The Barrel DVD release of this movie a few years back really took the bite out of this movie’s reputation but it doesn’t take the bite out of the actual movie. It was nice to finally get a definitive release. Back in the day, Last House had a weird reputation. Some thought it was an actual snuff movie and the lack of practically ANY data about it left people wondering just what the hell was going on. Until only a few years ago, the specifics of its production were a complete mystery. The director credits and star credit of Victor Janos and Steven Morrison, respectively, were actually one man, Roger Watkins, student film maker at the time and later on director of hardcore porno.
Since it’s release on a handful of video tapes, it has gone under many names and by different cuts running under different running times, all much shorter than the legendary three hour cut of the movie that is assumed lost forever. It’s shot with a particular ineptitude that lends a horrible atmosphere to the entire movie. Dim lighting, trashed film stock and poorly dubbed dialog doubled with its speed-fueled, pracitcally nonexistent plot makes it feel genuinely dangerous. As if this were a movie intended to be viewed only by someone who paid a great deal of money to watch someone die in an honest-to-god snuff movie.
During the height of my tape trading in the 90’s, the many cuts of this movie circulated, the holy grail being a composite cut assembling all of the footage left in or out of the various releases. Its reputation was on par with other so-called dangerous media like the second Guinea Pig movie, Flower of Flesh and blood, thought by many to be an actual snuff movie from the Japanese underground. Barrel’s loving restoration of the movie and exhaustive research and reporting has demystified the legend, but left an equally interesting history in its wake.
Terry Hawkins, a scumbag recently released from prison on drug charges returns to his hustling ways saying that in the past he has made stag films that he could never sell. Wild-eyed and pissed off, his new plan to make a mint is to film real murders as a way to cash in and also strike back at “the man” that has been, as they say, keeping him down. With the blessing of his decadent financiers, Hawkins gathers together a couple of his deviant friends and lures the very same people who are paying for his movies to be made, to be the stars of his murderfest. What follows is a parade of torture and sadism with a few scenes that have haunted the many viewers to this day, including the infamous deerhoof fellatio scene.
In past reviews, I’ve chosen movies that I feel are a lot of fun, but I have to admit, I have a real dark side and an appreciation for the more fucked up entries of the grindhouse scene. Last House is hardly a good time. As a matter of fact, I might even be so inclined to suggest that it’s quite difficult to sit all the way through even with a running time under 90 minutes. It’s plagued by severely damaged film and terrible sound. Barrel did the best they could with what they had to work with for the DVD release, but even still, it’s a nightmare of terrible of filmmaking. It’s notoriety rides on this quality and the hyper-surreal atmosphere of the movie begs to be seen. One look and it’s safe to say that this is what appears in your mind after two bottles of Robitussin. Stylistically, it’s akin to the sort of output you might expect from Richard Kern or Nick Zedd. It’s alleged that Watkins spent most, if not all, the movie’s budget on speed, which explains a little bit more. This is damaged filmmaking from a damaged filmmaker.
Given the movie’s production history and acknowledged use of intense drugs, it’s hard to differentiate, at times, whether the action on screen is scripted or if Watkins is genuinely losing his cool as Terry when he screams, “I’m directing this fucking movie!” and this is where Last House wins. Reality and fantasy blur and are caught in the middle of an amateurish production. Early on, the movie subjects you to some low end art-house posturing at a decadent party when a naked woman in black face is whipped by a midget much to the enjoyment of the party goers but as time marches on, the tone of the insanity changes as masked assailants force a man to fellate a severed deer hoof in a scene that might make you think Watkins found a decorative deerhoof in a garbage can and brought it to the set, tweaked off his ass with a wild, unscripted idea for one of the movie’s victims. For all its incompetent production, the many improvised scenes seem genuinely degrading to its cast members. Most, if not all of the movie was shot without sound and was dubbed, poorly, later on. To make up for this fact, and that probably later on, the actors wouldn’t be able to provide a proper ADL session to match lips, Watkins and co-stars wear a variety of masks which pushes the horror to new heights. The creeps and sleaze just keep on building as money ran out and Watkins did what he could to keep the production rolling. The result was clearly not planned, but it really works to the movie’s advantage whether Watkins knew it at the time or not.
By the time the film winds down, an assuring voice over kicks in and tells you that the law prevails and that Hawkins and his accomplices were brought to justice, but this softening of the ending is clearly some kind of afterthought given the note that the film ends with. Watkins clearly wanted you to believe that Hawkins and his cronies got away and probably picked up the slack in some other town with a new bag of cruel tricks and more cans of cheap film stock.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about, maybe you’ve never heard of this movie. Adventurous fans of sleaze and filth would be doing themselves a favor by diving head first into this movie. The Barrel release is now out of print, but can be bagged through various means and for reasonable costs through outlets such as Ebay. If you’re going to own any version of this movie, that is the one to own. Without context, Last House seems like nothing more than a shitty movie, but coming to know the backstory and understanding the mythical status that the film enjoyed among underground horror fans since it’s release in 1977 really helps you appreciate it for what it is. The Barrel DVD comes absolutely packed with every bit of promotion and historical material still in existence and the restoration makes it at least watchable where other inferior DVD releases source the movie from the many different VHS cuts. A relic of the grindhouse era, Last House On Dead End Street is a disgusting look at the lowest ends of exploitation filmmaking from its golden age.