Sunday, October 28, 2012

Last House On Dead End Street

Last House On Dead End Street (The Funhouse, Cuckoo Clocks of Hell) Directed by Roger Michael Watkins (as Victor Janos). 1972
This is a very mysterious film that way back in the mid 90’s when I bought it from Chas Balun, no one had the real story of where it came from or how it was made. This didn’t stop the gore community (namely The Creation Book: Killing For Culture) from inventing and speculating ridiculous nonsense about what they thought went on. They were inspired by The Psychotronic review (as many others were) to seek out what actually happened, but they decided to make it up. Later however David Kerkes totally redeemed his credibility by flying out to NYC and hunting down everyone involved in the production and got the real story (printed in Headpress 23). In my opinion Weldon is the authority on exploitation and this is one of my favorite reviews, taken from a perspective of the pre-Internet world. He got the ball rolling and others went further to dissolve the ridiculous rumor that it was an actual snuff film. A few years later on a message board, someone online (the real Roger Watkins) appeared to tell his side of the story and afterwards, The Barrell Entertainment DVD came out with commentary from Watkins and Chas Balun, the record clearly had to be set straight! Also included is a selection from the library score (taken from the RETRO-TEQUE blog) that Skunkape graciously edited this track together.
           Terry (Watkins) a giggling maniac, who looks like a future member of the Ramones with his black leather jacket and long hair, narrates, explaining that he had just served a year in the state pen. We see bits of flashfowards; like Terry’s hands wrapped around someone’s throat (this is footage left over from the original cut, which is lost) and Hawkins partner Ken Fisher pulling out intestines (which reveal an amateur surgery scene from the ending too early).
Ken spouts deranged lines like “You know what I like? Tits like bananas and leather”. He is a typical porn creep lowlife (like Bill Margold).
 We see genuine slaughterhouse footage (that Watkins filmed on his own), which in the original cut of Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell is a lot longer.
Terry Hawkins hooks up with Bill, a gutless cameraman and two Manson-like former prostitutes. None of these people seem thrilled to join Hawkins on his murder spree and none of them know what they are getting into. All they are told is that they will be involved in making weird movies no one has ever seen before. His mission is to get revenge on the filmmakers that put him in jail.
            Palmer (Ed Pixley) shows his latest sex shorts. A woman takes a bubble bath (in b/w) and two naked women start to make out. A lot of footage was shot and either left out or rearranged by producers trying to market it as a fake sequel to Last House On The Left (the film actually came out after Dead End Street). Fisher in the interview conducted by David Kerkes, mentions that a Broadway wannabe actress hauled him into court and lost her case by a slim margin, she was bent out of shape because there was cheesecake footage intended for the loops that Terry and Palmer watch, but were never used. Meanwhile at the party, Palmer's masochist wife puts on blackface makeup (in extreme greasy close up) then is whipped continuously by a guy pretending to be a hunchback. The guests laugh and/or get turned on by the pain. These people are the eventual victims in Hawkins' snuff film.

