Aside from a scant release on VHS from Sun Video and scrappy copies available from a number of enterprising pirate companies in the US, LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET has remained, until now, a relatively little seen title in its entirety, almost the stuff of legend. Those who did manage to track down the film were often disappointed by the quality of the copy, and many of those bootlegs failed to do justice to several scenes in the movie that contained little cinematic touches of genius that were obscured on VHS by a combination of the film’s low light levels (that grant the film, in the director’s own words, an “other-worldly” appearance), poor duplication methods, and the fact that many of the videos in circulation in Europe were third generation prints converted via taping the film directly off a TV screen playing an US NTSC copy, as Europe still hadn’t began issuing multi-standard video players or TVs.
Fake credits and a variety of titles that included THE CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL and THE FUN HOUSE, managed to add to the myth that LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET was possibly a snuff movie, and this combined with its unknown origins and elusiveness meant that the film became somewhat of a Holy Grail amongst horror film collectors. The surrounding mystery eventually led HEADPRESS publisher David Kerekes to embark on a crusade to track down the film’s director, and subsequently procure, with the backing of the folks at Barrel Entertainment, an incomplete 35mm release print from the private collection of INFLICTION FILMS’ chief, Mitch Davis for DVD release. A 91 second disembowelment missing from Davis’s print was traced from an extremely rare Sun Video master, re-coloured and inserted in the appropriate section to run as seamlessly as possible. Now for the first time in 20 years horror movie fans can finally see what all the fuss was about.
Inspired by a reading of Ed Sanders Manson murders book “The Family”, LHODES introduces us to ex-jailbird Terry Hawkins (played by director Roger Watkins under the pseudonym of Steven Morrison) who approaches a porn film producer concerned that “Nobody’s interested in sex anymore”, with the idea of an original movie: “I’m gonna give you something… nobody’s ever done”. Assembling a bunch of society misfits, and taking over a deserted state university building, Terry procures a camera, and with the help of his spaced-out followers, films a series of grisly murders, before finally turning their knives and cameras on the production company executives who hired them.
Despite the relative weakness of the plot, what impresses one is the cold, clinical way in which the film is executed, and its nihilistic atmosphere achieved with the use of low light, eerie voice-overs, an ambient soundtrack, and ritualistic use of objects by the murderers (masks, knives, and even mirrors) that make it appear that the film is something more than just the sum of its parts. Practitioners of the magical arts will point to the fact that the Hawkins wears a god-like mask during the murder sequences, a magical symbol is used as a branding iron, that deer hooves are used to sexually excite one victim (Satanic and wiccan ritual also utilise deer hooves as symbolic of the sexuality of the Horned God) and mirrors (magical or otherwise) are sometimes used as windows of the soul or gateways to the underworld. The murder scenes themselves are very gory for their time and outdo those in the likes of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS etc. Especially disturbing is a scene where a woman has her legs sawn off and is revived with the aid of smelling salts so that she is fully conscious for her subsequent disembowelment.
Due to the film’s history, this 1.33.1 digital transfer is far from perfect but it is a marked improvement on any print previously available for home use. Disc One of this collector’s double DVD set also includes an insightful audio commentary from director Watkins, accompanied by “Deep Red” editor Chas Balun, 20 minutes of outtakes, a 60 minute radio interview with Watkins and actor Ken fisher, four early Watkins shorts, 70 minutes of production telephone recordings. Disc Two consists of the film’s drive-in trailer, appearances of Watkins and actor Paul Jenson on “The Joe Franklin Shoe” (1975), alternative opening and closing titles, a video tribute by death metal band “Necrophagia” directed by Jim Van Bebber and the aforementioned 36pp booklet. As such this is an incredibly well researched and brilliantly assembled package, and I can’t help but consider that this as, perhaps, the most important DVD release to date for fans of extreme cinema. Congratulations to Barrel Entertainment and all those associated with the package. Buy this at all costs!
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Roger Watkins
USA / 1973 / 78 minutes
SPECIAL EDITION 2-DISC FEATURES
A Barrel Entertainment DVD Release
LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET