Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The film begins with Terry being released from prison after serving a one-year sentence on a drug conviction. Intent on creating "really weird films", he uses some of his old contacts in the industry to help finance and sell a new kind of thrill. "Nobody's interested in sex anymore", he explains, "they're looking for something else." He hooks up with a former associate, Ken, who has the necessary equipment and has been making cheap porn films for a producer named Palmer. We’re also offered a little back-story on Ken, which amounts to him doing some time in the loony bin for getting a little too friendly with some cows in a slaughterhouse. "You know how horny you get, you'd stick it in a mud puddle if you could find one" he insists. Different strokes, indeed. Terry then coerces a cameraman named Bill to join their little troupe as well.
Last House On Dead End Street is admittedly a very crude and primitive structure. For starters, it was filmed on grainy 16mm stock and even the best of transfers still bleed a bit and retain a fuzzy look to them. Moreover, the editing is painfully haphazard, the narrative often meanders and the post-production dubbing job is quite simply beyond reproach. Then add to that the cacophony that comprises the overall sound design: we get echoey voice-overs from the psychopath's perspectives; monologues from other characters (often during static or seemingly disjointed scenes); strange choral loops punctuated by screaming and maniacal laughter; and the underlying score, which is comprised of highly distorted psychedelia and film-library selections.
The shock-pieces in Last House On Dead End Street are undoubtedly what makes it popular among cult film enthusiasts. There's some real slaughterhouse footage likely to upset any PETA-friendly individual; a strangling; a throat slashing; a branding, a bizarre violation via deer-hoof; death by power tool (several years before Abel Ferrara went drilling); and in its most alarming sequence, a bound woman's body is dissected and disemboweled. Some of these scenes may look tame and unconvincing now, but there's a wild evil behind every act that almost feels authentic.
LHODES is about as bleak and nihilistic a film as you are likely to find. There is some narration at the end that feels grossly out of place stating that all the parties involved were later apprehended and are serving time in prison. Not part of the original presentation, this was tacked on by nervous distributors as a kind of disclaimer to hopefully ease any negative reaction by audiences. Once made, it sat in limbo for nearly 5 years before finally making its 42nd Street debut in 1977, horribly truncated and re-edited. One can only wonder what other madness might have been captured on those lost reels, but what remains is still a genuinely unsettling and provocative horror film - even by today's standards.