Review Date: December 7, 2002
Released by: Barrel Entertainment
Release date: 10/22/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
There are some things to know about the history of Last House on Dead End Street
. Though the film's release date is in 1977, the movie was actually made in 1972. Under the title The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell
, the movie had a runtime close to three hours. After years of controversy, cuts, and pseudonym inspired credits, a 77 minute cut of the film was briefly released to drive-ins. Known to the world as The Fun House
, the title was finally changed to Last House on Dead End Street
. The movie was almost considered a VHS urban legend as it remained underground, quietly bootlegged and traded for years. Now this cult classic has not only been brought from the shadows of obscurity, but to DVD as well. Meticulously piecing together every sight and sound they could find, Barrel Entertainment has given fans footage and features previously unimaginable. The only question now is whether or not this film is for you or not?
Starting out with old fashioned, calligraphy style opening credits, Watkins is mocking the audience from the earliest possible frame. With the deep sound of a heart beat providing the main sound for the opening credits, it should be obvious there are some dark moments to come. We are quickly introduced to Terry Hawkins (Roger Watkins) who is filled with angst as he strolls across the State University College campus. Terry had his freedom taken from him for pushing drugs and pimping, so he has a score to settle. A year in jail gives a man a lot of time to think. Terry wants to get back at the society who wronged him and help his friends out at the same time. His solution is through film. As Terry finds his way into the college, we get a glimpse of just how violent and graphic his torturous mind works. Images he has planned for his upcoming movie are already coming to life in his mind. He wants to make some entertainment, and needs to assemble a crew to transform his vision into reality.
First, he recruits his leading ladies. Kathy (Janet Sorley) and Patricia (Elaine Norcross) are two prostitutes who are looking for a way to get some quick cash and instant fame as movie stars. Ken (Ken Fisher) is an old friend of Terry's. Ken has got some connections to people who may be interested in what Terry has to offer as a filmmaker. He also has a mind that is more warped than a vinyl record in the sun. While we see some explicit images from a slaughterhouse, we learn Ken was institutionalized for sodomizing a dead calf. Ken should be able to provide some of the edge that Terry is looking for. The final member of the crew is the impressionable Bill (Lawrence Bornman). Terry uses Bill as a cheap way to get film and equipment. Bill is continually talked down to and tolerated so that Terry can achieve his goals as a filmmaker.
With the crew in place, they seek out a blind man who Terry saw on campus. The women are given transparent stage masks and Terry dons a large Greek tragedy mask and they approach the bound victim. The ladies use their charm to calm the blind man into a false sense of security before he faces his death. Though we don't see what happens, the horrific look on Bill's face is scarier than any gore that could have gone on camera.
The connections that Ken had are impressed by Terry's film. Terry uses their curiosity to lure them to the set of the next masterpiece. Little do they know they are about to star in it. Steve Randall (Alex Kregar) and Suzie Knowles (Geraldine Saunders) accompany Jim and Nancy Palmer (Edward E. Pixley & Barbara Amusen) to an evening of torturous events that fulfill Terry's prophesies. "I want to show them something they have never seen or even dreamed of." Terry will be glad to know that most nightmares don't reach the depths that he is willing to go for entertainment.
Two films come to mind while watching Last House on Dead End Street
. The first is certainly Wes Craven's Last House on the Left
. The two are not only similar in title, but in visual appeal and gritty realism. The idea of allowing viewers to witness the macabre actions that people are capable of is certainly intriguing. Also, the mood and bizarre nature of the characters seems to run parallel with Leatherface and his family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
. The music also mirrors Tobe Hooper's classic by bypassing a traditional score. Watkins creates a disturbing mood with non-traditional sound effects during violent scenes and uses some dialogue scenes to pay homage to swinging 70's pornography soundtracks. Despite the similarities, Last House on Dead End Street
does manage to set itself apart. The increasing popularity of 70's pornography has led this group to "do something different…..something that no one has ever seen." Well, horror fans may have seen some of this before, but it is a rarity to find such a dark edge on reality. Since we all know pornography is an obvious gateway into snuff films, Terry doesn't seem to have any trouble getting a cast/crew together for some guerrilla filmmaking.
The unpolished look and sound of the film give it an edge that many people tend to overlook. It doesn't work when directors tell an audience "This is real", and then give it the polished look of a Hollywood picture. This is where The Blair Witch Project
really struck a chord with the audience. It looked real. Last House on Dead End Street
mixes the real life fears of everyday life with a surreal David Lynch style edge. While the three 'crew' members wear semi-transparent stage masks to invoke fear, the ringleader dons a Greek tragedy mask. They taunt not only their victims with their odd antics and sadistic torture methods, but the audience as well. In one scene, Terry holds a saw to let both a victim and the viewing audience know what is about to unfold. Last House on Dead End Street
uses two styles to promote fear. Riding the line between expressions, reactions, and actually showing the violence, Watkins is able to cover all of the bases. Those who turn their heads during gory scenes will not be able to escape the horrific looks that the film's participants display. Coupled with the mood, the tag team of "less is more" and "give 'em gore" creates an experience that will capture the attention of any horror fan.
