Friday, October 27, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Last House on Dead End Street

Film: Last House on Dead End Street
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

This blog has taken me to some weird and disturbing places in the 13 years that I have written it. I’ve seen some really upsetting things, some of which I have seen as important films and others that have simply bothered me. Some films are disturbing and horrible (Last House on the Left) but are important cinematically. Others are important statements despite being hard to watch (Come and See). And there are a few that just feel oily. Some of those, like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer leave us with something to talk about. Other don’t. There are a few films that have made me want to shower after watching them (Maniac, Deranged), but few to the extent of Last House on Dead End Street, also known as The Fun House, and sometimes with the word “The” attached to the front.

This is a notorious film in many respects along the lines of Blood Feast or The Wizard of Gore. What makes for the notoriety of this movie is that for a time, it was rumored to be an actual snuff film, to actually depict the deaths of several of the actors. To be fair, having seen this now, I get it. It’s not incredibly realistic, but it was made on such a stupidly low budget that it really feels like there’s no way possible that it could have been done any other way. According to rumor, the film had a $3,000 budget, of which $2,200 was used to buy drugs.

The plot, such as it is, runs essentially as follows: Terry Hawkins (writer/director Roger Watkins) has just been released after a year in prison for drug charges. Before his incarceration, Terry made stag films that he claims he was unable to sell. Working on the assumption that modern audiences want harder and edgier content, Terry decides to make actual snuff films. He recruits a camera man and a few women to act in his films, and then kidnaps a few people and murders them on camera. Roll credits.

There’s really nothing more here than that. Terry and his gang of co-“filmmakers” are going to attack people in various ways and kill them in increasingly nasty manners. We start with simple strangulation and end with dismemberment, disembowelment, and power tools. Essentially, we are going to build up to the sort of precursor to French Extremity films. This is in some ways a reaction to films that were perceived as gory like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Essentially, there feels like a real spiritual connection between films of this nature, but Last House on Dead End Street is going not just for the hint of gore, but the actual full Herschel Gordon Lewis effect.

So how are we supposed to react to a film like this? It’s honestly a completely fair question, and the answer is not obvious. The filmmaker claims that this was made in large part not as a reaction to gore and gore-adjacent films, but to the Manson Family murders. Seen through that lens, I think it’s a pretty easy case to make. It does feel in large part like a reaction to desensitization of violence, and so it’s not a difficult claim to make.

I’m honestly not sure how to react to it. It’s easy to simply write this off as nastiness for its own sake, and it’s honestly tempting to do that. But I think there is something deeper here. There is the same kind of desire to express a reaction to violence here. In this respect, there is a great deal of similarity to a film like The Last House on the Left, from which it clearly takes inspiration in its name. It merely goes further than most films in terms of actually showing the extreme violence on screen rather than implying it.

Last House on Dead End Street is difficult to watch, and not simply because of the extreme violence. This is very much the essence of grindhouse cinema: scratchy film, bad sound, dialogue not matching up with the film, poor acting, and gratuitous nudity and gore. It’s a hard film to recommend for that same reason, but I think there’s something here worth watching.

Why to watch Last House on Dead End Street: It pushes the limits on what films could do.
Why not to watch: It’s nasty, and that’s not a compliment.


  1. This sounds like what those August Underground and Guinea Pig movies were supposed to be. I never watched those, but I'm familiar with them from the former IMDb forums.

    1. I think that's an accurate portrayal. It definitely wants to capitalize on the Manson Family murders, and it does so in the nastiest way possible. This is not a movie that I could ever recommend in good conscience, even for someone interested in trash cinema.

  2. No thanks. I don't want to watch anything that capitalize on the Manson murders. Unless it's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood due to its climax.

    1. This legitimately feels like a snuff film. I felt unclean watching it.