A very interesting and fun idea for the killer in a slasher film is Jeff Burton’s latest film idea. Burton, the creator or Terror at Baxter U and Invitation, now makes his third feature length presentation in the form of Dead End Road. This ill-fitting title only glances upon the untapped potential and the extremely fun motives behind the gore, murder, and mayhem that ensue.
The Poe Killer, AKA Andrew Bird, is a seriously disturbed man. He likes to kill his victims according to the stories and deaths found in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the great early19th century gothic writer. Andrew Bird, having killed his mother and stepfather at an early age, is now on the loose torturing victims, and has been for the past three years. When young model Heather Makepiece goes missing, the FBI decides its time to pass the case down from one detective Burt Williams and into the hands of his young and eager FBI agent daughter Kris Williams. Burt, realizing he can do nothing more, takes a position at a local college. Kris is determined to catch the killer herself, even if it means taking some risks…
Well, what are we left with? A really interesting killer, a really good actress playing Kris Williams (Anita LeSelva), and a fairly original plot that centers on a father’s love for his daughter and the fight for survival. Now, this doesn’t sound like a regular horror film, does it? It sounds better. Which is why I don’t understand why Jeff Burton felt the need to throw in a set of college students hell-bent on spending the night in a scary old supposedly haunted house (you guessed it; the Poe Killer shows up there). This traditional subplot undermines everything that Dead End Road sets up as fascinating and original. The characters are the same as in every slasher film, the deaths are cliché, and the motive of Andrew Bird (the Poe Killer) to commit his heinous crimes in the name of all that is Poe goes unexplored. The reason for this, as the filmmaker told me, was to possibly go into the life of the killer as a young man in the prequel, which may or may not ever come out at all. Good thinking, but it might have been better to concentrate on how to make this story better than future spin-offs.
The cast is quite good, despite the annoying college kids who run amuck in the abandoned house. Agents Bruce and Kris Williams are incredibly well cast, Bill Vincent and Anita LeSelva are both talented, albeit sullied, by the subject matter and the sporadic script. Two of the main cast members, touted as stars but really just brilliant cameos, include Dee Wallace Stone (The Howling, E.T.) and Dennis Haskins (Professor Belding from Saved by the Bell). Dee Wallace is intense and heart wrenching as Mrs. Makepiece, who makes a sad plea for her daughter’s life on national television. Haskins is her bereaved husband. Their short but sweet appearance adds some credibility to the film in general and they do take their small, but important, roles quite seriously.
So, Where did Andrew Bird gain his obsession with Poe? Who told him that dressing in a top hat, cane, and cloak made him look like Poe? How does he manage to keep his clothes and curled hair straight while committing heinous bloody murder? The truth is that Andrew Bird comes off more as a supervillian of Batman (the series) fame than he does a serial killer. Spouting one-liners that King Tut or The Joker would be proud of, and regaling his victims with ill-timed Poe quotes, he’s just not that frightening. When the villain of a story fails to frighten the viewer, no amount of cameos, direction, or writing will make it so.
Dead End Road (as I said before, in my opinion, a strange title for this film), makes a valiant effort and succeeds in many ways, but just can’t deliver the horror to us so that we scream, cry, and fear for our lives or the lives of the characters. In fact, I was often cheering for the psychopath, because he seemed like such a fun guy to discuss poetry with. Frankly, at this point, if anyone spends the night in a supposedly abandoned house, or even goes near it, they deserve everything they get. In fact, if the killer misses one, I’ll do it for him.