Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Last House on Dead End Street (Roger Watkins, 1977)

I'm having trouble deciding, was my mental well-being irreparably damaged or was it enriched beyond belief after it (my mental well-being) got roped into viewing The Last House on Dead End Street (a.k.a. The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell), the snuff film extravaganza about a dreamy ex-con in a leather jacket who dives headfirst into the seedy world of exploitation movie-making after being released from the joint. And by "roped," I mean using the breadth of my own free will (nothing ropes me). Well, which was it? Oh, yeah. I'm sorry. I was just trying to imagine the sight of me tied up with rope. You know, since nothing ever ropes me, I was wondering what it must feel like to be bound with movement-hampering chunks of rope. Mmm, movement-hampering chunks of rope. Okay, now I'm dying to know, was your mental well-being irreparably damaged or enriched beyond belief? Quit stalling. I'm afraid it was neither. I was way too busy hiding behind this giant taupe couch cushion  to be either damaged or enriched. You could say the cushion protected me from the negative and the positive effects of this movie; call me crazy, but there were times when I thought the taupe energy emanating from the cushion was coating my aura with a thick layer of industrial strength ambiguity. However, no piece of upholstery, no matter how magical, could protect me from the innate foxiness that was Roger Watkins, the...just a second, I need take a deep breath. All right, I'm ready. Let me start over. Nothing could--not even the thickest taupe couch cushion known to man--protect me from the innate foxiness that was Roger Watkins, the star (credited as Steven Morrison), the director (credited as Victor Janos), the writer (credited as Brian Laurence), the editor (credited as Brian Newett), the post-production supervisor (credited as Bernie Travis) and the producer (credited as Norman F Kaiser) of this extremely enriching motion picture.
Hey, I thought you said this film was neither damaging or enriching? I did? Well, whoever said that was clearly lying. This film is one of the most enriching things I have ever seen. Which is saying a lot, as I am someone who seen both Mannequin and its totally awesome sequel Mannequin: On the Move. Besides, how can a film that features a scene where a white woman in blackface is whipped by a guy pretending to be a hunchback not be enriching? Getting back to Roger Watkins' innate foxiness for a second. It was love at first sight the moment I laid eyes on Terry Hawkins, a man with not only a grudge against society, but one with a plan, a dastardly plan.
Actually, before you go on about your misguided crush on Roger Watkins/Terry Hawkins, would you care to share your on thoughts on the film's soundtrack? I guess I could do that. Now that you mention it, since the eerie music featured throughout this movie is the first thing we experience, it only makes sense to touch on its importance right out of the gate. Do the names, Nurse With Wound, Coil, Zoviet France, Current 93, Lustmord, and Norturnal Emissions mean anything to you? No? Okay, how 'bout Throbbing Gristle? Oh, and, by the way, I'm not just showing off my knowledge of early '80s British industrial music for the hell of it, I'm trying to make a point. And that is, the film's industrial soundtrack was fucking awesome. Whether it was the rhythmic thumping or the sinister droning, The Last House on Dead End Street is one of the most evil sounding movies ever made. I have no way to prove this, but I could have sworn that Current 93 used some of the same sounds heard in this movie on their epic "Falling Back in Fields of Rape" from the album, Dogs Blood Rising.
Make no mistake, the audio output can't hold a candle to the film's visual boutique, which we get a brief sneak peak of when we see a man holding aloft a handful of bloody intestines while kneeling on a table in a surgical mask. But as far as capturing the film's misanthropic temperament, the music is pretty much perfect.
In-between the quick flashes of some unfortunate soul being disemboweled, we meet Terry Fuckin' Hawkins (Roger Watkins); just for the record, I added the "fuckin'" to Terry Hawkin's name, as his real middle name is not revealed during the film. Nevertheless, Terry Hawkins is out of prison after doing a year for selling drugs. Circling a large house, one that may be the last one at the end of a dead end street, in a menacing manner, Terry, via narration, tells us that he plans on getting back at society for the way it was treated him over the years. It should go without saying, but everything Terry Hawkins does in is done in a menacing manner.
How does Terry plan on getting back at society? How do you think? By making movies, weird movies. And he's already recruited two potential "superstars" to help him realize his dream in the form of Katherine Hughes (Kathy Curtin) and Patricia Kuhn (Pat Canestro), a couple of hippie chicks who will do pretty much anything Terry asks of them. Hey, Kathy and Pat. Yeah, I was wondering. Could one of you take this severed deer hoof and pretend it's your cock? If one of you could do this, that would be great. The scenario I just described probably happened. So, when I way say that Kathy and Pat will do "pretty much anything" Terry asks them to, I ain't kidding around.
