Last House on Dead End Street (1977)

“Any attempt to trace the names behind Last House on Dead End Street will lead no further than the credits themselves, all obviously false.”- David Kerekes 1995.

Last House on Dead End Street is a notorious independent film directed by and starring Roger Watkins. Its notoriety is derived from the fact that it tells the story of an ex-con (Watkins) who starts making snuff films with a small crew. The film’s premise combined with the cast and crew waiting over two decades after the film’s release to come forward about it led to the urban legend that the murders depicted actually occurred.

This movie is not good but it’s not entirely the fault of the film-makers.

Watching the film is a confusing experience. Characters and their motives and their relations to one another are never clearly established, scenes will happen without any clear sense of why things are happening, and it often feels like scenes were placed in at random and out of order.

The reason for this is the film’s messy history. The film was originally screened in 1973 as The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell and ran 175 minutes, just a hair under three hours. Watkins lost control of the movie before it’s 1977 release under its current title, with Watkins not even knowing about it until he was recognized on the street two years after the fact. This final version, edited by someone that had no hand in making the movie, runs at 78 minutes, less than half of its intended running time. To this day, the original negative has not turned up and is considered lost to the ages.

Although Watkins and Co. can’t be entirely blamed for the editing, there is still a lot wrong with it that does rest on their shoulders. Chief among them are the characters who range from one-note and quiet to one-note and obnoxious. I could barely tolerate them for eighty minutes so I can’t imagine experiencing another hour-forty of them. It is poorly lit and drab-looking which works for the “genuine” snuff footage but is consistent throughout, failing to distinguish the plot from the footage.

There is some stuff about the movie that works. There are some…unique choices such as one character’s wife being introduced to us putting on blackface before she gets whipped as party entertainment (a scene that comes out of nowhere and lasts too long) that might be worth seeing at least once. The death scenes in general are well-done, with the standout being the woman hacked apart by a saw. The movie does provide a certain atmosphere that kept me mostly engaged despite it’s other failings.

Overall, I did not particularly care for this movie. If the original cut ever surfaces, I might be interested in watching it. For now, I would recommend people watch a proto-remake of this called Cheap instead, which can be found on The Cinema Snob’s website.

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