aka THE FUN HOUSE
Few films in the annals of horror have a history quite like this no-budget cult legend from writer/producer/director/star Roger Watkins. Shot MOS on 16mm as THE CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL for about $850, the picture was first cut together into a preliminary version running 175m. Watkins and the other actors dubbed-in their dialogue, and musical cues from the Ross-Gaffney post production studio were dropped in. The director then shortened the running time by an hour, in the hopes of getting the film screened at Cannes. However, a lawsuit filed by a person briefly associated with the production resulted in a three-year delay, after which time Watkins struck a deal with a company called Cinematic to finally get the movie into theaters. However, these individuals took Watkins’ original cut and chopped out an additional 38m, blowing up to 35mm only the footage they wanted and then (apparently) discarding the rest. Evidently feeling that the first half lacked sufficient shock value to hold viewers’ attention, the company added flash-forward gore shots from later in the picture over dialogue scenes in the opening reel. They also proceeded to shoddily re-dub all of the dialogue, utilizing other actors, and tacked on a “square up” voiceover during the final moments that removed any ambiguity about the villains’ fate. Greatly disheartened by these drastic changes (over which he had no say), Watkins washed his hands of the movie and ordered that his name not be used. For reasons unknown, Cinematic went one step further by creating a cast and crew listing consisting entirely of fake names. Under the new handle THE FUN HOUSE, their truncated 77m version played regionally in the American South, doing respectable business. The distributor then decided to cash in on Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT by appropriating that picture’s infamous “ It’s Only a Movie” ad campaign and adopting the new title LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, the name by which Watkins’ movie is best known today.
Although LAST HOUSE was produced practically on the fly, the camerawork is not nearly as haphazard as one might expect. Several of the compositions are striking in their use of light and shapes, and Watkins’ decision to have the spotlights used by the “production” shining directly at the viewer during the killings heightens the voyeuristic atmosphere. The masks worn by the killers (inspired by the director’s love for Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE) lend a surreal edge to the horror and, by starring in his own film as a maniacal director, Watkins also earns points for anticipating the recursive horror trend of that followed twenty years later (“I’m directing this fucking movie!”).