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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.14%
Worth A Look50%
Average: 28.57%
Pretty Bad: 3.57%
Total Crap: 10.71%

2 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Dead End (2004)
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by Brian McKay

"The Blair Witch Road Trip"
3 stars

Despite its inherent cheesiness and moments of predictability, DEAD END is an entertaining 80-minute ride that delivers laughs and creepy tension in nearly equal measure. Unfortunately, it's the constant tug-o-war between comedy and suspense that ultimately keeps DEAD END from being a great little horror movie - that, some really inappropriate music choices, and a really cheesy ending that almost nullifies the success of everything that led up to it.

DEAD END is about as low-budget as you can get without sending a few film students into the woods with a camcorder. However, low budget need not be an impediment when you've got good acting and a generally good script, and DEAD END has both - most of the time. And despite a slew of elements that feel recycled from films like BLAIR WITCH, the stories of Stephen King, and the old urban legend chestnuts about ghostly hitchikers, I freely admit that DEAD END made me laugh often, and made me cringe appropriately during the creepy moments.

Following the simple premise of the family road trip gone horribly awry, DEAD END introduces us to the Harrington family, en route to visit family members on Christmas Eve . . . just like they have for the past 20 Christmas Eves. Frank Harrington (Ray Wise - a favorite character actor of mine since the TWIN PEAKS days) is obviously fed up with the drive to visit his wife's family every year (not to mention the wife's family itself), and decides to take a shortcut. When they soon end up lost on a seemingly endless blue highway, his wife Laura (Lin Shaye) jumps in with the recriminations of "Why didn't you take the interstate?", while surly teenage stoner son Richard (Mick Cain), prim and pretty college-student daughter (Alexandra Holden) and her boyfriend Brad (Billy Asher) suffer in the back seat.

Things start getting weird when they pick up an enigmatic hitchiker, a "lady in white" clutching a too-quiet baby. Looking pale and in shock, the woman says nothing to them at first, but when they stop at a nearby roadside shack in search of a phone to call for help, bad things start happening. Every time they stop thereafter, something weird takes place, and somebody ends up disappearing. Various family members drift in and out of catatonic shock or manic behavior, and the deserted night highway keeps stretching endlessly before them.

It's a familiar, but great, premise, with a good setup and a mostly effective follow-through. The actors all breathe life into their characters, giving us people with distinct personalities who we can care about, rather than cookie-cutter horror movie fodder. With perhaps one or two glaring exceptions, the characters all behave and react to their situation quite believably, and the gallows humor they spout from time to time seems like the natural by-product of being thrust into a confusing and frightening situation.

But allthough the film made me laugh a lot, and it managed to give me the creeps, it also ended up crossing the line into funny when it should have stayed in the creepy zone. Because of these frequent distractions, DEAD END just never quite ends up being as atmospheric and unsettling as it could have been - although it does achieve moments of this brilliantly, and without an excess of gore or cheap scare tactics. In some instances, the most frightening thing is the way in which certain characters react to their environment - such as when Laura, having apparently lost her mind, begins seeing ghostly figures along the highway. Although we are never shown these manifestations, her reaction to them is so credible that one can almost believe they are really there.

Aside from the uneven pacing and inappropriate moments of comedy, there are two things that really hamper DEAD END. Some of the music choices are really atrocious. One moment, the music will be moody and somber as the family vehicle's headlights carve their way down stretches of dark road. But then, inexplicably, the film will kick in with some really horrid rock music that sounds like something off of the SUPER TROOPERS soundtrack. But the film's biggest shortcoming is probably the ending - or rather, not ending the film a few minutes earlier, where it would have had the maximum effect. Instead, the filmmakers inexplicably wrap things up with a really cheesy and inept closing scene that wouldn't even be worthy of an episode of the vastly inferior new TWILIGHT ZONE series.

There's great promise in DEAD END, and a script that is often clever, combined with a carload of decent actors, really helps cover a multitude of flaws. Unfortunately, the film runs up against exactly what its title describes, when it should have left things as dark, creepy, and open-ended as the night highway its characters traverse.

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originally posted: 04/02/05 07:25:01
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User Comments

9/18/20 Steel lady He (Dean Measor) plays a newspaper photographer in it. You’re right, he’s uncredited. 4 stars
5/17/20 Trev C Dean Measor (uncredited) appears for a few seconds on this pretty poor 3 stars
7/25/17 TC Dean Measor (uncredited) appears for a few seconds on this pretty poor gore. 1 stars
5/04/12 jodie juhl FUNNY! I loved it, problem is can't find a copy for a halloween marathon 4 stars
11/20/10 ptri really....i completely agree about the music...but almost nothing else in this review 1 stars
11/15/10 TED I'm not sure about the positive comments this movie received but its obviously crap! 2 stars
10/19/06 David Pollastrini good gore. 4 stars
7/05/06 Suzy Beats Blair Witch all to hell, compelling horror and sickly hilarious 4 stars
11/23/05 Guy Delivers lots of scares and great suspense, the best of the road trip horror flicks. 5 stars
10/15/05 Gary It's "Jacob's Ladder" meets the "Machinest" but not as good as either. 3 stars
6/18/05 J Intelligent dark humor rollercoaster. The cast ROCKS. Watch past apparent "end" and THINK. 4 stars
4/04/05 Ric Best supernatural horror flick in years. This is "cover your eyes" scary! 5 stars
3/21/05 Kyle Entertaining & original. Ending sucked. Mick Cain most effective in his role. 4 stars
3/05/05 Kyle I liked it, but the ending - SO. FUCKING. PREDICTABLE. I wasn't even trying to predict it. 4 stars
2/20/05 lj indescribably BAD 1 stars
11/13/04 Shank blair witch meets highway 2 hell 4 stars
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  09-Nov-2004 (R)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2004



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