Dead End is an excellent example of what you can do on a low budget with a small cast and just a few locations. Mystery and horror are perfect genres to excel under these conditions, and the filmmakers here take full advantage, crafting a wonderfully paranoid, claustrophobic and eerie dream-like atmosphere. The movie is totally character driven, and we spend a lot of time getting to know and care about the main characters. The gore was minimal, but effective, and there is one truly horrifying gore effect (you will know it when you see it).
The plot involves a family of four (plus the daughter’s boyfriend) on their way to the mom’s relatives for Christmas Eve. The father (Ray Wise) decides to take the “scenic route” and after a near head-on collision with another vehicle in the first few minutes, they pick up a ghostly hitchhiker, and soon after, the horror begins. The family is seemingly trapped on a deserted, heavily forested country road, unable to find their way out… Saying anything more will spoil your enjoyment of the film. Watching the characters react to their steadily worsening situation is a true pleasure, as they convey the film’s sense of horror, shock and panic far better than any cheap gore effects or man in a rubber monster suit ever could. As the story progresses, the characters reveal dark secrets about themselves that really add to the fun… things they would not have said were things not looking so grim!
I really loved this movie, up to a point. The ending was predictable, clichéd and a big letdown after spending so much time invested in the characters trying to escape their fate. However, almost everything up to that point was a lot of fun, especially the dialogue, which was FANTASTIC. The main cast was GREAT, especially Ray Wise and the actress who played his daughter. Everyone was great except Steve Valentine, who apparently cannot act any different (or better) than his character on TV’s Crossing Jordan. The female doctor at the end wasn’t very good, either (I thought it was Shannon Tweed until I read the end credits!). Thankfully, these two don’t appear until the end, which kind of sucked anyway (though their rather poor acting didn’t help matters, it was ultimately the script’s fault).
The minimalist instrumental music is really creepy and worth mentioning.
I give Dead End an “8” out of 10. With a revised ending, it could have easily garnered a “9” or “10.” In a sea of brain-dead garbage “B” and grade “Z” horror movies, Dead End stands out at the front of the pack. I wish more low budget horror movies could be this finely crafted and intelligent. This movie is definitely highly recommended viewing for aspiring low budget filmmakers and horror fans.