After acquiring his female leads, Terry Hawkins heads over his to see his friend, Ken Hardy (Ken Fisher), a lowlife who seems know a lot about the porn industry (he's got connections). Informing him that no one is interested in erotic cinema anymore (sex on film is boring), Terry, who, apparently dabbled with porn and pimping at one point, explains to Ken that he plans on doing something that hasn't been done before.   
With two actresses and a producer/actor on board, all Terry needs now is a cameraman. And, of course, he knows exactly where to find one. Even though Bill Drexel (Bill Schlageter) seems reluctant to talk to Terry, he eventually convinces to join the team. Say what will about Terry Hawkins, he's one suave motherfucker.
Meanwhile, at a party across town, the "connections" Ken alluded to are having a little fun. Well, not all of them are. A porn director named Jim Palmer (Edward E. Pixley) is moping around upstairs with a cat while his wife, Nancy (Nancy Vrooman), is busy being whipped by a man who is pretending to be a hunchback. Now, I can understand why Nancy would choose to be whipped in pink panties, as I hear that's a popular shade of pantie to wear when it comes to being whipped in public. But what's the deal with the blackface makeup? Oh, and the fact that the whip was handed to the hunchback  impersonator by a young boy added an unneeded layer of strange to an already outre situation.
Tired of watching the whipping, Steve Randall (Steve Sweet), a film producer, heads up upstairs to talk business with Jim. It's during this particular sequence that Roger Watkins takes some of his best swipes at the porn industry. Screening a couple of scenes he recently filmed, Jim shows Steve a loop where a woman takes a bath and two women kiss each other while a dog wanders around the room. And let's just say Steven isn't thrilled by what he sees. Finding his films to be boring (he doesn't want art, he wants action), Steve scolds Jim for the lacklustre footage he brought him.
What Steve wants is something different, and he thinks he might have found something different in the form of Terry Hawkins, who, according to word on the street, is making films unlike anything anyone has seen before. Handing out plastic masks to his cast and crew, we see Terry making one of these films as we speak; a movie where his two female actresses molest a bound blind man while Terry strangles him to death in a large Greek tragedy mask.
Choking the blind is nothing compared to what Terry and company have in store for Steve, Jim, Nancy, and another woman named Suzie (Suzie Neumeyer) at that house at the end of the street. I'm kinda hesitant to describe what they have cooked up for them. But I'm sure I'll overcome this. Instructing Steve to meet him at the aforementioned house at the end of the street, a dead end street (telling him it will be worth his while), he's greeted by these bright lights (which confuse and disorient the bearded film producer) and is knocked unconscious by one of Terry's superstars.
What occurs over the course of the next, oh, let's say, fifteen or so minutes, will shock even the most jaded fans of exploitation cinema. The most frightening, in terms of atmosphere, has to be the ordeal that Terry Hawkins puts Suzie through, as she is subjected to this eerie sing-song passage; something to do with a virgin bride. The masks, the lights, the throbbing electro-pulse, the knife, it's a downright terrifying sequence.
At other end of the spectrum is Terry's dealing with Jim Palmer, the inept porn director. Trading in the creepiness that made Suzie's scene so memorable, Jim's scene is definitely more comedic in nature, well, it's more darkly comedic. Call me a sick twist, but I was mildly aroused by the sight of Roger Watkins beating Jim to death while shouting "I'm directing this fucking movie!" over and over again. He might be a deranged lunatic hopped up on crystal meth, but there's no denying that Roger Watkins has an intrinsic allure. If I was in the market for a boyfriend, I'd want him to be exactly like Terry Hawkins (pull down my tropical-themed panties and grab my quivering haunches, you handsome scumbag, you). As a bound Steve and Nancy are debating whether this is real or not, Terry chimes in by saying, "you bet your ass it's real."
I don't often find myself looking away from the screen, but when I do, it's usually for a good reason. And I can't think of a better time to do so than the dismemberment scene that takes place near the end of The Last House on Dead End Street. You might want to turn the volume down as well, as the sound of that saw cutting through bone will probably haunt your dreams for years to come. I knew things were about to get grim when I first a caught a glimpse of the ghastly accoutrements they had laid out at the end of the dissecting table. When the screaming finally subsides, it's time to move to that not-so kooky realm where forced deer hoof fellatio and some well-rehearsed head drilling rule the day. The shot of a triumphant Terry Hawkins and his crew standing before their final victim is the stuff black metal album covers are made of. Sheathed in his trademark leather jacket, Terry in this moment is the personification of evil. And, I have to admit, it's a beautiful thing.



