Dir.: Roger Watkins
Flickcharted: #1537 (68.79%)
Warning: Contains graphic slaughterhouse footage of harm against animals.
One of the trickier types of movies to review are the ones that aren't particularly ”good” in any common sense of the word, and are maybe even reprehensible in some aspects, but they are nevertheless effective at their primary goal. As Wes Mantooth concludes during the final moments of Anchorman: “From deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you. But goddammit, do I respect you!”
The Last House On Dead End Street (1977) is a gross, almost perniciously repugnant, low budget shit pie of gutter trash art that is also maybe among the 3-5 most terrifying movies I've ever watched. In its exceeding horribleness, it is nearly perfect, and that perfection is in the shape of a new hole in my soul.
Using a jumble of different pseudonyms, Roger Watkins writes, directs and stars in this super low budget nightmare of soft porn and pseudo snuff about an ex-con (Watkins, looking like a bloated Bill Hader) struggling to find his place in the free world of the early 1970s. After his attempts at porn direction are waved off as trite, he discovers a subject that will not only grip the attention of the jaded producers who previously dismissed him, but will finally allow him to express his true self: committing murder and filming it.
The first half of The Last House On Dead End Street is a grab-bag of amateur filmmaking flaws — the slipshod looped dialog is, at best, distracting — with a few notable shock sequences (a party scene stands out as, uh, memorable) and clips from seemingly unrelated porn shoots. There are flashes of some filmmaking talent, but never a talent that includes being able to keep shots in focus with any consistency. But there’s a creeping tone of sincere egocentric mania that is somewhat gripping.
It’s during its last half-hour that The Last House On Dead End Street fully becomes itself, with an orgiastic spasm of lunacy, during which it seems every third shot or so is some kind of inspired peek inside undiluted craziness. The haunting blood-splattered masked faces that appear to float in darkness. The repeated defiant exclamations of “I’m directing this f@#$ing movie!” The hippies-gone-wrong-ish sense of reveling in disorder. The film crew pointing directly at the audience. The Blood Feast-like surgery without a hint of camp. You can see in Watkins’ $3,000 movie more than glimpses of influence on later films like The Strangers (which I strongly dislike) and the work of Rob Zombie (which is tolerable in small doses), but where those imitators are self-conscious and even sometimes precious attempts to recreate the frenzied menace of Roger Watkins, The Last House On Dead End Street is pure in an indescribably unsettling manner. It wouldn’t be surprising, for instance, to learn that this movie had been made by the Manson Family while in the grip of an LSD trip. It is madness itself.
It’s very possible, and even highly likely, that others might judge The Last House On Dead End Street as bereft of ideas and talent, and even nauseatingly worthless. Horror fans, however, sometimes find themselves chasing the elusive specter of complete discord, the disquieting revelation that the world has, indeed, gone irretrievably crazy, and that's left is misery and pain. This movie is the incarnation of those feelings. Immediately after it was finished and I was in the process of reassembling my shattered psyche, I thought I would never recommend it to anyone, even though it came as close as anything to evoking the same feelings of dread and terror as my beloved The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)... And then, within five minutes, I thought of three people to whom I’d like to recommend it; and the next day I recommended it to someone else. Don’t trust people like me who recommend this. It is awful. While its advertising mimicked The Last House on the Left’s mantra of, “It’s only a movie… It’s only a movie…,” a more accurate mantra might be “It’s barely a movie… It’s barely a movie…” Whatever it is, it has impact, and there’s nothing else that quite captures the same kind of rough, stained, rotten bottom-of-the-barrel sociopathy.