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  End of the Road Hell Is Other People
Year: 1970
Director: Aram Avakian
Stars: Stacy Keach, Harris Yulin, Dorothy Tristan, James Earl Jones, Grayson Hall, Ray Brock, John Pleshette, Gail Gilmore, Maeve McGuire, Norman Simpson, Graham Jarvis, June Hutchinson, Joel Oppenheimer, James Coco, Oliver Clark, Terry Southern, M. Emmet Walsh
Genre: Comedy, Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jacob Horner (Stacy Keach) graduates from university with an English degree but instead of celebrating with his peers he walks straight off the campus, sheds his robes, and winds up at a railway station. He asks the man behind the counter how far the money in his pocket would take him, and is told, unaware that his spacey demeanour has the ticket operator fingering the trigger of the gun he keeps below the desk. Then Jacob stands on the platform, but doesn't get on any of the trains which arrive, staring ahead of him, unresponsive and blank-faced: he's having a catatonic episode, and only one man can help him.

Well, maybe not so much help as guide to a different way of life, in this, one of the weirdest cult movies ever made. It was rarely seen in its original release, having been smacked with an X certificate in the United States and never even submitted for exhibition in the United Kingdom, such was the controversial nature of its subject matter and imagery, and in fact the most exposure it received over the years was from a clip of it being shown on one of David Bowie's television screens during The Man Who Fell to Earth, leading more than one viewer to wonder what that strange Stacy Keach movie was. The answer was one perhaps even more peculiar than the Nicolas Roeg effort.

Here was a film which could not have been made at any other time, 1970 was ideal for it when the counterculture and many protestors were calling into question the American way of life, giving rise to more celebrated works than this - The Graduate, Easy Rider - but for a production which took a long, hard look at what was passing for polite society back then and finding it a nightmarish ordeal, director Aram Avakian's conclusions were hard to beat. Even watching it now, the state of alienation Jacob is enduring may strike a chord if you've ever watched the news, or even had too many conversations with people far from your wavelength, and wondered if you really are part of the human race, or if you are, whether you can get that membership rescinded.

Keach put in a superb performance in among the mayhem as his character's inner turmoil manifests itself in a search for meaning - he doesn't do this through opening his mind with drugs, however, as he is already on the fringes of sanity and perception thanks to his mental illness. No, what he gets is a jolt from Doctor D, a maverick psychiatrist in an incredible reading of the role by James Earl Jones; the Doc is possibly off his rocker too, sort of a R.D. Laing stand-in only if anything even more out there in his methods. For him, encouraging his patients to have sex with each other - and chickens - is a great idea for soothing their troubled souls, and his asylum out in the country is where Jacob is deposited, undergoing therapy in Doctor D's special office where recordings of explosions play and photographs of mutant babies and dead bodies are projected on the walls.

Quite how this is supposed to make Jacob feel better is unclear (he and the psychiatrist even have a wrestling match at one point), but given this was co-written from John Barth's blackly comic novel by satirist Terry Southern you can imagine they were aiming for laughs up to a point, though you are just as likely to be baffled, even disturbed, by what you see. Jacob is released, though stays in contact with the Doc, and wins a job at a school teaching students English where he meets Harris Yulin's scoutmaster and his spouse Rennie (director's wife Dorothy Tristan) who he begins an affair with, possibly because he feels sorry for her treatment at the hands of her husband. The tone settles down relative to what has gone before during this latter stage, though it's merely lulling you into a false sense of security as it leads up to the world's worst abortion, but that sense that modern life has gone insane and the sanest response is to go mad with it conjures up an atmosphere of danger, despair and, if you can find it, bleak amusement. It's not an unqualified success, but there's little like it.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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