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The F*cking Black Sheep: Dead End (2003)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

DEAD END (2003)

DIRECTED BY JEAN-BAPTISTE ANDREA & FABRICE CANEPA

Be real with us y’all. If we were to take a poll asking what you thought the most underrated Christmas horror flick of all is, what would your answer be?!

Tough one I know, but if you jammed a .45 to my temple and made me spit out a title, you know what, I might just elect a little indie flick from 2003 I happened to catch on IFC one night (back when IFC was still dope) called DEAD END. Y’all seen this movie? No, not the 1937 film noir or the subtitled WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END, I’m talking about the superbly chilling first feature from those wild Frenchmen Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa. Yup, I’m talking about the flick starring all time great horror stalwart Lin Shaye, the ever-impressive Ray Wise, and a young show-stealing turn from AHS’ Alexandra Holden. Yup, that DEAD END!

It’s easy to see why we’d consider DEAD END a F*cking Black Sheep, mainly due to its small stature and indie underdog nature. We’re talking about an independently made first feature on a scant $900,000 budget, with only a handful of actors and just one location – a windingly wicked wooded road to nowhere with more haunts than Route f*cking 66. I loved this movie when I first saw it, having nary a clue of intel about it going in, and having seen the movie again recently for its 15th anniversary, we can wholeheartedly confirm that DEAD END is a fantastic Christmas horror F*cking Black Sheep that ought be embraced, cuddled up and thrown into the goddamn nativity scene for everyone to openly celebrate. Here’s why!

What instantly strikes one about DEAD END is how fast and furious it jumps right into its story. Almost like a stage play, the first scene takes place in the ill-fated car we will get to know and spend time in. The Harrington Family – Frank (Wise), Laura (Shaye), Richard (Mick Cain), Marion (Holden) and Richard’s friend Brad (William Rosenfeld) – are en route to Frank’s mother’s house on Christmas Eve, a tradition he’s kept for 20 years. “Your mother hates it when we’re late,” says Laura to start the film. This prompts Frank to veer from his trusty route through the snowy woods and take what turns out to be a deleteriously deranged detour. Once the fam hits a particular stretch of road deep in the woods, all kinds of creepily inexplicable phenomena ensue. Road signs that trick, deceive and ultimately loop around to nowhere (“read the signs” warns the tagline), ostensibly running the Harrington’s through a never-ending vortex of abject terror!

The first eerie sighting the fam witnesses is a ghastly woman in white who randomly appears on the road from the woods at a moment’s notice. Shite’s eerie as f*ck on its own, and quite nicely pays homage to the classic WOMAN IN WHITE (1949). But this only begins the madness. Soon a driverless black hearse begins tearing up the stretch of pavement, terrorizing the Harringtons with ghoulish delight at every twisted turn. Worse, the driver is keeping victims locked in the back of his hearse, cruising around in this creepy-ass cul-de-sac of unending dread. But seriously, shite just keeps getting worse and more inexplicably unnerving. Part of what makes the horror work so well is the dysfunctional dynamic of the family unit, as they bicker back and forth with one another instead of banding together to fight off whatever the hell they perceive to be plaguing them. Line Shaye and Ray Wise deserve the utmost credit for delivering yet again a credible turn that grounds the supernatural in a founded sense of reality, never allowing the craziness to become dismissively unbelievable. The two vets really give it their all in a movie that, let’s face it, they probably didn’t have to (first time filmmakers on a shoestring budget, etc.).

Same goes for Alexandra Holden, whom I was not familiar with prior to the flick, but came away thinking she stole the show. There is a scene in the middle of the movie that rests solely on the acting ability of Holden, and I swear this never happens, but it actually gave me legit hair-raising, neck-tingling chills when I first saw it. After going through the ringer and witnesses all kinds of bizarre shite, including gory mutilation and a macabre pram sitting still amid the road, Marion goes into a state of shock. The scene that so f*cked me up follows, when after a few beats of total silence as the family drives on down the road, suddenly, out of nowhere, with a blank expression on her face, Marion starts crooning a Christmas carol as if spiritually possessed. It’s so simple an idea, and yet so perfectly executed that I actually recall rejoicing at the affect it had on me. Rarely do horror films earn legitimate goosebumps, and this one scene alone has forever been indelibly seared into my psyche. Adding to the mystery is the challenge of whether or not what we’re seeing is real or imagined via a dream or otherwise. We won’t spoil the specifics for you, but instead admonish that a key post-credit scene of the film will provide all of the answers you need. Stay posted!

Above all else, what the movie lacks in gore, it more than makes up for in sheer atmospheric unease. You can’t quite put your finger on what exactly is happening in the film, which keeps it unpredictable and therefore the viewer off balance. The movie is more about the mystery of its sinister setting, putting you in a frosted mood you can’t quite thaw from as you watch it. All this is made doubly impressive considering Jean-Baptiste and Canepa never made a movie before (Canepa hasn’t since), and how damn believable the actors, led by Wise and Shaye, come off in the film.

I truly urge all of y’all who haven’t been turned around by DEAD END to do so ASAP, especially this holiday season. It’s honestly one of the best unknown horror flicks to come out in the last 15 years, which, if reports are true, was vindicated as F*cking Black Sheep when grossing north of $75 million in home video sales since its direct-to-DVD U.S. premiere in 2004. Merry Xmas mofos, now go get caught up in DEAD END stat!

GET DEAD END ON DVD HERE

Source: AITH

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