Last House on Dead End Street
is presented in its intended full-frame, 1.33:1 aspect ratio. While the shoestring budget never intended to turn heads with visual appeal, the coarse nature works as an advantage for the subject matter. Transferred from a rare theatrical print and blown up from 16mm to 35mm, the film is covered with scratches, dirt, and other imperfections. Colors are dull and the overall look is grainy. Despite these shortcomings, the movie looks better than it ever has. In the past, viewers only had a rather poor print with the muddy look of a worn out VHS tape on top of it. Actually being able to see the action, regardless of the print's rough background, is a huge step in the right direction. As I touched on before, a polished look would take away from the experience Last House on Dead Street provides. A sharp picture, strong colors, and new look would be more of a hindrance to the film than any flaws seen on the DVD.
Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, the soundtrack has inherited the same problems that the source material has. There are flaws in the form of pops and static, which are topped off by the dub. With a low budget movie like Last House on Dead End Street
, a director can't afford to pay somebody to hold a microphone to capture dialogue. Hell, he/she can't even afford a microphone. So Watkins simply did what he had the funds for. He would tape the dialogue onto a recorder and then add it to the film at a later time. This resulted in the film's dialogue rarely synchronizing with the actors/actresses. The dialogue also sounds a bit distant at times due to the way the sound was captured.
In addition to the music mentioned earlier, Watkins used stock music and a heartbeat to set mood. The heartbeat during the opening credit is deep and awakens the curiosity of the viewer. The stock music works well and never seems out of place during the film.
There are so many extra features for Last House on Dead End Street
, Barrel needed two discs to get them all in. Starting things off is a screen specific commentary with Director Roger Watkins and Deep Red editor Chas. Balun. This is one of the best commentaries I have ever heard. It is entertaining from start to finish, as a multitude of subjects are covered. Highlights include Francis Ford Coppola, The Monolith, Lucio Fulci, crystal meth, Linda Lovelace, the original cut of the film, Wes Craven, naked college sophomores, and much more. The crazy thing being that is just the tip of the iceberg. Chas. continually stimulates the conversation with offbeat comments and questions to warm Watkins up to discussing the film. We hear and see how Watkins is upset with how his movie was cut and re-edited into a film that he can hardly recognize. He notes that a particular shot, which occurs around the twelve minute mark, is actually supposed to be the film's opening shot. The insight is tremendous; answering many questions about the movie's checkered past and putting to rest some rumors regarding its history.
We are also treated to a 54:40 radio interview with Roger Watkins and Ken Fisher on New York's WONY. Recorded on Valentine's Day in 1973, the deejay continually fumbles the film's original title as he gives a standard interview packed with traditional questions. "What were your influences?", "What were some challenges you faced?", and "What was your motivation?" are questions he asks to provide a basic cornerstone for the interview. The nice thing is Watkins and Fisher had more in mind. They were upbeat, using their answers to discuss other subjects as well. The sound during the interview is a little below average. There are some distractions from static and a dial tone (?) that is heard in a few spots above the talking. The interview is basically a third audio track, playing over the first hour of Last House on Dead End Street
. While it is in no way screen specific, it is an informative piece for those who have little money and dream of making a movie. Watkins and Fisher really convey how their passion for film overcame any obstacles they faced.
A 9:40 interview on the Joe Franklin Show is highlighted by some glossy photos that Watkins has of the film. The interview took place about two years after the film was completed, and two years before its release. The interview is actually between the pleasant Joe Franklin and Assistant Professor Paul Jenson (the blind man in LHODES). For writing a book on Boris Karloff, Jenson is showcased during the majority of the interview. Watkins does use the small amount of screen time he has to promote The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell
, a film Franklin comments "Sounds like a fun picture." There is just one question I have after watching the interview. What were his comments AFTER he saw the movie? Now that could be an interesting discussion.
The silent outtakes of the film clock in at 18:46 and are divided into three chapters. The first revolves mainly around background and camera angles. The scenes are mostly alternate angles or extended cuts of scenes that were shown early in Last House on Dead End Street
. The second chapter is at a farm. Here we see horses being fed and cows grazing. Again, it seems Watkins is trying to find that perfect shot, as he films various subjects from different angles. The final chapter showcases Watkins in various surroundings. There is also an alternate angle from a sex scene that was in the film. Don't get excited though, there is no nudity and the dirtiest thing you'll see is the source material that is used. There are no scenes that contain violence, which may be a downer for some fans.
Necrophagia's video "They Dwell Beneath" is another addition to disc one. With a runtime of 4:52, the video bounces from Claymation to band members and has scenes from Last House on Dead End Street
. Though it is not really my style of music, the video was entertaining. Fans of Necrophagia will be pleased with this supplement.
