Shadows of the Mind: The Roger Watkins Series // Essay

Shadows of the Mind: The Roger Watkins Series // Essay

The guilty will die in shallow ponds of blood splattered in streaks on wet grass. I’ll paint my face: red lines, black rot smeared messy, and a field of memory like a morning snowfall blotting out a flute’s hollow simmer at dawn. I’ve been released to live among thought.

These are the conditions of deception when I don’t want to live with the smudge of who I once was or will be.


The therapeutics of expiation didn’t work.

I’ve seen him drown.

Not being able to save father from choking on water.

I’m wearing a white dress.

The struggling immobility of a riverbank.

I’ll grate on your ears.

And the haunt of family blood.

How much am I worth?

A mind consumed by its own propensity to slay and smiling, slay and smile.

I’ll slit your throat.


Roger Watkins, directing under pseudonym, disowned this film. I heard that the husband of the lead actress, in an attempt to salvage a faltering relationship, cast his wife as the lead in the film. She helped pen the film, too.

Shadows of the Mind is about Elise, a young woman, institutionalized for years after suffering the trauma of being unable to save her mother and father from drowning in a small body of water near their secluded mansion home. Now, released by her doctor, she confronts the past of her estate, but is soon visited by her greed-stricken step-brother, who tries to drive her mad, only to fall prey to her blade when she is pushed over the edge. She was never healed. Memories burst to violence. She murders everyone in the film.


This film is not only about guilt, but what happens when deception escalates to a state of chaotic paranoia; it is the true enactment of how Evil wells up, overtakes, and blots out rationality under duress, under the throes of manipulation. This is a melodramatic slash of the scythe in which the violation is the consequence of torment, of what happens when trauma is restimulated in an unstable individual with no network of support.


Affix electrodes to the cranial vortex. Release and breathe in sputters. Become black tar expanding to a zone. The drip surfaces the longer I stare at the fluttering specks of dark red pulsating under clenched eyeballs. Unclench. The drip swells to a wall of stabbing heat. There are no walls in this room. All thoughts are dark circulations. This is the face of our emptiness.


Now, you’re ready to leave this place.


A mother and father, arms flailing in water, this room of the mind stained in sepia tones. A screaming child, the patient. The lush gray of autumn. The creaking of a swing. The father pushes and smiles. Now, the doctor says, you’re ready to leave this place. She’s been pushing herself needlessly for all these years. That’s the diagnosis. Years of learning how to remember. With clarity. Through tears. You can see the past if you leave your eyes open in the dark. Shut your eyes. There is a lawn. A piano. A flute. And when she enters the house of her youth, she must move slowly and listen as if she can hear the dead sing through the walls: a birthday party, a stepmother, a framed photograph. Elise, please help us. This is how the dead speak. These are the shadows of her mind. Perhaps the photograph acts as a hypnotic trigger. And the phone rings, the groundskeeper lingering in the doorway. He laughs and it’s wrong to laugh. He doesn’t sound right. His room is filled with cut-out images of naked women, an assemblage of pornographic pictures. Later, the groundskeeper sharpens his knife in the backyard and smiles and stares at Elise. He watches her walk. She walks to the riverbank. If she can just get through the next few days. Giggling inside. And the doctor. The doctor can’t stop thinking about his patient. The therapeutic properties of Thorazine. A blue dress slipping to the floor. I could use a little therapy myself. The sound of a scythe slashing weeds in the backyard. It’s morning. The voices trickle through her mind. That sepia toned vortex overtaking her thoughts in the moments before waking. She’s crouched in the corner by an air vent. She’s running to the backyard, stumbling. She’s at the riverbank watching the boat tip. A white hat floats in the water.


The brother: a murderer. Brother, will you murder me? You’re not my real brother.


