Dead End (2003): Spooky, Disharmonious Conflict Hell Ride


Andrea and Canepa’s Dead End details a dysfunctional family’s hellish Christmas roadtrip. The road seems endless, and the hell becomes very real.

[NOTE: This article’s title is an homage to “outsider” music icon Wesley Willis, who has an album of the same name.]

Some families get along just fine. Their road trips are festive, joyous occasions. For these families, no one’s going to get killed under baffling, supernatural circumstances. Unfortunately, this does not describe the Harringtons — a classic American dysfunctional family who seem bound for destruction.

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Who is the family? There’s the father, Frank Harrington (Ray Wise), whose detour seems to start this whole mess. You also have his wife, Laura (Lin Shaye), who tries to appear stable — despite always nearing emotional meltdown. Then there’s the daughter, Marion (Alexandra Holden), who’s wanting to break up with her boyfriend, Brad (Billy Asher). Last but not least (though certainly the worst) is the bratty brother, Richard (Mick Cain). Richard just oozes filthy comments, condescension and regrettable behavior. Sure, we can all be like Richard sometimes, but we should never be like him, ever!

Other than that, there’s a mysterious “Woman in White” (Amber Smith), whose presence seems to lead to trouble, and also that damn road. Where does the road go? Why doesn’t it stop? Can the Harrington’s survive it?

Best Aspects of Dead End

Ray Wise and Amber Smith, Dead End

In my opinion, Dead End‘s main strengths lie with Lin Shaye and Ray Wise’s performances, even more than the horror elements. Actually, at times I think the film could be redone without the horror elements. Shaye and Wise essentially prop the movie up, keep it engaging, and don’t let it back down again. I’m not saying the other actors are bad, or that the movie sucks otherwise, but they clearly are a key to it’s success.

The horror aspects are pretty solid in Dead End, though they require suspension of disbelief. It’s the kind of movie where, if you embrace WTF moments, you’ll be fine.  Maybe it won’t knock your socks off, but you may want those on anyway.

Worst Aspects of Dead End

Although I like the movie, I feel it should have ended differently, to be honest. I won’t spoil it here, but it seemed like it took a bit of a wrong turn. I also think that, at times, Richard Harrington was a bit unbelievable, and didn’t seem to fit in with the family. It may be a black sheep dynamic, but he seems like a deliberately hateable character. At times he feels like a distraction. Finally, the character of Marion didn’t really stand out much, although she’s ostensibly the main character.

Is It Worth It?

I would say, yes, Dead End is good overall.  Despite my little nit-picky critiques above, this is definitely one for horror fans.

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How about you? Do you like Dead End, or do you think it lives up to its title? Tell us now!