The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)

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…

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Ben S
Ben S
8 years ago

I don’t know if you’ve read it, but there’s a great account of how grindhouse audiences responded to this movie during its original Times Square release in the book SLEAZOID EXPRESS (which is a great read, overall). I’ve always avoided it for the same reasons you have. Maybe that was a mistake?

8 years ago

“State University College” – Wat?

Wow – that was one extremely sleazy flick. I will admit that there are some interesting images in the film though. The whole “being in the spotlight” motif was kind of interesting and I don’t know if I have ever seen spotlights filmed like that before – or since.

Speaking of interesting low-budget films, this is one of my favorites. “Dawn of an Evil Millennium” (1988) is a 20 minute student film by Daman Packard, a guy that I wish someone would give a real budget to. It is bonkers but it made a huge impression on me. Part one is here:

Atys of Demon Tribe Hollow

Oh, may the Dark Lord bless you, Unk! One of the finest films ever made is certainly “The Last House On Dead End Street”! (Beloved Roger Watkins, R.I.P.!) Every director should make *at least one* film on crank!

I even love the original title, “The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell”, which apparently began with extensive footage of the workings of an abattoir. (I’m not a big meat-eater and I think everyone should experience the inside of a functioning slaughterhouse at least once, in order to fully appreciate where meat comes from.) And, of course, I have the out-of-print Barrel Entertainment DVD, and I do cherish it so.

In fact, this movie was almost mere legend for many a year, strictly seen on copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy VHS and very nearly becoming a lost film. Thank Satan it did not, in fact, become so: the whole atmosphere has a almost classic horror feel mixed with delicious 70’s grind and it all drips with a doom-ridden, nihilistic vibe. The opening sequence alone grabbed me by the throat (in a good way) and to this day has never let me go; such a gorgeously haunting score.

Rog, we miss you so, but at the same time we’re glad that you were simply too intense and too gritty to just fade away. (Which brings to mind a line from another masterpiece, “The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very brightly, Roy [Rog].”) — ∆☩Y§ ☨♆∀☥✠

Atys of Demon Tribe Hollow

And how cool is it that every name in the credits is a pseudonym?! ☨♆∀☥✠

Amanda By Night
8 years ago

Oh man, I LOVE Dead End Street so much. I looked for it for years before I came across some kind of 100th generation vhs of it back in the mid-90s. It was almost unwatchable and I pretty much forgot about the movie until that great DVD release. Mind blown.

It’s just a super effective film. It gets under your skin and stays there. It’s wild, but it’s not really all that viscerally gross or anything, it’s just that it features humanity at its basest and most despicable. It’s terrifying because we know that kind of emptiness exists.

I’m totally ashamed of myself that I’ve never heard of Shadows of the Mind. Must see!

Great review, as always!

8 years ago

wow. i finally am catching up with reading old blog posts that i missed over the last couple weeks and man! that trailer is SCARY!!!!!!! holy shit!

i cant wait to watch this. thanks for the heads up!

from your fellow SHADOWS enthusiast…