  1. hey there's another one I reviewed

  2. I liked the soundtrack comparison and I have the track if you want to email me

  3. I need to read this review in more detail when I get a chance. But one early comment: Zoviet France. You linked them in a review many months ago. Gorgeous music. Just gorgeous. Only wish their albums weren't so difficult to find and expensive to purchase.

  4. @Crankenstein: Excellent review. Very informative.

    @ido: Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

    I've always been an admirer of Zoviet France. Their albums were expensive when they came out as well; I recall holding their records in my hand; the jackets were usually made out of roofing material or burlap.

  5. I really love Last House on Dead End Street. I remember reading about it in Killing for Culture and becoming obsessed with it. I finally found an almost unwatchable VHS of it back in the mid-90s, and couldn't really tell what was going on. Finally, when the DVD was released, I understood the hoopla. Wow.

    And I also think Roger Watkins was totally hot. There, I said it.

    I actually know two people who became friendly with Watkins a few years before his death. I hear he was a pretty great guy. If you get a chance to watch the Barrel DVD extras (if that's the DVD you have), check out the video his friend made that was sort of a Day in the Life of Roger. It was during a really rough time in his life, and the tape is all blurry, but it's pretty fascinating.

  6. @yum-yum: its amazing how Zoviet France extended themselves to include even the album material itself as part of the aesthetic. Current 93 is another one I'd love to get into, but feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material. I don't know where to start.

    "I was just trying to imagine the sight of me tied up with rope. You know, since nothing ever ropes me, I was wondering what it must feel like to be bound with movement-hampering chunks of rope. Mmm, movement-hampering chunks of rope."

    Are you completely sure? Nothing ever ropes you?:

    Reading this review, I guess all I can take away is this sounds like what most "extreme" horror or gore films aim for. But fail, since they didn't blow a couple thousand dollars on cheap speed. Sickening.

  7. I also interviewed John Szpunar, the man who put out the criterion version of Last House (with commentary), which is now out of print

    Also I just updated the track (on the Last House review) so you can download it and please add my blog to your list

  8. @Amanda By Night: I'm somewhat relieved to hear I'm not only who thinks that Roger Watkins was quite the hottie in his day. ;)

    There's a cool video on the youtube featuring Roger talking at something called "Cinema Wasteland."

    The DVD I watched had no extras. :(

    @ido: When it comes to Current 93, my interest started and ended with Dogs Blood Rising, as it's the only album I really need.

    Sharon Mitchell can definitely rope me.

    Pass the word, it's Roger Watkins/Andy Sidaris month at the HOSI. Lot's of bleak, existential porno movies and flicks featuring large breasted women wielding machine guns.

    @Crankenstien: Your blog has been on my list for quite some time. :)

  9. @yum-yum: I do not know how you subject yourself to this stuff on such a non-stop basis. Especially the Andy Sidaris.

    Roger Watkins nihilistic porn? I just imagine grainy film of strung out junkies hate fucking. Now I'm depressed.

  10. Sharon Mitchell ties me to a chair and forces me to watch 'em.

    There's some junkie hate fucking, but not a lot.

  11. Nurse With Wound reference nets you 7 gold stars and a party favor.

    Roger said that the budget for the movie was $1800 and he spent all of that on drugs. I believe him.

  12. Nurse With Wound references are the key to world peace.

    Drugs?!? I'm not shocked nor am I appalled.

  13. @Thomas Duke: Well, that just proves my little theory. The entire cast and crew (all seven or eight of them) must have been cranked out of their minds.