The Last House on Dead End Street – 1973 / Director: Roger Watkins

I’m directing this fuckin’ movie

Perhaps the ultimate cult film, Dead End is the amphetamine-fuelled, eyeball-drilling mask-wearing mindfuck from director/writer/star RogerTerry” Watkins. Many one-man show films are self-indulgent exercises in narcissism, but Watkins gives us the apogee of such works. Not released until 1977 and butchered by the distributors, the overwhelming power to disturb the viewer is still there in spades. Watkins plays a Manson-type psychotic (Terry Hawkins!) recently released from prison, who joins up with an unsavoury bunch, including a couple of chicks and a bestiality fan, who was sacked from an abattoir for having his way with the carcasses. Cue some explicit footage from a slaughterhouse, complete with twitching critters. The completed film was meant to have a much more extensive, Le Sang des Bêtes-type sequence aimed at numbing the viewer to the bloodshed that follows, but the brief scene that made it into the film is enough to set the tone.

Despite the oppressively downbeat atmosphere, there are flashes of black humour, particularly the jive talkin’ white guy and the truly dreadful sub-porno films, complete with dogs walking on set and complete lack of eroticism. The appalling dubbing actually lends an otherworldly edge to the proceedings, with reverb-heavy, warped vocals that never match the actors’ lips. The heavy-handed editing, presumably by a bunch of folks who didn’t know what the hell to do with it, really helps things here. There are flash-forward sequences that don’t appear later, characters that disappear without trace and a niggling feeling that this film is just ‘wrong’. It’s a similar, skin-crawling sensation, akin to watching the beheading videos from a few years ago: you watch it, but don’t feel quite right afterwards. The intended film was much longer, and it’s difficult to imagine the same effect if the story took a more conventional path, with the plot being explained a little more coherently and things actually making sense. Kenneth Anger’s Puce Moment is a fragment of a work which was meant to be far longer (the title was to be The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, which sounds like a cheap giallo), but in its truncated state is, perhaps, a perfect short film. Similarly, while its impossible to know what The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, the film that Dead End should have been, would have been like, we are left with a similar piece of cinematic magic, albeit very different to Mr. Anger’s.

Despite being made for practically nothing, acted by the director’s friends and fuelled by illegal pharmaceuticals, Dead End, while undeniably tatty and uneven, infuses the screen with more power than far more expensive and glossy ‘horror’ flicks. Watkins is De Niro-intense in some scenes, particularly in a rape scene, which starts off as an almost consensual game, but rapidly spirals downwards. Its scenes like this which are far more horrifying than some dying bloke building Heath Robinson-type death machines, or backpackers having bits chopped off them by rich businessmen.

The old urban legend, The Snuff Film makes a welcome appearance. Hawkins and his twisted film crew want to make pictures that will shock, and they achieve this by chasing victims around a massive abandoned factory and gut them or take a leaf out of Abel Ferrera’s book and get a Black and Decker on ‘em. The gore effects are cheap and unconvincing, but what do you expect from a film that probably cost less to make than the DVD cost to buy.

There are all too few films featuring women blacked-up, Al Jolson-style, being whipped by a hunchback at a sophisticated dinner party, as a young child watches. Despite the budget basement look, Watkins was obviously a talented stylist, as some of his later porno showed. During an episode of violence and degradation, the protagonists exchange bizarre masks in a ritualistic way. Admittedly, they force a poor bloke to give a blowjob to what looks like a deer’s hoof too, but they do it in style. The ghost of the Manson killings hovers over the proceedings, with Mrs. Palmer’s evisceration substituting for Sharon Tate’s real-life murder and Terry/Charlie’s use of vacant hippie chicks and losers.

For years, very little was known about the film. The credits are all bogus and the whole film looks as though it was filmed abroad (much like the Findlay’s Snuff), made where life was cheap! Eventually the real story came out, and the film was released in a nicely packaged DVD. While the film is probably best suited to be viewed on a 5th generation video copy, it was certainly good to watch it without the tape getting stuck in your machine (yes, I was that man who wrecked by Ferguson top-loader trying to get the shredded tape out).

Tags: 1970s