"Richard Mahler" (Roger Watkins)
Watkins' cult fame rests almost entirely on The Last House on Dead End Street, which was filmed in 1972 but not widely released until many years later in a heavily cut form. It had originally played at film festivals under its original title The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell and then as The Fun House. For decades, no one knew who made it or who starred in it (the credits were pseudonymous), or anything about its origins, leading to silly rumors about it possibly being a real snuff film depicting an actual murder committed by crazed Charles Manson-ish druggies. Everything about this film was shrouded in mystery for decades. There were limited theatrical releases in the late 70s in grindhouse fleapits and Southern drive-ins, followed by it being dumped on Betamax and VHS by Sun Video. However, it wasn't very well-distributed in the 80s or 90s and quickly became a hot collector's item. All of that helped to ensure the movie would engender some kind of cult following over the years. As for the film itself, it possesses a kind of raw power and has some disturbing / gory bits toward the end but I've never been a huge fan. I found it mostly obnoxious and monotonous.
With the Barrel Entertainment release of the Last House DVD in 2002, the film's entire mystique went with it. The director came forward to reveal his true identity (and was heavily involved in the DVD release) and we also learned he'd made some other films under various aliases. His follow-up was Shadows of the Mind, another genre effort filmed in 1976 but not released until 1980. While I haven't seen that one yet, it was "disowned" by the director and even most fans of LHODES seem to have a hard time defending it. However, he was more prolific in adult films and worked on around a dozen, usually using the alias "Richard Mahler." Some of these, including this one, have received high marks from various genre critics in the new millennium. Unfortunately, I can't say I was overly impressed with anything that I saw here, though this certainly isn't bad either.
Alan (George Payne) walks into a building, where a vague woman sitting behind a desk (Samantha Fox) directs him through a door in a long sequence very likely inspired by Corman's Masque of the Red Death. He enters into a blue room, where a young woman in blue lingerie (Tanya Lawson) sexually teases him but doesn't allow him to touch her. Instead, she directs him through another door. Now in a red room, another young woman in red lingerie ("Mary Constantine" / Marilyn Gee) gives him a little more, but stops before the whole shebang to send him through one more door. Now in a pitch black room, a third woman (Tish Ambrose) finally lays it all out for him. "A man has to give up certain things in order to get certain things. There's always a trade off," she says. Only after getting him to agree to renounce love is she willing to have sex with him. Returning to the lobby afterward, the woman at the front desk it missing and in her place is a briefcase, which he gladly takes.
At some high rise office building, glum businessman Mr. Williams (Jamie Gillis) is ordered by his superiors, Franklin (Michael Gaunt) and Frederick ("Michael Morrison" / Milton Ingley), to go find Alan, who used to work for the corporation as a messenger. First, he goes home where his slinky girlfriend Doreen (Tiffany Clark) attempts to cheer him up. He then spies on Doreen's younger sister Felicia (Kelly Nichols) pleasuring herself. And then it's off to a smoky strip club to visit his sleazy half-brother, Larry (Bobby Astyr).
Larry takes him to some hidden underground lair where an odd fantasy can be viewed through peepholes on red doors. The first is a standard lesbians-in-a-bathroom romp. The second involves some mild S&M where a woman in leather orders a masked man to crawl on the floor, lick her boots and then bark like a dog. When the man's mask is pulled off, he looks exactly like Williams. Finally, Alan, now heavily made-up with white face paint and red lipstick, indulges in a little necrophilia with a corpse that cries blood on an altar. Williams later gets to confront Alan, who he refuses to give up the contents of the briefcase. The head of the corporation eventually kidnaps Felicia and (kind of?) rapes her while Williams goes to visit Erda (Vanessa Del Rio), a hooker he frequently visits, for a little pick-me-up. Yet it all seems so empty and pointless...
While I appreciate the effort put into making this hardcore film more than it really had to be and at least attempting to integrate sex into the actual story, the unnecessarily muddled plot mixed with (intentionally) joyless sex, flimsy subtext and dimestore pseudo-artistry didn't really do much for me. By porn standards, it all looks pretty good, though, thanks to Larry Revene's photography and creative use of color and lighting to dress up the cheap sets. There's also strange use of slow motion, including a three-minute-long sequence of people at a train station walking around set to classical music. The acting is serviceable at best. Gillis has a reputation as one of porn's better actors but he is completely overshadowed here by both Payne and Astyr in more colorful supporting parts. The females aren't given much to work with, though Nichols at least looks great.
This was given a VHS release through VCA in the mid 80s. That was followed by a DVD release from Alpha Blue Archives, who included it on a triple feature along with Watkins' Cosmopolitan Girls (1981) and Midnight Heat (1983). In 2016, Vinegar Syndrome released this on DVD and Blu-ray, which is clearly the way to go if you are interested in seeing this title. A brief interview with Revene and, as an Easter Egg, Watkins' Dead End Street in full, are included.