Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Starring Jack Huston, Pell James, Nick Searcy, Terry Becker
Directed by Graeme Whifler (interview)
Released by Wizard Entertainment
At its core, Deadly End (aka Neighborhood Watch) is a film about a poisoner. In this day and age of torture porn at the local multiplex and formulaic gorefest blowouts like Hatchet, one might reasonably ask how a movie about a poisoner could compete. Poisoning takes time, after all. And stealth. What could the story of a poisoner possibly entail? A wispy haired rogue in tights sneaking up to a minstrel dozing beneath a willow tree, whispering Shakespearian platitudes whilst pouring tincture of hemlock into his ear?
Better think again…
You want extreme, this is your movie! You’ve probably heard the hype about the audience fallout in festival screenings of Deadly End (back when it was called Neighborhood Watch), like the medics being called in when someone passed out when the movie played at Fantasia in Montreal (I was there, it’s true) and someone else breaking out in hives while watching it elsewhere.
This happened because Deadly End is a film that, simply put, goes farther than even a lot of us horror folks are typically used to going. Above and beyond isn’t the right way to phrase it – Deadly End is goes below and beneath; to those ugly places in the brain that we like to leave undisturbed. Director Graeme Whifler goes straight into these dark recesses and pokes around like a morbidly curious kid prodding a dead animal with a stick.
There’s a sense of perverse menace pretty much right away when you start watching this film. We’re brought into the new life of a young couple, Bob and Wendi, at their brand new home where the belongings aren’t even unpacked yet. Bob’s got a new job, they’re a young couple in love, it’s a scenario where the best days are meant to be ahead. But then, we’re immediately whisked away into the nightmare residence of neighbor Adrien Trumbull, a truly horrific guy who is lying back on his decrepit floor, his soiled, grimy shirt pulled up as he picks away at his … well, I don’t want to tell you what he’s doing because it’s something better seen than described.
Adrien Trumbull likes to “take care” of his neighbors; he’s the Welcome Wagon from hell. Our first glimpse of him doing that nasty business on the floor, while highly nauseating and unsettling, is only the tip of the poopsicle … Adrien’s got divine intervention in mind, a way to purify the dirty, stinky sex lives of people in his midst, like those young neighbors Bob and Wendi who just set up house across the road. He knows there’s something inside them that needs to be purged, something rotten and seething, something that’s poisoning their souls without them knowing it. And he’s going to make things right for them by all means necessary. Like all really formidable villains, Adrien doesn’t see what he’s doing as wrong. He thinks he’s helping people in his sickly dogmatic way.
The role of Adrien Trumbull is handled masterfully by actor Nick Searcy. This is a complete reversal from how I knew Searcy before, as Deputy Ben Healy in the criminally overlooked sinister TV series “American Gothic” which was, in my opinion, the only horror oriented show to rival “Twin Peaks” in both quality and originality. In “American Gothic”, Searcy was one of the good guys, and damn likeable in that kind of role. Here, in Deadly End? Yeesh … the man reveals that he is a total chameleon as an actor. His acting abilities have lead to the creation of one of the most vile screen villains of all time; I shit you not.
Searcy and his embodiment of Adrien Trumbull might be the thing you remember most about the film, but there’s plenty of other disturbed elements and narrative layers at play. Deadly End exists in a turbulent, unsettled world where pretty much every character and aesthetic attribute is messed up in some way. Any semblance of comfortable living is crushed or smeared into a distorted remnant of normality – the whole neighborhood in which the story is set is some kind of post-disaster tornado zone. The new home interior of the protagonists is in permanent unboxing mode, a mess of cluttered belongings and half painted walls. Adrien’s house would make a meth lab sprawling with tweakers seem tranquil by comparison.
Then there’s Zeecor, the company in which our hero Bob takes his new job. Zeecor is a hilariously depressing take on the worst realities of modern corporate existence, from needless drug testing to mewling and manipulative coworkers, to psycho-babes who sexually manipulate their way up the corporate ladder. Zeecor, like a lot of dull office jobs, isn’t so much a career as a lifelong trap posing as a career. The corporate satire in this movie feels like the American cousin to English weirdo-humorist Chris Morris’s “Blue Jam” surrealist comedy series.
But for most of Deadly End, it’s Adrien the creepy neighbor against Bob & Wendi, the unsuspecting newlyweds. The tale is rife with extreme schadenfreude, no excess is spared and no punches are pulled in what Adrien unleashes on this poor couple and others in the ‘hood. The bad things that unfold start very bad and somehow just keep getting worse. The dialing-up effect kinda grows on you like ringworm, and it’s not until you notice the brown itchy spiral halfway around your arm that you realize you’ve been infected with something really nasty.
In terms of pure visceral effect, the ability to churn stomachs, and generally freak people the fuck out, Deadly End could feasibly be placed in that dingy corner of the video store where they stock copies of Salo and Cannibal Holocaust. Not because of thematic parallels to either of those titles, more because this is a movie that’ll upset some people in a big way. On the other hand, for those with the fortitude to handle it, there’s an undeniably hilarity to the presentation that somehow remains queasy enough that it never stumbles into out-and-out horror/comedy territory. This movie is most definitely in a category of its own. The only other film I’ve seen in recent years that comes remotely close in tone and feel is the middle section of The Signal (review).
So, what of the features on this disc from Wizard? Thankfully it’s gotten itself a strong release here in the States, even if the marketing was less than ideal
Watch the film end-to-end a second time, if you can handle it, and you’ll get plenty of fun anecdotes about the source material and the behind the scenes from Graeme Whifler and Nick Searcy in the commentary. Screenwriter and big time Deadly End fan Matthew Chernov is on hand to ask all those things that a lot of people might be wondering about with regards to this film.
There’s also a “making of” doccuemntary that’s a funny and well done behind the scenes look co-helmed by Deadly End producer Jeff Kirshbaum. It looks like people working on this had a lot of fun. The interesting thing about this making-of is how ratty the makeup FX look even in non-polished video. A lot of the time, seeing prosthetics and so on in the daylight, they just look like props. Not here! Some of the FX stuff in this making-of rivals the movie in its icky disgustingness. And boy, does Nick Searcy ever get into his role. You’re practically getting a whole extra dose of Adrien in the making-of, so be sure to check it out.
There are also some behind-the-scenes photos, which are nothing special, just a handful of promo shots. Maybe a desktop for your computer if you want to do a screengrab…
Finally we have music tracks, which always seems like an odd inclusion to make on a DVD, because DVD movie releases aren’t usually what one reaches for when listening to music. Anyway, it’s a good soundtrack that reminds me of Danny Elfman mixed with The Residents. I especially like the tracks featuring the rabid banter of the fundamentalist radio host.
So if you have a strong stomach, what are you waiting for? Got a few meek friends and a sadistic streak? Grab some beers, a copy of this DVD, and get ready to cause devastation in your social scene. Including the risk of ostracism if you are complicit in one of your nearest and dearest breaking out in sores.
Deadly End is hands-down the most gruesome shock film of the new millennium. But it’s much more than that – it’s also one of the most uncompromising and original horror films ever made.
5 out of 5
4 out of 5
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