Last House on Hell Street Film Details
Overview: Within this small house, hidden in the deep, dark woods, is an evil force. It can infect one’s soul and drive men to madness. Kyle falls victim to this entity from the house. Now possessed,…
Tagline: Where the nightmares of the mind…and the pain of the flesh collide.
Review: “The Mother” (Robin Garrels), who appears to be from the late 1800s, is killed by “The Father” (John Specht), after she gives birth to Kyle (Schmack Virgin). I didn’t quite make out what was supposed to be wrong with Kyle that caused “The Father’s” rage, but by appearances, maybe it was that Kyle was born a redneck in the late 20th Century. The death of “The Mother” causes her to turn into a perpetually present, annoying narrator with the ghost-like power to untie a knot in a rope as long as it’s not too substantial. There is some silent-film like material about Kyle and his fiancée Jessica (Leah Schumacher), and something about Kyle becoming possessed, putting Jessica in danger etc. First, before I start the review proper, let me say that I really like the name “Schmack Virgin”. In an ideal world, it would be the name of a long lost member of the band Throbbing Gristle (worth checking out if you’re unfamiliar with them and you’re into weird stuff). This reference has more significance than you might think for this film, but more on that in a minute. Although Last House on Hell Street still earns an “F” (1 through 4 is “F” territory in my rating system), it’s a big improvement over producer/director/actor Specht and writer/actor/composer Garrels’ film Insaniac (2002). Garrels still can’t seem to write a story to save her life, and her performance is still horrible (as is every other actors’ performance here), but there are things that Specht and Garrels get right, if you view the film in a certain way. Admittedly, Garrels may not be trying to tell a traditional story here–in literature about both this and Insaniac, as well as some material actually in the film, it is suggested that Garrels is trying to take a more poetic approach, but in that case, why is most of Last House on Hell Street constructed as if it has a traditional story, but just not a very extensive or good one? Poetic intent is fine, but ability needs to be exceptional to pull it off in a low budget film like this. I suggest that Garrels should work on learning how to write an engaging story. Mix more poetic elements in with that, but tell a more linear, pithy story that an audience can get interested in. A self-aware sense of humor might help, too. But, I mentioned that there are positive qualities to this film. If one forgets about the almost non-existent story, it easy to watch Last House on Hell Street as an occasionally effective minimalist music video. Although we’re still just dealing with home video cameras, Specht and crew actually achieve some interesting visuals. Most of the film is shot and edited using various “extended techniques”, including negative images, intentional blurriness and grain, intriguing shifts and lines in the frame and so on. All of it worked for me. Further, there is a better production design sense in this film compared to Insaniac, with some nice set-ups in the basement of the titular house (which is really more in “Hell Field”), and a great scene featuring Kyle being reborn through a bizarre symbolic vagina that’s part Cronenberg, part Blair Witch. There is also lighting apparent in some shots, unlike Insaniac, and occasionally it is fairly artistic. Part of watching the film this way is the music, obviously. Although Garrels and David Burnett’s compositions, when they attempt anything more traditional and tonal, tend to sound very amateur (neither seem very sophisticated with traditional melody, harmony or rhythm), the music is actually pretty good whenever they move closer to Throbbing Gristle-meets-Brian Eno territory, and that’s the bulk of the music in the film. To get value out of the film as a minimalist music video, you have to be a fan of that kind of stuff (Gristle and Eno) as well as Stockhausen, John Cage, Steve Reich’s early work, John Zorn, and so on. The extended technique visual style parallels that sensibility. Of course, a lot of people dislike that kind of music and “flashy” cinematography, so these elements will not be saving graces for them. If you don’t have the disposition or calm/patience to enjoy Eno’s Thursday Afternoon (1984), you’re not going to like this film either. But there are a couple other things Specht does right. One is the opening murder scene. While it’s not exactly well acted or very elaborate in terms of special makeup effects, it’s staged and shot well enough that it’s pretty effective. There are a couple great locations (such as the river) that were well shot and should have been used more. And there is a slight amount of gratuitous nudity, which I’m always happy to see. However, none of that is enough to bring the film up to a “D” (a 6), or even to make the film “so bad it’s good” (a 5). It’s not bad/ridiculous enough for that. Plus for most of the things done right, there are things done wrong. The awful storytelling negates the admirable minimalist music video. A ridiculously amateur zoom in and out shot of the moon negates more professional shots in the basement. The extremely padded opening and closing credits (to achieve an actual running time around 67 minutes, not the stated 70) and the horrible pacing for the story negate the few clever montages. The half-assed insertion of a couple ancillary characters (one who gets bonked in the head while he has a metal bucket on it, providing one of the film’s only humorous (though unintentionally so) moments) negates itself. You might think the film sounds worth checking out for its badness, but do yourself a favor and avoid that unless the music video sounds like something you might like.
Duration: 70 min
Also known as: Last House on Hell Street,Beyond the Last House on the Left