Dead End (2003)

You think your family has dysfunctional issues around Christmas, try spending a supernatural road trip to nowhere with the Harringtons in the hidden gem holiday horror flick Dead End, a clever, gory, darkly hilarious and altogether deranged piece that should have gotten way more attention. This family has packed up to head to the in-laws for Christmas dinner and headed out onto a shortcut off the interstate that proves to be anything but convenient. In fact it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere except in one never ending straight line cutting through a vast forest, and soon they are preyed upon by a mysterious lady in white (Amber Smith) and a sinister black hearse that glides through the night. Mom and dad Harrington (Ray Wise & Lin Shaye) constantly bicker about nothing in particular, their son and daughter (Mick Cain & Alexandra Holden) are also at each other’s throats and soon the rising tension of being lost in an endless netherworld of road and trees really starts to put a collective damper on this clan’s capacity for Yuletide cheer. This is low budget and as such has a down to earth, tactile and modest feel to the special effects but where it really excels is in script and acting. The dialogue is impossibly juicy, intimidatingly sarcastic and relentlessly funny. Each cast member goes through a complete mental breakdown at some point in the story and the manic meltdowns one might experience in a heightened situation like that eerily mirror those of simply being forced to eat Christmas dinner sat with your relatives. Ray Wise and Lin Shaye are old pros and have a blast going absolutely holiday bonkers in their roles, they are both known for being kind of larger than life and outlandish in their portrayals (he works for David Lynch frequently, she’s a longtime Farrelly brothers collaborator) but this little unknown indie horror might just showcase both at the height of their scenery chewing glory. It’s a spooky, atmospheric little piece that has just the right amount of holiday themed black comedy without veering into actual Christmas movie territory and still retaining a mostly horror-centric flavour. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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