I'm still intrigued by this film, so I resurrected this draft entry from this past Friday I was never going to complete.
I decided to revisit The Last House on Dead End Street earlier tonight. It's now about 4 a.m. and I can't quite sleep. My first viewing back when Barrel first released their stunningly comprehensive 2-DVD set back in 2002. Actually, I found myself nearly bored to tears and the DVD player I was using at the time didn't like the disc and wouldn't play past about a half an hour in.
But now, for some reason, Roger Watkin's reluctant piece de resistance struck me as especially affecting. There's something sinister in every slapdash frame, as if it wasn't produced by human hands, but by some malevolent and seething force intent on creating carnage even more depraved than it's era brethren. Dead End's victims are nearly as ugly as their slayers; a gaggle of immoral, greedy, and self-destructive unwitting enablers of their murderers to carry out their extreme form of sick entertainment. I know it's in another world, but I find this aspect reminiscent of Schumacher's 8MM, except the snuff cycle being (thankfully) confined within itself. Even Last House on the Left and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had clearly innocent protagonists, at least to start with, and there were survivors and/or vigilante justice was brought upon the evil-doers. Also Dead End, in it's (only existing) truncated 78 minute version, bucks the trend of following characters the audience can identify with, opting to exclusively focus on the exploits of Hawkins and company's eventual turn to brutal sadism.
There's also an almost subliminal current of perversion that rises to the surface and then drops off into the murkiness throughout. The whole not-so-hidden allusions to the hideous Manson murders just a scant time prior to the film's 1973 shooting year with Hawkins' two young female partners-in-murder sticking closely to their backstreet suave leader in a trance-like state. The scene in which Ms. Palmer is putting on blackface, if you listen closely, it sounds as if the gathering is actually a teeming orgy through the muffling of the walls. Immediately afterward, the way her bullwhipping is intercut with the smut director in a nearby room becoming nauseated by the sound. The whispers of a "new form of entertainment" amongst a wall of eerie ambiance as the camera encircles the first murder of a man bound to a steel pillar and stabbed. The agony-enhancing handheld angles and quick zooms during the infamous bloody bed dismemberment and of course the most obvious (and unexplained) faux-marble Roman mask utilized in several of the killings.
There's really something to this nasty exercise and it proves far ahead of its time. I'd say even more so than the aforementioned LHOTL and TCM. This '73 feature nakedly foreshadows the kind of entertainment brought bear upon society by the seedy side of the Internet. The kinds of easily accessible, shocking images and videos that can be witnessed at the comfort of our homes, just without the trauma of being there. On the grounds of the Horror genre, Watkin's more finessed work does what films like August Underground and Slaughtered Vomit Dolls did, only decades prior in an era many point to as the last true revelatory time in the genre. Despite Watkin's own brutal honesty towards his film; it truly lives up to its own longstanding and festering hype.