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Dead End (2002)
Writers and directors: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Febrice Canepa

review by Steven Hampton
Spoiler alert!
Lately, our cinemas and home screens alike have been deluged with grisly and uncanny visions of both the undead and the death-obsessed, as zombies abound (see 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn Of The Dead) and maniacal ghouls lurk in every unmapped small town and along every dirt track off the highway (Wrong Turn, House Of 1,000 Corpses, and the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre). There's also the ought-to-be dead (Final Destination), the wannabes (FearDotCom, Long Time Dead, Uzumaki), and - most relevant here - the dead who don't know it yet: checkout the noir-ish mysteries of Identity, and the wartime trench horrors of Deathwatch, which must be considered as part and parcel of the recent, fresh exploration of this film's unburied horror subgenre.

Dead End is about the last day on Earth of bickering Frank and Laura (Ray Wise, and Lin Shaye), their psychologist daughter Marion (Alexandra Holden), and obnoxious wastrel of a son Richard (Mick Cain), and Marion's cringingly 'nice' boyfriend Brad (Billy Asher). They are travelling away from home to spend Christmas holidays with relatives when they unknowingly take a detour on the road to nowhere. You should already be familiar with the evil dead. Here you can meet the unsuspecting dead. Stuck on a meandering but circuitous route through claustrophobic forest, Ray drives on and on, searching in vain for a telephone (of course, their mobiles cannot get a signal), a ranger's station, or any sign of civilisation. Soon, a gliding, almost-spectral hearse stalks our hapless crash victims, and it only stops long enough to carry off new passengers, one by one...

Buxom blonde Amber Smith is this weird tragicomedy's erotic lure as the Lady in White, a traumatised siren/survivor carrying a baby's corpse. Amusingly, the twisted remains of the first 'roadkill' victim are not seen on-camera, yet the family's shocked reactions to the appalling sight are actually more effective as a gross-out scene than anything that even the most proficient body effects' creators could possibly have contrived. The family's sins (infidelity, theft, drug abuse) and regrets (parental neglect, for starters) return to haunt them during the ill-fated journey, resulting in some knowingly half-farcical yet nonetheless poignant episodes of personal revelations and true confessions. Steve Valentine appears towards the film's surprisingly weak conclusion as the supposedly malevolent 'Man in Black' - purportedly Death himself, of course. Despite its predictability and other flaws (the mood is rather uneven at times), Dead End is still an enjoyable black comedy ride-along road movie that compares quite favourably to previous 'death-dream' and psychic-purgatory dramas, like the low-budget Brain Dead (1990), although it's not as absorbing or fascinating as supernatural serial-killer thriller Jeepers Creepers, or even cult favourite Race With The Devil (1975).
Dead End

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