Last House on Dead End Street

Last House on Dead End Street

Roger Watkin's 'Last House on Dead End Street' has long been one of the most infamous unseen films of the horror genre, everyone knew of its existence, everyone had read and talked about it but very few folk had actually ever seen it! So when Barrel Entertainment announced that they were going to wave their magic wand over this long sought cult classic, legions of horror fans buzzed with excitement at the sheer anticipation of actually seeing the film at long last for themselves. Of course, as is par for DVD release dates Barrel's initial release date was delayed again and again and while some corners of the fan community started to get somewhat restless they were about to have their growing desires more than sated with an outrageously jam packed very special edition. But first we should look at the film itself...

"This ain't no joke, this isn't even a movie - this is real"

Watkin's himself stars as young deviant about town Terry Hawkins, an upstart fresh out of jail with a chip on his shoulder he declares that he'll 'show them' and with a plan to make some seriously borderline dangerous movies he breaks into an old University building to set up base for his new production company. Gathering his team together he hooks up with old pal Ken the slaughter house man, a couple of skid row junkie girls and old film associate Bill his unwitting cameraman and with the promise that "maybe we'll even become famous" they set about their demented work.

Elsewhere, low budget stag movie director Palmer is hosting a sex party where wife is the star attraction blacked up (like one of the old TV minstrels) while being whipped by their hunch back butler while stoned onlookers laugh at the bizarre spectacle. Palmer shows his latest stag reel to producer friend Steve, as the reel unfolds we see a limp wristed attempt at porn which shows a girl taking a soapy bath followed by hilarious footage of his wife groping awkwardly at a female while a wholly disinterested dog is thrown into the scenario. Not amused at all by what he's seen Steve declares that it's just 'not his cup of tea' and suggests that Palmer consider hooking up with this vibrant new filmmaker called Hawkins. And so he does, but with inevitable disastrous consequences...

'Last House on Dead End Street' has it all - sex, death, torture, disembowelling and more; all in the name of producing the best in snuff movie entertainment. But what about 'Last House on Dead End Street' the film? Does it meet with the years of anticipation? Well, thankfully you can be assured that yes it does indeed deliver the goods in meeting the expectation of genre fans. More so now as it can happily take its place alongside other such gems from the period (like 'Last House', 'Deranged', Texas Chainsaw' et al). Produced on what must have been a budget of tuppence, 'Last House on Dead End Street' manages to shine through its lowly production values. That said, I'd imagine that some new generation horror fans might just be disappointed by what they see here. What I mean by this is that before you head into the downbeat and bleak world of 'Dead End' you have to take onboard the fact that this was shot on entry level equipment, the audio was dubbed (at times unconvincingly) after the shoot and if we're to be completely honest Watkin's really isn't that great a director. But once you've settled into the first five minutes of the movie you very quickly warm to what is a very gratifying slice of brutal exploitation film making (more in line with film makers like Kern or Zedd than Craven or Hooper though).

As far as pure exploitation film making goes this is indeed a sleeper gem and is well worth looking beyond the budgetary restrictions to discover some truly visceral fun. Barrel have done an admirable job with the restoration of this movie and whilst you could never expect this to hold up against a lot of today's presentations taking the age and obscurity of the source material involved it's still solid enough and perhaps as close to (if not better) than the lackluster source prints that were originally available (and we can all thank Fantasia guru Mitch Davis for making his own personal print available for use) . In fact the only scene that drops slightly in quality is the legendary disembowelment scene (a scene that plays very much akin to a fore runner to the later also legendary Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood) which has welcomingly been reinstated and presented here uncut by means of sourced Sun video tape master (the only source material for this footage available, so we can be forgiving for this eh!) For myself another point of some interest is the killer soundtrack hook (which was to reappear years later sampled on techno punk band Sigue Sigue Sputnik's first single remix) that although is continually used repeatedly throughout the movie is ideally suited to the onscreen carnage.

Now I'm quite sure that the horror community would have been more than pleased with the most basic of packages knowing that the film itself had been lovingly restored but Barrel being who they are really don't like to do things by half and truly have went overboard in delivering a breathtaking special edition that indeed seems to include everything but Watkin's kitchen sink, and even at that the features on offer have some great new variations on the presentation front. Take for example the stills gallery section, now most folk (producers and fans alike) take these for granted and think that offering a selection of images is fine and indeed they'd be right. But Barrel want to deliver better than fine, so the stills gallery here not only offers stills from Watkin's collection but comes with an informative text narrative and a cool magnify image option that should be applauded on its own. And this is only the stills gallery?!

As you would expect, there is an audio commentary on offer - here we get director Watkin's reminiscing about the production with interview host Chas Balun (of 'Deep Red' fame) which is at times perhaps unintentionally amusing with some preconceived ideas being shattered, but you can also choose to listen instead to a hour long radio interview with Watkins and Fisher from 1973 - a nice addition but perhaps would be better suited to transferring to cassette and listening to on a personal stereo for that maximum retro radio ambience rather than viewing the movie at the same time.

Next up is a collection of deleted scenes footage from the original 175 minute 'Cuckoo Clocks From Hell' print amounting to 20 minutes of silent rough footage that whilst being nothing of any great significance is an interesting addition for completists fans obsessed with the movie. Similarly it is the only really hard-core fan that will welcome the addition of the opening and closing titles from the old Sun Video release (amounting to 5 minutes). A highlight of the rare footage though has to be the 20-second trailer culled from video that plays on the success of The Exorcist and poor Linda Blair's demonic head spin.

Best of all on the extras front here though has to be the 10 minute segment from 'The Joe Franklin Show' where college professor Paul Jensen (who appears briefly in the film as the blind man) and his young film making discovery Watkins reminisce keenly about the work of Boris Karloff while Watkins seizes the moment to plug his then new movie 'Cuckoo Clocks From Hell' (which would still have to wait some time to see the theatrical light of day). This segment is great fun and a lovely snap shot of the period.

Finally there's a music video by the darlings of the Horror DVD Bonus scene Necrophagia titled 'They Dwell Beneath' directed by a controversial film maker not unlike Watkin's himself Jim Van Bebber. The track is decent enough and will be acclaimed by fans of the band no doubt But I couldn't quite work out what the link with 'Dead End' was and hence the relevance for its inclusion? But that said, it's cool wee short with some kick ass beats and I'll admit that I chuckled during the credits when I noticed that an 'acting coach' was involved...acting coach in a death metal music video, whatever next?

Now wait a minute, were do you think you're going? Sure I've covered the film and all the great extras on offer (if that wasn't enough) but we've still got the second disc in this bustling two disc set to check out...

Things really go into obsessive overdose here with everything you'd ever need to know about Watkin's work that would sate even the most demented of stalkers. First off there's a selection of Watkin's early short films, well four of them at least. Each of these short films is presented with none of the original audio tracks (or music accompaniment as perhaps it would have been) and instead (probably thankfully) is replaced by commentaries by Watkin's himself. I say 'thankfully' as otherwise you'd probably be reaching for the fast forward button on your remote control otherwise. The standard is set straight away with 'Ron Rico' which apart from his mocking take on religion with fake dwarves, frisky nuns and hunch backs makes little sense whatsoever. Then there's Watkin's personal favourite 'Requiem' which is inspired and based on his dreams about an old departed friend. With 'Masque of the Red Death' we get his first piece of film which is pretty much just some kids larking around and finally there's 'Black Snow' a pretentious piece that Watkin's himself describes as a "piece of shit". None of the shorts really offer much in the way of entertainment but I'm sure completists will be gratified viewing them at least once.

Things just get weirder next with a section called 'At Home With Terry Hawkins' which consists of 75 minutes of taped phone calls with 'Dead End's cast and crew which has been culled seemingly from around eight hours of material. While indeed this is interesting stuff for the voyeur in us all, it does make you wonder worryingly about the sort of guy that would hold onto eight hours of taped phone messages from thirty years ago? But then again, Watkin's onscreen alter ego Terry Hawkins does state in the film that maybe one day they'll become famous and maybe this part of Watkin's psyche had him hold onto such material...just in case!

Finally (well almost) there's a section titled simply '5/23/88' which is some very rough video footage from an aborted documentary filmed by his pal Rick Fernandez back in May 1988 (hence the title). Basically what we see is a lonely man who is used to being in control at a loose end desperate to get working again in the film making scene, outside of porn that is! Again similarly to the taped phone message section this is at times fascinating stuff but you begin to wonder just how much under the skin of a low budget exploitation film maker do we really need to get? We're one step away from a web cam following Watkin's around day and night here (ala The Truman Show) and whilst it's fantastic to be offered up such a massive insight into the mans work, is this much fine detail so necessary? Just a point for DVD 'collectors' to ponder on when they're discussing the concept of the 'special edition'.

Before I wrap on this exhaustive edition I simply must make comment on some other features outside of the discs themselves. Firstly, contained within the set is a delicious 36 page booklet by Headpress main man David Kerekes in which he lets us in on his discovery and love for 'Dead End' which led to his eventual meeting with Watkin's himself. This is followed by his interview with not only Watkins but his 'Dead End' partners in crime Ken Fisher and Ken Rouse as well as some insightful notes by Paul Jensen, the professor who championed Watkins work. This booklet is without doubt the best DVD booklet that has been offered to date by any company out there and is an excellent feeder onto Kerekes essential 'Dead End' tome Headpress 23:Funhouse (reviewed in our Books section) that expands greatly on what's included here and hence 'the' essential companion piece to anyone buying this DVD. Mention should also be made to the lovely painted cover art created by Stephen Bissette, being a fan of his comic book work it's great to see something like this being commissioned by Barrel for use (and more of this sort of thing should be welcomed!)

But all said and done it's the main feature that is the movie itself that we should all be here for anyway? And after waiting so many years to even dream of watching 'Last House on Dead End Street' only to have it delivered to us in such a commendable package is simply stunning and again we must raise our hats to Brian Krueger and John Szpunar at Barrel Entertainment for going several large steps further than they really needed to with this presentation. 'Last House on Dead End Street' isn't now going to change the face of the exploitation scene but it will at least now help readdress it's position in genre fans eyes with its rightful open availability. A fine low budget shocker and a dizzyingly good package from Barrel, an essential great value purchase - buy it now!

Review by Alan Simpson

Released by Barrel Entertainment
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Ratio - original fullscreen
Extras : Absolutely stacks! (see main review)