I had seen about half of THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1977) before; it was about ten years ago and, here in Philly, somebody was showing a double feature of it along with FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 in actual 3-D (a big deal at the time)! Back then, I only cared about seeing FRIDAY, but now I’m kind of amazed that somebody had access to a 35 mm print of TLHODES. From what I saw of TLHODES that night, I had no regrets for showing up late and not sitting through its entirety. I love horror but there are certain movies that fall into the sadistic zone that I stay away from just because I’m not into the whole “Now I feel like soaking in a tub of Clorox” thing. I get why other people enjoy pushing their limits but I’ve done my time in the trenches and I don’t need to try every 31 Baskin & Robbins flavors to have a general idea of what appeals to me. Forget the rampant torture and sadism for a minute, DEAD END STREET shows a cow being slaughtered! Morrissey wouldn’t approve, but my delicate condition demands that I stay willfully ignorant of the ungodly bloodcurdling origins of my beloved Whopper Jr.! I pretend magic makes them.
So there I was living the life perfectly content never seeing DEAD END STREET again. Let others put it on a pedestal based solely on its obscurity, I was done with that horror-ipster stuff. But then one day I saw the mesmerizing mess-terpiece SHADOWS OF THE MIND (1980) by the same director (the late ROGER WATKINS) and I became curiouser and curiouser. As much as I didn’t have a taste for DEAD END before, I suddenly found myself needing to see something else from the director of SHADOWS OF THE MIND and, sans his porn output, it was my only option.
But could I take it? Yep, it turns out I could. I only wanted to turn it off once and that wasn’t even because of the sadism… it was because of the eerie as damnation score freaking me out. (Oh wait, I must have caught something from Chuckles because that is a lie. There is a shot of a woman in a clear mask and the way her features fluctuate beneath the translucent, plastic shell shoved my finger toward the pause button for a millisecond too.) I can see now that this movie really is something. Let me unpack my sack of non-criticisms! The acting is insane, it’s poorly dubbed, it choppily skips all over the place and it looks like hell and hell on a budget, dragged through the mud. As you know, I no longer give any of those types of slights the time of day. None of those crutches can stop the film from being unforgettably disorienting and disturbing. In fact, I’m sure they help.
There’s absolutely nothing supernatural going on in TLHODES but still, the whole shebang stinks of bad mojo. It’s like being a witness to a savage ritual and its grim unyielding take on dog-eat-dog inhumanity has a bite that may require a tetanus shot. WATKINS admitted that most of the film’s budget went to his drug addiction, which could explain the movie’s blistering nightmare feel and palpable raging desperation. Somehow, amidst all this trash-tastic rubble though, there are clear glimmering flashes of aberrant artistry that should appeal to anyone who has a jones for gritty seventies-era exploitation.
Geez, it really is incredible how powerful a simple mask can be on film… and hey, snuff! You can’t help but make a statement about society’s disgusting nature when you have snuff as a topic in your film! Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to tell you the plot! A guy (writer/director WATKINS) gets out of jail and needs to make money, so he decides to make snuff films. Worse still, he somehow gets a group of equally down on their luck people to help. Worser still, there’s Manson-esque henchladies! Worstest still, they wear hideous masks! I recommend this flick to folks looking for something extreme or maybe annoying too-happy people who need to be made less so. In any case, all humans must watch the trailer! It alone could scratch itself a permanent hole in your psyche…