Last House On Dead End Street


The 1970s is, without a doubt, the best era for horror movies.  From the big budget (Jaws, The Omen, The Exorcist, The Shining, Alien) to smaller, but no less well crafted films (Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Phantasm, Zombie, Halloween, Susperia, Dawn Of the Dead); they all stood out and many became classics.  Brewing beneath even the above mentioned lower budget films was an underbelly of even more nasty, mean spirited, dark and nihilistic ones shot on even smaller budgets, that went to the places that no other films wanted to go and none (with few exceptions) had gone before.  Movies like Last House On the Left, I Spit On Your Grave, Salo: The 120 Days Of Sodom, and (right at the end) Maniac and Cannibal Holocaust.  These were movies that made you feel almost degraded to watch- they were grungy, sleazy exposes of man’s darkest nature without much in the way of redeeming value.  Even the ones with (somewhat) happy endings still seemed desolate and depressing; nightmares caught on grainy film stock.
And if you dig even deeper, underneath those films, there was The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell.  A 175 minute forced march through the sleaziest and most depraved underbelly of ’70s mean spirited horror, made in 1972 (before most of the others) but not released until 1977 in an extremely trimmed down 78 minute version retitled Last House On Dead End Street.
The plot follows Terry Watkins, the sleaziest creep this side of Frank Zito, who gets out of prison with a mad on for the world.  He gathers together a group of lowlifes (including 2 Manson family-esque hippie chics, a porn editor, and a dude who went to the psych ward for having sex with a dead cow) with the intention of filming something unique the world has never seen before.
He films the girls in creepy masks murdering an old blind man, which he then shows to a bored porn producer who is looking for the next big thing.  Not knowing the murder is real, he enthusiastically steals it and passes it off as his own, which goes badly for him and his associates when Terry decides to make a new film, one even more gruesome and violent than his previous one.
Basically, a lot of stuff happens in this movie, however it lacks any semblance of subtlety or traditional cinematic narrative structure- it plays like a mildly psychedellic fever dream (or more accurately nightmare) we drop into seemingly at random.  We are assaulted by a bunch of sleazy, weird, and psychotic images, scenes of dialogue that circle the drain while trying to tie these images together into a somewhat cohesive narrative, then it just kind of grinds to a halt.  That’s not to say there’s no story at all, it’s just secondary to trying to film sweaty nihilism and release it to the public.
It’s kind of like what you’d get if you mixed something like Texas Chain Saw Massacre with the trashiness of a low budget 70s porn film, then added in some modern torture porn done on a budget with practical effects  I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the acting is bad, but it’s not really that bad (and is exactly how you would expect the acting to be in an amateur snuff film).  The voices are pretty horribly dubbed, tho, and the production values and dialogue are fairly dismal. For the longest time, no one knew who had made the film (leading a lot to think it really was a snuff film, with an official police investigation being held in New York to find out), and it was impossible to find except on bootleg tapes.  That all changed in the year 2000 when the main actor, Roger Watkins came out and admitted that he had written, directed, produced, edited, and starred in it (using fake names).
Among some of the revelations he made were that he had only spent $800.00 on the film (the rest of the budget went to his crystal meth habit), that he had not known that it had been released (in a small theatrical run) until someone recognized him on the street and mentioned it to him, and that one reason it took so long to come out is that one of the actresses (who had a nude scene in it) had sued because she was trying to start a career on Broadway.
He worked with the now defunct Barrel Entertainment to put out an extras-laden 2 disc dvd of the film in 2002, and planned to make a sequel to it (and was in preproduction and securing financing) when he died in 2007.
Unfortunately, the 175 minute version has never been released, much to the dismay of Roger Watkins (who detested the 78 minute version).  It’s supposedly locked away in some film lab in New York- hopefully it will be released someday, because despite all it’s flaws, this is still an important and influential film even in it’s truncated version.

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