Am I treading on sacred ground? Elise and her stepbrother debate the validity of her therapy in the basement. I don’t need anybody’s help. Elise’s voice cracks. The basement as lucidity. The basement as the unconscious made conscious misery. The brother’s plan is to escalate his sister’s insanity with the purpose of having her committed. The groundskeeper shines his scythe with a rag. He strokes the scythe. A windowpane. A greenhouse full of dead plants, leaves, and dirt. Elise studies an empty pot that sings Happy Birthday. She sees herself as a woman in white. A young daughter. The ghost of who she once was. She drops the pot, dusts cobwebs from a window. The groundskeeper stands outside the window, screams at her. A maniac, she pulls his hair and shrieks. The brother watches her madness from afar. Later, the groundskeeper is slain by his own scythe, but not by his own hand. Blood gushes from his throat. He dies, lies down in the leaves, clutching shut his wound. His inability to scream further. Blood thick like jellied camouflage.


Doctors should never arrive at night with women who arrive uninvited to secluded mansions in the woods with women who look like stepmothers.

Doctor, you shouldn’t have, says the stepbrother.

Elise listens from a darkened stairwell somewhere in the house. She wears red slacks, red blouse, and scarf. She doesn’t speak when introduced, doesn’t look at the doctor’s fiance, doesn’t want to confront the feeling of envisioning the fiance for the stepmother, her object of hate.

There’s someone, somehwere, for everybody.

But a storm’s been summoned; the doctor’s car won’t start, thus locking the four into the secluded mansion for the night.

The fiance undresses in the white bathroom. The bedroom walls are flecked with black flowers. She slips down her slacks. Panties and heels. Shut the door. Lock the door. Lie on the bed. Make love in the house of the patient. Elise watches from the doorway, the brutal nest of passion unfolding as a sepia nightmare.


And the groundskeeper’s body hangs in the elevator. Grey walls. Hallways and the blue reflection of the moon on white doors. Elise wears a white gown, make-up and pigtails. She stabs her stepbrother in the eye. One should never wander down the halls of such a house at night. Beige walls. Walls with no paintings. Stark as if this is the new becoming. Open the door. Switch on the lamp. There is a bedroom with a dead body. There are curtains lit by white. The doctor is suddenly small in a house that is too big for therapy. Open the black door. White slats in the pantry. Elise locks the doctor in room, thus severing any possibility of healing. The only healing this night offers is the redemptive power of murder. And the fiance. She wanders the halls in search of her lover, the doctor. The frame is black. She comes upon a room with a bed. A lamp lit softly. Elise slashes her across the chest with a kitchen knife, drags the body through the hall as if smearing a poem made of blood. The doctor pounds on the door of his locked room. Elise drags the fiance outside to the dirt and the grass. Toward the water where her family died. Elise’s face is painted like a doll. Like a clown. Like this is all some kind of performance therapeutics. She screams at the fiance. Never seeing her for who she is, but for the stepmother. And this is her release. She douses the fiance’s body in gasoline and laughs. The gasoline is a metaphor for water. She burns the fiance, cleansing herself in the fire of her memories. The flames purge the hate, the jealousy, the guilt of never having been able to save her family. To marry her father. And now, she’s alone with the doctor. Now, she is back at the hospital. Barred windows. White sheets in a bare room. She weeps as the memory of her family’s death plays out with truth. The truth is that she murdered her family, that it was she who caused their death on that fateful day. This is why she weeps. This is her delusion. A trap unfixable.

The Last House on Dead End Street (the Roger Watkins Series)

The Last House on Dead End Street (the Roger Watkins Series)

Break windows and enter. Nail shut all the doors. Show them how violence is done. After prison. After being left to rot under cement. And think of the flesh. Make art that will make the oppressors bleed and cry for blood, plead on their backs or wobbly knees, and wallow in the remembrance of hate. This is a creative act: alterial wounds, a deer hoof unsucked by lips, sucked lies, the lights and reels, an invitation to artful snuff as healing vengeance.

This complex is a hazy face, an abandoned labyrinth of whips.

This mental weather is a hollowed out brain in love with the slow violence of unspooling film. