabilized into something
that was reprinted or restored in any way".
For the film's 30th anniversary release on DVD in America, this 83 minute restoration had some additional changes and alterations made to it in order to make the film even more complete.
These changes included, but are not limited to:
- The restoration of an opening title card that claims the film is based on true events (even though it isn't)
- A shot of Mari's bloodied finger just before Phyllis is humiliated by Krug
- Additional footage of the two girls being forced
- Additional footage of Weasel and Sadie chasing Phyllis through the woodland
- Slightly different editing during Phyllis' murder and the chest carving scene
- Additional dialogue during the scene of Estelle going down on
Once again, Craven worked with Frumkes in restoring these few sections of footage and a new 1.85:1 widescreen print was digitally remastered for the film's DVD release, which now ran for approximately 84 and a half minutes.
full uncut version as released in the United States in 2002
To cut a long story short, the 84 minute version is widely regarded as the 'uncut version' and it is this version to which we will be referring when we mention an uncut version in the following discussions.
Rejected by the BBFC in 1974
Stephen Murphy, Secretary of the BBFC from 1971-1975.
He seemed somewhat besieged by the onslaught of violent films during this period.
A couple of years after its turbulent release in the United States, The Last House on the Left was submitted to the BBFC in Britain by Oppidan for a theatrical certificate in 1974, and it was first viewed by BBFC examiners on July 4th. This version of
the film ran for 83 minutes and 43 seconds and was submitted under one of its original release titles, Krug and Company. This was an earlier, alternate cut of The Last House on the Left that featured some alternative editing choices, including unique
cutaways and reaction shots along with a scene where Mari's parents find her alive towards the end of the film. In uncut version, Mari is dead when her parents find her. Aside from these differences, Krug and Company was more or less identical to the
uncut version of Last House. In their covering submission letter, Oppidan stated that they had made cuts to the film before submission. In spite of this, BBFC Secretary Stephen Murphy was wholly unimpressed, and wrote to the distributors four days later
to tell them that the film had been refused a classification:
"We can find no redeeming merit, in script, in acting, in character development, or in direction, which would lead us to feel that this film is worth
salvaging. We have to reject the picture. Maybe we are wrong. But if we are to go into this area of sexual violence, it will have to be for a film in which we detect greater merit than this".
The distributor was quick to respond two
days later on July 10th, stating:
"I appreciate that this is a difficult film but I do not agree that it is a film that cannot be considered under any circumstances. I believe that the film does have merit and I
believe that there is an audience for this film. I would be prepared to put this film up to the [Greater London Council] and we will be arranging a screening for several prominent critics and members of the cinema industry".
wrote back the following day, stating:
"We are not really saying that we object to particular passages in the film: we are saying that we find the whole feel of the film wrong, and that our judgement is taken over the
film as a whole. If we could see any way of cutting it to make it acceptable, then we would offer cuts".
Taking advantage of the fact that statutory powers on film reside with local councils, in 1976 the film was submitted to the
Greater London Council in the hope of obtaining a BBFC certificate for London-only showings. In the end, the GLC sided with the BBFC and refused to offer the film a screening license.
Uncut on pre-cert
VHS in 1982
In June 1982, Replay Video released Last House on video in a version
running for around 80 minutes in PAL without a BBFC certificate. This was prior to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act which required that home video releases be classified by the BBFC. The release was short-lived and just over a year later, the
video was banned in July 1983 during the moral panic of the so-called Video Nasties era, which saw numerous horror films outlawed on video in Britain due to their extreme content. For many years, British video distributors did not attempt to submit the
film to the BBFC for a video classification, although a version of the film was screened without a BBFC certificate at London's National Film Theatre in 1988. The BBFC's Director at that time, James Ferman, appeared in a panel discussion of Wes Craven's
work at the event but he made it clear that the film would still be refused a classification if it were to be submitted for a formal rating.
Disembowelled by the BBFC in 1999
By 1999, James Ferman had
departed the BBFC and a distributor by the name of Feature Film Company submitted Last House on the Left to the BBFC for a theatrical certificate. Due to the fact that the film had been convicted under the Obscene Publications Act, the BBFC were wary of
passing the film uncut and in May 1999 they demanded the distributors make cuts totalling just under 90 seconds in three scenes in order to attain an 18 certificate.
