Saturday, July 9, 2011

'Dead End' a Strange Trip

Yesterday I saw Dead End, the 2003 horror movie, not to be confused with the 1937 Humphrey Bogart movie that introduced the Dead End Kids. The 2003 movie is strange, funny, and compelling. It is an example of the long tradition of horror movies in which the horror is encountered by going off the main road (see my earlier post, Stay on the Main Road!), but Dead End does something new with the traditional situation.

In Dead End, a family is driving to Christmas Eve dinner at grandmother's house. For some reason, the father has decided to take a back road instead of the Interstate, and the road goes on and on, surrounded by dark woods, without lights or markers--except for what seems to be the name of a town, "Marcott," that does not materialize no matter how long they drive. Along the way, they encounter a lady in white who is carrying a dead baby, and a mysterious black car that seems to bring death with it.

As in a conventional horror movie, the family members (two parents, a teenage son, a grown daughter, and her boyfriend) are picked off one by one, until only the usual Final Girl is left. But the agent of the killings is not the usual hulking slasher; it is something much more mysterious, and even when seen at the end remains so.

In the manner of a David Lynch movie crossed with a Twilight Zone episode, Dead End is full of strangeness. The mother goes insane and eats a whole pie. People blurt out suppressed truths--the daughter's pregnancy; the son's actual paternity. Inhuman voices chatter on the radio and in the woods. Theories abound about the family's location--are they on a forest ranger's road? A military road? Mutilated bodies are hinted at but only shown in glimpses.

Dead End is over-talky, and the bickering of the characters sometimes make them unlikeable (especially the teenage son). It suffers from the constraints of its low budget, although it also makes use of the same to convey claustrophobia. Overall, Dead End is worth seeing.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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