Monday, August 30, 2010

Last House on Dead End Street

I haven’t included many of the Video Nasties* in the HROHFYSSBYD, in part because they’re mostly a little too famous for a list of obscure movies, but mainly because most of them aren’t very good at all. I feel comfortable including this film, however, as it is both better than most of the Video Nasties, and is much more obscure, perhaps in part because it never made it onto the official list, as its alternate title The Fun House led instead to the Tobe Hooper film The Funhouse getting placed on the list instead. Whoops.
The film doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of. Roger Watkins (who also wrote and directed) stars as a man who just got done a year in prison for selling drugs, and is very bitter over the whole experience (I’d have thought he’d be happy to only get a year for selling, but I suppose drug laws were lighter back in the 70s). He decides, as any person in such a situation would do, to get a few criminal friends together, and bring some additional people over to an abandoned building under the guise of making experimental films, and proceeds instead to torture and kill them. It’s essentially the original torture porn, except that I seriously doubt most of the filmmakers around today making torture porns have ever even heard of it.

A large part of what makes it work is more the way it was made, instead of what it’s about. Apparently filmed on a budget of only $800, the film just look as seedy as a movie can possibly get, and with none of its original audio intact (I don’t know if it was actually filmed without audio like Beast of Yucca Flats, or if the audio was just ruined) we instead get treated to a lot of weird voice overs and (when they can’t hide that people are talking on camera) dialogue that makes no particular effort to synch up to people’s mouths. The violence in the second half of the film looks pretty realistic too, leading many people to speculate at the time of the film’s release that it was an actual snuff film. It certainly didn’t help matters when trying to disprove such rumors that the entire cast and crew were listed under pseudonyms, and we only discovered who had actually been involved in the film about a decade ago when Watkins broke his silence.

Let us understand each other here, this is not a great film by any means. It’s really rough around the edges, and it’s very uneven (the first half is mostly a mixture of the main character roaming around the city and some really tame hardcore sex scenes that led to the film being released in secret five years after it was made). It does, however, retain a certain undeniable power to it, its seediness and low budget coming to work in its favor. I can only picture what a nightmare it would be for some company like Platinum Dunes to decide they wanted to remake it as some slick Hollywood production with some popular teen stars in it. Though it would be kind of nice to get the DVD re-released so it wouldn’t cost me $80 just to get it used. Someone should really get on that.

Rating: ***

* For those unaware, back at the start of the 80s when slasher movies were coming into prominence, there was quite an outcry against what was viewed as the overdone violence in them, led by such types as Siskel & Ebert, prompting the British government to create the Video Nasties list, which was essentially a list of horror movies that would be outright banned in England. As one could expect, very few of the films that made the list were really all that nasty, and the whole venture wound up being more of a government witch hunt than anything actually helpful (the full list of films can be seen here).

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