Cut Scenes: Stripped
The first cuts were demanded in Reel 2, where Krug and his cohorts begin to humiliate Mari and Phyllis. For an 18 rating, the BBFC requested:
"When the two
young women are stripped at knife-point, end the sequence before the first victim's knickers are removed".
Cut Scenes: Disembowelled
The second BBFC cuts concern the murder of Phyllis in Reel 3. After she is attacked by Weasel, she tries to escape but she is soon recaptured by Krug and his cohorts. The gang stabs her
repeatedly, before Sadie is seen to disembowel her. For an 18 rating, the BBFC requested the distributors:
"Cut at the end of the close-up of villain woman wiping her brow with a bloody hand to the end of shot of the
bloody entrails being removed from the body".
Cut Scenes: Carved and Raped
The last BBFC cut was also demanded in Reel 3, when Krug carves his name into Mari's chest with a knife before proceeding to rape her. For an 18 rating, the BBFC demanded:
"In the stripping and raping of the virgin, remove all knife cuts to her chest and remove side-shot of man lying on partly-stripped woman".
In September 1999, the distributors indicated to the BBFC that the cuts would be made and a further submission would follow. In the end, however, these cuts were never implemented. The Last House on the Left was therefore refused a BBFC certificate on
March 15th 2000. A press release issued by the BBFC at the time stated:
"The Last House on the Left is not suitable for cinema exhibition because of the explicit and sadistic sexual violence contained in the film.
This is the second time that The Last House on the Left has been refused classification by the BBFC. Although the recent resubmission was of a cut version of the film, it was still found to contain elements which are unacceptable under the Board's
published Guidelines. The Board is therefore unable to classify the film in this version".
Sometime after these events, the film did get a limited release on the arthouse cinema club circuit, but it is not clear as to which version
of the film was exhibited.
Less BBFC cuts in 2001, but the distributors appeal for an uncut DVD release
The year 2000 saw the release of new BBFC guidelines, which were based on public
consultation. In the BBFC's own words:
"These new Guidelines placed a significant emphasis on the clearly expressed public view that adults should be free to make their own viewing choices, provided that the material
in question was neither illegal nor harmful".
As a result of this, Blue Underground Ltd. decided to tour an unclassified print of the film around the UK during 2000 and 2001. These screenings attracted no interest from British law enforcement, so Blue Underground elected to submit Last House for a
DVD classification in 2001. With the BBFC having made public their intention to only intervene in the censoring of 18-rated material when it was outside the confines of the law, the Board wrote to Blue Underground on November 5th 2001 and demanded only
16 seconds of cuts for an 18 rating. Given that Last House was already available uncut in other countries and that it could legally be imported by British fans, Blue Underground declined to make the cuts required by the BBFC and by mid-November 2001 they
decided to file an appeal with the Video Appeals Committee (VAC), a body independent of the BBFC.
The VAC hearing took place in The Royal Institute of Public Health in Portland Place, London on Thursday May 23rd 2002. Lawyers representing the
distributors and the BBFC argued their respective points. By late June, the VAC returned their verdict. In a crushing blow to Blue Underground, the VAC not only stood by the BBFC's decision requiring 16 seconds of cuts, they insisted that the BBFC had
been too lenient and that the cuts should be doubled. Writing in The Independent in June 2002, film critic Dr. Mark Kermode (who had testified to the VAC in defence of Last House on the Left) commented:
the VAC, Last House on the Left is an unpleasant work that its members unanimously found very disturbing, and that they fear would lead viewers to be excited into amoral behaviour ... I find this decision typically depressing. Not
only does it demonstrate a contempt for the work of Wes Craven, it also marks a miserable conclusion to a brave struggle by the distributors to resist even a few seconds of cuts from a treasured title simply because they believed that the fans deserved
more. For its efforts, Blue Underground has been rewarded with the kind of verdict that explains why so many genre fans now order their videos and DVDs from abroad as a matter of course".
As a result of the VAC appeal, the BBFC
issued a revised set of cuts to Blue Underground.
Cut Scenes: Humiliated
The first cut demanded by the BBFC concerns the humiliation of Phyllis, where Krug demands that she wets herself for his own gratification. For an 18 rating, the BBFC cuts list stated:
"Remove downward panning shot from woman's face to the front of her urine stained jeans".
