Not too long ago I watched a movie titled “The House of the Devil.” It was slow and dull, but critically adored. I believe Drew lauded it as a film never to watch during out month long extravaganza of horror reviews in October. If one compliment can be made about the film, it would be that it was painstakingly filmed to reflect the horror film genre of the early to mid-80s.
When I sat down to watch “Dead End” I had no expectations for it to take a similar route. However, as the movie opened in a station wagon with hilarious, intentionally cheesy dialogue (“It’s the same damn thing every year. Where are my shoes, or I can’t find my Marilyn Bronson CD,” “Uh, Marilyn Manson,” “Well, whatever her name is.”) followed by a fine metal riff to bridge the 30 second intro and the credits, I knew I was in for a treat.
Unlike “The House of the Devil,” the film is not necessarily set in the 80s, but it borrows the same tried and true formula from the genre. A family of four - father, mother, son, and daughter, with daughter’s boyfriend along as well for good measure, are going to visit grandma on Christmas along a creepy, deserted road. It isn’t the usual route, but this year dad has decided to take an alternate route to keep things fresh and interesting.
It’s not long before it is obvious they are lost. The parents bicker, the daughter tries to decide how to tell the boyfriend they’re through, and the youngest, pot-smoking son provides comedy relief.
Along the way they see a woman on the side of the road carrying a baby and agree to take her to a nearby cabin to try and call the police. Can’t be a good idea. As the evening starts to spiral in to mysterious disappearances and gruesome deaths, not to mention a black, menacing hearse, the theories begin to swarm. Ghosts? Hallucinations? Aliens?
The movie is fueled by the script, keeping the gore level low. The casting is spot on and this, in particular, really helps pull the production together. A majority of the film is spent inside the station wagon as the family starts to panic, and the entire show is filmed on one seemingly never ending road. I’m always amazed when a film can take one extremely basic locale and make it intriguing for 90 minutes. I’m not saying this film is “127 Hours” or “Buried, “ but for a low-budget niche horror picture, the dialogue and script are at times quite clever. It is very successful at ratcheting up the suspense and includes a healthy dose of black comedy.
When the conclusion of the film is finally revealed, it feels almost a bit too tidy and reliable. But in this way it also feels exactly like the genre it is giving a sly wink to all along, especially in the epilogue.
Even though the outline is familiar, I believe anyone interested in the horror genre would enjoy “Dead End.” It is engrossing and original enough to interest moderate genre fans, and nostalgic enough for long time fans of horror tired of the current paint-by-the-number schlock being mass produced for theatres today.
Written by Ryan Venson