Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Sunday, September 09, 2018

RE-POST SERIES: Last House on Dead End Street... The Last Enigma

(This "Re-Post Series" is a re-introduction of older writings created for a now-defunct blog from 2011. Still some interesting stuff, though! Beware, some of the old links may or may not still work).

Roger Watkins' 1977 indie arthouse horror film has left behind a seared imprint on my mind since I first borrowed the Barrel release/double DVD from a good friend of mine back in 2004. I think the DVD itself had been released a year or two earlier... Since then, with Barrel's DVD having become woefully long out-of-print, I was able to find a different DVD copy quite easily (and cheaply) in the UK. Watching that film again, I was no less impressed than on the first viewing. There was something so rebellious, so fucking art, so bloody horrific in its low-budgetness... It was actually kind of profound in a way. Having been reminded of this flick in 2009, I began to wonder about the man behind the film. Roger Watkins. So I did what any slave to the kind of immediate self-satisfaction the internet generation has produced would do... I Googled him. And discovered forthwith that he'd died in 2007. Shame. But this was just the beginning of my curiosity, as it quickly piqued higher.

In Barrel's double-DVD there was also a booklet included where Roger Watkins (then going by the name Victor Janos) spoke about how the distribution company had literally - and physically - stolen the film (yes, the actual reels of film and negatives) from him back in '73. The film never appeared again until it's release by the shady distribution company in '77. Victor/Roger never even knew his film had been released (and re-titled) at all.

Also on this DVD is a special feature - the original episode of Joe Frankiln's talk show (originally aired on February 6, 1975) where Watkins speaks intelligently (though you get the sense he's high as a kite) along with his NY film prof about his movie, then titled "The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell". All of this had intrigued me back in 2004, but what I unearthed five years later only added to the mystique of Roger Watkins. I went looking for something, some films perhaps, or anything he'd done since the drug-addled Last House on Dead End Street. Well, here is a sample of what I found... Ultimately raising more questions than solving them, during the course of a day-long internet search that went from mysterious to enigmatically creepy. Judge for yourself.

From Wikipedia:
Last House on Dead End Street is a horror film released in 1977...
Few knew who actually directed the film, until Roger Watkins, who died in March 2007, posted on Internet message boards three decades after it was made saying he was behind it. The film was made in 1973, but was not released until four years later.
Watkins said he was high on amphetamines while making the film. He also said only about $800 was spent making the film, while the remaining $3,000 budgeted was used to buy drugs.
The film was virtually unavailable until Barrel Entertainment released a double-disc DVD in 2002. In the 1970s, its release was limited to grindhouse and drive-in theaters. The [original] version entitled The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell ran some 175 minutes in length - though the only remaining print of it in that form is thought to be stored in a New York film lab.
Also From Wikipedia:
Roger Michael Watkins was a film director best known for the notorious 1970s movie Last House on Dead End Street He also directed several porn films. He worked with famous porn actors like Jamie Gillis and Vanessa del Rio.
And from
"I was greatly distressed to hear of the passing of Roger Watkins, the director of the infamous cult classic Last House On Dead End Street on March 6 in Apalachin, N.Y. I saw that movie on 42nd Street and it really freaked me out at the time. The director’s name listed was “Victor Janos” (which was just a pseudonym for Watkins). Watkins was a director, author, editor and starred in the film as Terry Hawkins, just released from prison after a one year drug bust. Pissed off at the world, he rounds up a few friends and they decide to direct some films aimed at a “specialized” audience of degenerates. Actual snuff films, which they can make money from and get back at society with.
Watkins shot the movie after getting out of SUNY Oneonto college in 1972. In an interview he said there was $3,000 for the shoot but only $800 was used on the movie. The rest “I think it was to buy drugs,” he said. “I didn’t spend anything on that film.” It’s original title was The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell (a reference from Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night). After it was finished it went through many shady distributors and didn’t hit theaters until 1977 as: The Fun House and later: Last House On Dead End Street, tying it into the Last House On The Left popularity. But as a film it still manages to unsettle -- it’s a nihilistic dark little horror masterpiece."

Some of the feedback from the Papermag obituary went as follows:

Elizabeth Watkins: "I am Roger's oldest daughter and I want to thank you for posting this article and paying tribute to him. I really miss him. He was the smartest guy I've ever met..."
Jo C. Schwarz: "Elizabeth, I am an old friend of your dad. I am sadden by the news of his passing. Roger was the smartest man I have ever met myself. His wit and charm will sorely be missed. He often talk about how smart you were as well."
Bob Arturi: "Elizabeth I had the pleasure of working with your dad at Bill Kolb Ford in Blauvelt, New York. He was one of the wittiest, smartest people I ever met. I lost contact with him for a while after he left the busines, but found him a little later at another dealership. He then totally left the business to move upstate and I didn't have the opportunity to speak with him before he passed away. I can't say enough good things about him, his sense of humor, our long conversations about his life in the cinema world, and of course his tales of his family. He will always be in my thoughts."
Barry Koch: "Elizabeth, Your Dad roomed at my house for a while back in the late 1980s. He was a brilliant, creative, and maddeningly mercurial human being... and remains unforgettable to those who knew him in to any degree. Despite the tempests that seemed to swirl about his restless mind, he always spoke lovingly of "his girls", you and your sister.
pedobear: "I loved roger too we hung out together looking for young girls. i will miss you. Pedophilia died with you. R.I.H"
ananymous: "Pedobear,  It is very important that I speak with you. You hold the key to a very important puzzle.  Please, please, please email me at this address. I will make it worth your while."
You can read the entire string of messages left behind at Papermag's obit here.

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