Cut Scenes: Disembowelled
The prolonged sequence of forcible stripping which follows that was cited as needing to be cut in 1999 was allowed to remain. However, the murder of Phyllis later in the film was once again
flagged as needing cuts, with the BBFC demanding the same cuts from 1999, albeit this time worded slightly differently:
"Remove brutal stabbing sequence and all sight of entrails being pulled out of woman's
Cut Scenes: Carved
A couple of minutes later, the torture of Mari prior to her rape was also cited for deletion although the cuts originally demanded of the rape itself were waived. For an 18 rating, the BBFC cuts
"Remove all sight of young woman's chest being carved with knife".
This cut was achieved rather crudely, with a noticeable jump cut in the remaining footage. A flashback to this
event was also deleted later in the film when Junior has a fever dream about the earlier events in the film. For this scene, the BBFC again stated:
"During nightmare sequence, remove all sight of young woman's chest
being carved with knife".
As with the previous cut, another annoying jump cut remains in the censored version of the scene.
Following these changes, The Last House on the Left was classified 18 for a DVD release after 31 seconds of cuts on July 17th 2002. It would be the first officially-classified version of the film available to British audiences in 30 years.
Still disembowelled for 2003 DVD
Anchor Bay Entertainment acquired the rights to Last House, and it was resubmitted to the BBFC for a new DVD classification. An audio commentary for the film was first passed 18 on February 13th 2003, with the BBFC noting that the work contained additional distributor edits. Three different cuts of the film were also classified later in 2003. A version passed 18 on June 20th runs for 80 minutes and 13 seconds in PAL and contained 13 seconds of distributor edits on top of the original 31 seconds of cuts made to the Blue Underground version. No further contentious scenes were removed and the larger amount of cuts is due to Anchor Bay implementing the original cuts in a slightly different manner. Another cut of the film running for 82 minutes and 37 seconds was also passed on June 20th of 2003, but despite its longer running time the BBFC note this version of the film as being identical to the censored version. The third version of the film was submitted as Krug and Company; the version of the film that was originally submitted for a cinema classification in 1974. This version was submitted with the previous BBFC cuts reinstated and was classified 18 after 28 seconds of cuts to bring it in line with the previously censored version.
It is worth mentioning that the two-disc Anchor Bay release managed to circumvent the BBFC cuts in two rather novel ways. An extra feature on the DVD entitled Forbidden Gallery featured a slideshow of hundreds of still images of the footage removed
from the censored version. This was permitted as BBFC regulations apply only to moving video material. In addition to this, a hidden Easter egg feature directed viewers to a password-protected website where fans could watch full video clips of the
offending footage that had been cut from the main feature. Again, this fell outside of the BBFC's jurisdiction.
Ultimately passed 18 uncut by the BBFC in 2008
A censored version of Last House on
the Left remained the only version available in Britain until the release of a three-disc Ultimate Edition released by Metrodome Distribution in 2008. The uncut version of The Last House on the Left was submitted for a BBFC classification and passed 18
uncut on March 17th 2008, whilst the uncut version of Krug and Company was also passed 18 uncut on September 15th . Justifying the decision to pass the film uncut, the BBFC commented:
"The uncut version was submitted
by a new distributor and in 2008 the Board reviewed the work [and] considered that the dated nature of the work had reduced much of the impact of the sexual violence previously cut. The Board's sexual violence policy tests had been applied afresh since
the previous submission, and the Board did not now believe that the work posed a realistic possibility of harm, so it was classified '18' uncut".
The UK three-disc DVD and the US Blu-ray both feature the uncut version
British fans wishing to own the uncut version of The Last House on the Left can pick up the Ultimate Edition DVD set, which contains a wealth of special features and two different cuts of the film. At the time we went to print, a Blu-ray release of
the film was not available in the UK but fans with the ability to play Region A discs may wish to import the American Blu-ray release. Although it does not contain the Krug and Company version of the film, it does contain Wes Craven's uncut 84 minute
version with the original mono audio track as well as a solid selection of engaging special features.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Three, Episode 48: The Last House on the Left
Cutting Edge now in High Definition