The Last House on Dead End Street is a bowl of cigarettes for breakfast. The empty color palette, snowy and abandoned setting, and dubbed audio track are like flu symptoms. At no point do any characters, killers or victims, retain motivation straying away from the exploitation of others for their own gain or entertainment. The soundtrack is obscure stock music and all the credits are pseudonyms. Pressing play means going to sleep with a fever dream.
Between renaissances of access to bizarre little exploitation films like this, The Last House on Dead End Street remained one of the most highly sought after releases; receiving modest output (Director and star Roger Watkins was unaware of its theatrical run in 1977, 5 years after its production, until someone recognized on the street) in its original decade. The short-lived Sun-Video gave LHoDES a small run in the 80’s–complete with the the box art printed on stickers and slapped onto a black slip case–managing to dub different cuts with different titles onto the tapes. The 90’s lived on without LHoDES being available anywhere aside from bootleg catalogs like Video Screams and horror convention vendor tables, but in 2002, Barrel Entertainment gave it a two-disc treatment after the previously unidentified Roger Watkins revealed himself as director and star on a message-board. Soon enough Barrel Entertainment went under (taking many other fresh, sought-after cult film releases away with it) and prices skyrocketed. Even in the age of specialty streaming like Shudder, and specialty torrenting like Cinemageddon, LHoDES was still a long-shot.
Roger Watkins wrote (as Brian Laurence), directed (as Victor Janos), and starred (as Steven Morrison) in what was originally titled At The Hour of Death (working title seen on behind-the-scenes slates), then The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, all before changing to The Funhouse. In an attempt to cash in on the armada of films riding the Last House on the Left (1971) wave, the distributor re-titled it to The Last House on Dead End Street, even copping the “It’s Only a Movie” tag line for the poster and trailer. By this time Watkins had already moved on with a multitude of hardcore pornography.
Watkins plays Terry Hawkins, a recently released convict taking vengeance on the society (which in this case is the desolate town of Oneonta, New York) by getting his former friends to assist in producing snuff films.
The movie confirms that Hawkins was a visionary, early on with effective and emotional movements of the camera that not only well establish the desolate and slush-covered location, but the distance and hesitance between characters from the very beginning. There’s one key element to the movie that I have to mention though: everyone was on meth. Watkins admitted himself that a great deal of the movie’s budget was blown on meth, and it shows.
The audio is poorly dubbed and congested. Theoretically well-composed shots are thrown off-balance and sometimes you just can’t see anything at all. What is caught is vital regardless of the obvious missteps which really do give it an extra charm as a definitive piece of exploitation’s prime years.
While Terry Hawkins and his crew are endlessly entertaining, they’re some of the most unsympathetic characters I’ve seen portrayed. With lyrical and critical components in the film, the counterbalance of Hawkins being the result of such societal mismanagement is lost when it’s blatantly shown that these characters have never been anything but cruel. Again, there are more than a few reasons for this movie being muddled, and while sharp voices devolve into complete misanthropy, I can’t deny how effective the horror is.
As Hawkins finishes assembling his crew, you’re stuck with him. As they start their reign of terror, you’re just as guilty as they are. As they amputate th–you know what, just watch it, but I’ll tell you that the word evisceration has a place here. If you like gratuitous gore, the latter half of this movie’s 77-minute run-time will quench your thirst, not just for blood, but for pink and yellow tubes of flesh covered in grains of dirt and pebbles of concrete.
There are a lot of rumors surrounding the initial production and release of the film, like how the Cuckoo Clocks cut ran over three hours, or how a riot started upon its screening in Chicago resulting in a theater fire.
As I said, Watkins continued his career in writing and directing, but focused in hardcore pornography (NYC based Corruption and Midnight Heat), several a which have retained easier accessibility than his most sought after release. In 2016 Vinegar Syndrome released Corruption on Blu-Ray. It was soon revealed that a new 2K restoration of LHoDES was hidden as an Easter Egg. The new scan has also been making its way around the country in any theater specializing in cult. It looks fantastic without looking too polished.
While the date of release itself is unspecified, it’s definitely coming . If you’re eager to see it, pick up a copy of Corruption. Last House on Dead End Street is cold and isolated; though evidently made by people experiencing a full range of emotions, still manages to grow increasingly vision and distant as each minute tumbles on. As Hawkins tells a bound producer awaiting his execution, “You bet your ass this is for real!”