We begin with the sound of bickering as we’re introduced to Frank and Laura Harrington (Wise and Shaye) who we discover are running late to Laura’s parents for the holiday season. Sitting impatiently in the back is their son Richard (Mick Cain), daughter Marion (Alexandra Holden) and her boyfriend Billy (Brad Miller).
Following a near collision caused by Frank dozing off at the wheel, he admits to Laura that he decided to avoid the interstate this year and take the back roads for a change. This alternate route though just doesn’t seem to have an end, and as Frank grows increasingly impatient he stops the car when he sees a woman in the nearby forest dressed head to toe in white, holding a baby. The mysterious woman appears to be injured as there’s a cut to her forehead and she appears to be in shock, so without hesitation Frank asks his daughter to give up her seat in the car while the family make the quick drive to a cabin that they have just passed to drop the woman there in the hope of finding assistance – both for the woman and for advice on how to get back to the interstate.
Before long however, we find that our group of festive travellers have been split up with Marion pounding the road back from where they found the woman in white, Frank and Laura are investigating the cabins interior, Billy is left in the car attempting to converse with the rescued lady, while Richard has slipped off into the woods for some sneaky self-gratification! In this moment, everything is about to change and the Harrington family are about to endure a sinister and terrifying Christmas Eve.
Dead End succeeds on a multitude of levels. Firstly, there’s an air of menace that pervades the movie throughout which is thoroughly unnerving, heightened in my opinion by the sheer simplicity of the film. After all, it’s a movie about a family driving a car on an endless road – a basic concept, but with the addition of some visceral imagery like a menacing and mysterious black car, it raises the tension to sometimes unbearable levels. Secondly, the inclusion of jet black comedy provides us with moments of uneasy laughter that seem unsuited to such a frightening film, yet manage to compliment the sense of unease just perfectly.
Finally, vast amount of credit is due to the two leads who fit the roles to perfection. Ray Wise brings charisma and cynicism as the head of the family, while Lin Shaye is a perfect foil who happens upon a moment of total insanity in the film which is delivered with jaw-dropping perfection. Dead End is a movie that comes highly recommended, and to me it’s a feature that I have close at hand at all times as there is now generation of people who are yet to have it grace their DVD player. If you’re one of these folk, put it to the top of your ‘to watch’ pile as it’s an 80 minute thrill ride with more invention and originality than most mainstream horror can muster in a calendar year.