Rounding out the first disc are alternate opening and closing credits, a trailer, and a picture gallery. The alternate credits come from when the movie was titled The Fun House. The trailer, with a runtime of only 19 seconds, was awesome. Though the picture and sounds were rather poor, the impact is great. Without showing a clip from the movie, I really enjoyed seeing a throwback to the old drive-in trailers. Lastly, we have the picture gallery. With over 30 pics ranging from posters and tapes to pictures from the DVD's commentary duo, the gallery is short and sweet. There is a letter to Watkins from Peter Cushing and an article that can both be magnified to make them easier to read.
The second disc is geared more towards the diehard fans of both Last House on Dead End Street
and Roger Watkins. First up are four short films that viewers are getting access to for the first time. Presented silent, the films have a commentary track by Watkins. Watkins, when he gets short on words, is backed up occasionally by Chas. Ron Rico
(19:01), Masque of the Red Death
(18:22), and Black Snow
(17:01) all give us an early look at Watkins vision through the lens. Since there is no sound, Watkins sets up each clip letting us know what type of music was used and enlighten viewers to symbolism and common themes. He points out his likes and dislikes while using the films to reminisce about his friends and music from the past. The film quality is surprisingly well considering their age and low budget nature.
Anyone who has even the slightest interest in making a film should listen to these phone conversations. At Home with Terry Hawkins is made up of forty tracks that total approximately 75 minutes of material. Even a low budget movie that seems easy to make can face problems. These conversations cover things from chicken pox to nude scenes to the cost of film versus the budget. Even fulfilling a dream can become a nightmare as Watkins realizes how much of a commitment he has to make to start and finish his film. This is a one of a kind insight that Barrel has given us. This unique, informative, and personal information serves as an audio documentary and is an excellent addition to the disc.
Serving as a video accompaniment to let everyone know what took place during and between phone calls, Rick Fernandez kept a camera rolling to give us a piece simply titled 05-23-88. With a runtime of 27:31, this one day documentary sports a darker, fuzzier picture and is a lot more playful than other supplements. We get more of a personal look at Roger Watkins. We see how he jokes, tells stories, and just hangs out. This is a great compliment to the professional nature of the other extras on the disc as it breaks the monotony of filmmaking insight with a very informal Q&A.
There are two other extras not included on the DVD that Barrel has given us. The first is an excellent wraparound cover by artist Steve Bissette. If studios are going to play with a movie's cover when the DVD comes out, they should again take some notes from Barrel. This cover is AWESOME!! Fortunately it is duplicated in a 36 page booklet that included with the discs. The booklet gives us even more depth with a lengthy forward and interview given by David Kerekes, the editor of Headpress. The subject is of course Roger Watkins. The background David gives shows just how much of an urban legend Last House on Dead End Street
really was before surfacing on DVD. The interview gives a fan's perspective and angle and was a nice read. He also interviews Ken Fisher, Ken Rouse, and Steve Sweet, which allows him to touch on cast and crew viewpoints as well. The booklet also has some notes that Paul Jenkins has on Roger Watkins. He goes into great detail about his earliest memories of Watkins, similar interests, and some 'teacher' evaluation. He gives some on-set accounts of scenes from the movie, effects, and the fear of acting. The booklet is rounded out by a one page article on the cover artist. It tells of his early comic titles (Saga of the Swamp Thing and 1963) and what he is up to today. Late, but certainly not least, are two posters. One is for Last House on Dead End Street
and the other for its alter ego The Fun House
WOW!!!! Only Barrel Entertainment could pick an obscure title and jam pack it with extras like the ones seen here. Last House on Dead End Street
is a great film that has gone from a forgotten bootleg to one of the best DVD's on the market. Barrel has given viewers ample footage that has never been seen before this release, a spectacular cover, and a booklet that makes other DVD's liner notes seem like a scratch pad. From extra film footage and interviews to phone calls and short films, this two disc set will surpass any expectations fans of the film will have. Topped off by a top notch commentary, this is one of the best discs of the year. The film is recommended for fans of Last House on the Left
and I Spit on Your Grave
. The extras are recommended for anyone who wants to see how a Special Edition DVD should be made.
Movie - B
Image Quality - B
Sound - C
Supplements - A+
- Running time - 1 hour 18 minutes
- Not Rated
- 2 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
- Full Running Audio Commentary by Director Roger Watkins and Deep Red editor Chas. Bolum
- Approximately 20 Minutes of Rare Outtakes
- 60 Minute Radio Interview with Director Roger Watkins and Actor Ken Fisher (1973)
- Four Early, Never Before Seen Short Films By Roger Watkins with Full Running Audio Commentary by the Director Himself
- At Home with Terry Hawkins- Over 70 Minutes of Behind the Scenes Production Phone Calls Detailing the Making of The Last House on Dead End Street
- Original Trailer
- Roger Watkins and Actor Paul Jensen on The Joe Franklin Show (1975)
- Alternate Credits as The Fun House
- A Generous Gallery of Stills Detailing the Career of Roger Watkins
- They Dwell Beneath- Tribute Video by Necrophagia, Directed by Jim Van Bebber
- Deluxe 36 Page Booklet by Headpress Editor David Kerekes
- Original Cover Painting by Comix Legend Steve (Swamp Thing, Taboo) Bissette