Last House on Dead End Street (1977)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 15, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Hard Corps (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 77 minutes
The Movie
Director: Roger Watkins
Starring: Roger Watkins, Ken Fisher, Bill Schlageter, Kathy Curtin, Pat Canestro, Steve Sweet, Edward E. Pixley, Nancy Vrooman, Suzie Neumeyer
Screenplay: Roger Watkins
Tagline: You bet your ass it's for real!
Country: USA
AKA: The Fun House, The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, At the Hour of Our Death
This film is some pretty fucked-up shit.

That isn't a criticism. It's praise. Last House on Dead End Street is an overlooked classic. Seriously, in my opinion it's probably one of the ten best horror films of all time. I also think it's great that for a super-low budget film of $3000, the writer/director/lead actor spent almost all the cash on crystal meth. I'm watching it right now while I type this – believe me, you can tell.

Originally a three plus hour film called The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell (it's a Vonnegut quote, apparently), LHODES was mercilessly butchered by distributors into about 80 minutes of pretty nasty stuff. Certainly the real cattle slaughter at the beginning of the film is not very nice, but it gets even nastier as the film goes on – leading up to the Guinea Pig-style climax. Yeesh.

It does also have some pretty fucking weird dialogue: "I know what I like; tits like bananas and leather." Huh?

Basic idea is that local pornographer and small time gangster Terry Hawkins has just got out of gaol, and he's pissed off. He wants to make society pay for the time he's lost, and plans to do so through making snuff films.

Yes, it's that kind of film.

And so Terry gets a bunch of his buddies on board and they do some bad shit – torturing and murdering, basically, on film. And they do it wearing some weird masks, and doing some crazy shit – the infamous deer-hoof fellatio scene is one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen.

This film has a spectacularly grimy feel, and flits in and out of being a horror film and an absurdist rant. There's one sequence, for example, where a woman in black and white minstrel make-up (for League of Gentlemen fans, I couldn't stop thinking of Papa Lazarou – "You're my wife now!") and underwear gets whipped by a retarded hunchback at a party for perverts, while her husband is in the next room watching badly-made porn – y'know, it does make you wonder what the hell got cut out of the film if THAT was what was left in… It's actually quite a shame that this version's picture quality is variable, to say the least, and audio-wise is full of snap, crackle and pop – it doesn't do this movie justice. But full marks to those magnificent bastards at Barrel Entertainment for taking the time and the effort to restore the film as much as they have, and thus save it from obscurity. Huzzahs are in order, methinks.

I would have liked to have seen the original, uncut version of the film (that's a fucking pipe-dream if I've ever had one…), if for no other reason then simply to have some explanation of why Terry's gang wear the masks while they do, as Alex would say, the ultra-violence. The executioner mask particularly, as it looks like something from a Greek tragedy. The appallingly heavy cuts make this a disconnected, at times dreamlike film, and I wonder if somewhere in the back of his crystal meth-addled mind Watkins actually deliberately set out to make something this post-modern. But regardless, this is a film that has earned a fair degree of notoriety, to the point where no-one would own up to having made it until nearly 25 years after being released. All the names in the credits are pseudonyms, by the way – the names to the left are the actors real names.

But yeah, it's a slimy, grotty film that makes you feel dirty after you've seen it. If you call yourself a horror fan, you would be doing yourself a tremendous disservice if you didn't check this out – it's intelligent, original and disturbing. Go watch it now.

The best Barrel Entertainment could do with what they had to work with. The picture quality is generally not so hot, but I gotta tell you I was impressed with the fact that they managed to insert a scene from an old uncensored VHS copy that wasn't in the original negative they were working with, and did a fair job of cleaning it up. I mean, it's not like you can't see anything, it's just that you're probably used to better definition than this. Having said that, the picture quality adds to the sleaze factor. That's a good thing.
Again, as good as it could be, considering. A bit flat, kinda muffled in places, and some noise, but what do you expect? Some of the sound effects and parts of the score are uber-creepy, with a kinda hollow disjointed sound. Again, the age and condition of the print have actually helped the movie seem more bizarre and, well, dangerous; serendipity, I guess.
Extra Features
Loads of them. It's a two disc set, and the both discs are loaded with all kinds of wonderfulness, including a few easter eggs. So, what do you get exactly? First up, an audio commentary with director Roger Watkins and Deep Red editor Chas Balun. This is highly interesting and pretty damn funny at times – listening to Watkins seethe at what's been done to his film, particularly. I'm not laughing at the poor guy's pain – I just love hearing people get angry at how incompetent other people are, and then cuss them out. There are a number of Watkins' short films – no sound, but with Watkins doing a commentary track. There's a tribute video clip to the movie by Necrophagia, directed by Jim Van Bebber (it was even more terrible than their song on the new release of Cannibal Holocaust. I love death metal, but jeez guys…). There's also over an hour of phone calls about the production (sorry – I'm a child of the video age, I found this a bit tedious), Watkins being interviewed on TV, a shot-on-video documentary about a day in the life of Roger Watkins, alternate credits as The Fun House, stills, the trailer, a one hour long radio interview with Watkins and one of the actors, outtakes, stills – basically, anything you could want about the movie. I'm just annoyed about the fact that the US version has a 36 page booklet and better cover art. Quite literally, you could not ask for more – this is a completist's wet dream.
The Verdict
Not having this in your horror collection is a crime on par with not having Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original, dummy), Halloween or The Thing (Carpenter remake). Don't go in expecting blood and guts and grease off the rod; sure it's extreme and it's violent, but it's not High Tension. It doesn't make a great deal of sense at times, and sure the print isn't too good, and neither the acting or the camerawork are ever going to win awards – but so what? It's a sleazy, crudely made film that doesn't rely on cheap shocks, gimmicks and gore. It doesn't have to. It's got atmosphere, brains and power.
Movie Score
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