Mrs. Palmer is disemboweled. Hawkins wears a large mask that looks like a head in Zardoz. The other killers wear clear masks. They are passed around ritualistically; all of these masks were utilized from the Oneonta theater department at SUNY. The killings were inspired by Manson and Hawkins was a student of quality horror films and influences (Fellini, Serling, Shakespeare, Hammer Films). There is a story in the Headpress book, where Watkins got a job on Blood Orgy Of The She Devils and referred to T.V. Mikels as one of the shittiest filmmakers he’s ever witnessed. There was a black man who acted in the film saying “there are no good roles for black actors” Watkins mentions Othello and the guy actually had no idea what he was talking about, immediately after, Watkins left the set in anger!
            The whipping scene and a man forced to suck on a deer hoof sticking out from a girl's crotch could have been in Euro art films. It’s still disturbing and impressive considering the minimal budget (hundreds of dollars). A poster for PSYCHOPATH ("Mother may I go out and kill?”) is seen on the wall, which is one of the inspirations for Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie.
There are giant Rocky Horror like red lips hanging on the wall (which were found by Ken Fisher). The deluxe two DVD set comes with an illustrated booklet by British Headpress magazine editor David Kerekes, who first learned of this movie in the first Psychotronic book. The "It's only a move" ad was reproduced and Weldon asked "Have you ever heard anyone even admit that they saw it?" Kerekes vowed to find the movie and the director. Turns out it was filmed (as Cuckoo Clocks of Hell) using 16mm ansco color film in and around SUNY University, Oneonta, NY during 72/73 by Watkins (under several pseudonyms) using his father's money and film lab connections. Actor’s were students or college professors of the director (who says he was high on speed at the time) It was first released in the South as Funhouse, in 77 played 42nd st. in 79,was briefly available on tape, then became a word of mouth cult item. The DVD includes 4 of the director’s silent shorts with commentary. One is a childhood basement production inspired by The Pit and The Pendulum. You can see Watkins grow up from an innocent seeming horror fan kid to a speed freak young man, to a depraved adult. From 75 to 89 he directed many NYC area porn movies (many with S+M themes) as Richard Mahler. (Partial source: Psychotronic Video)
          (Crankenstein’s take on Last House on Dead End Street): I had no idea what I was in for as I popped in the VHS and awaited the frightening scenes of carnage. You must remember that at the time this film was shrouded in rumors. The rumor was very powerful: that it was an authentic snuff film and all the names in the credits were changed to protect the supposed guilty (it was impossible not to be captivated by its reputation).
           The music score immediately infects your subconscious (those library phased out psychedelic choral voices made it extra ghastly). The black humor is present through out and the cut and paste style editing made it seem criminal in some way. I defy anyone to watch the last half and not be repulsed by the scenes of carnage, torture and humiliation. A victim on the operating table is cut open and woken up by smelling salts after passing out. Watkins was attempting to recreate what it must have been like for the thrill killing Manson Family, gleefully destroying the rich and powerful. It’s one of the most hateful nihilistic films ever. In the production phone calls section on the DVD (which get increasingly weirder), he mentions the premise of the film project as a recreation of the Manson family murders on the phone. The doe foot blowjob scene is one of the most disturbing and graphic images ever filmed (Watkins was a Bunuel and experimental film fan). It’s all very calculated and even though haphazardly re-edited by someone else without director permission (he vents about this on the commentary), it is still ahead of its time and would hold up now among today’s jaded horror fans. Watkins died on March 2007.

            Killing For Culture asks who is Victor Janos? They speculate how it was filmed without sound and later dubbed to create an ominous Snuff connotation that it was filmed in a secret location “Where life is cheap”. This book came out in 1994 and for those who had seen this film, they were in on the confusion and many would be duped into thinking it may have been a genuine snuff film. The DVD has some of the greatest commentary tracks ever recorded as Watkins and Balun ham it up, cackle like maniacs and give away all the tricks and secrets that every underground gorehound craved. Trying to keep my distance from this film’s use of mixing real horror (Cow footage) with fake I found it more intriguing and grudgingly came to respect it even more. David Kerkes rectified the errors of the "Killing For Culture" book by going more in depth in HeadPress 23. All of the details are layed out and nothing is eclipsed by rumor or hearsay, each scene is described by the people who were there and worked on the production. From the article you can tell how influenced Watkins was by that University environment and utilized the help of teachers and students to create his twisted vision. Most film school grads will never make a film (Hawkins was a product of the street level guerrilla filmmakers) and though this is his only film, it’s quite a grassroots achievement. When you consider the pathos and horror is inflicts on its audience with the cheapest tricks available its very effective. They used a real cow’s eyeball for the drill segment at the finally. The title “Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell” was taken from Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, the artistic influence is light years ahead of complete trash like Savage Weekend or Lucker The Necrophagous and the more I research how this film was made, the more I’m astounded that I didn’t respect it from the beginning. The most hilarious part about the Kerkes article relates to the film premiere at 42 st. in its zenith of sleaze. Paul Jensen (who is still a professor at SUNY, give him a good rating at says they were the only white people in the theater and everyone was yelling at the screen. He couldn’t tell if they liked it or hated it, but they were afraid someone would recognize Watkins in the theater as the guy in the Zardoz mask. Later someone did and mentioned how he was the guy throwing animal guts around! There’s a hilarious Joe Franklin interview on Youtube (also included on the DVD). Unfortunately it’s not available on DVD since The Barrel version went out of print.
Terry Hawkins Odyssey track

Theater of Guts
Tribute Trailer

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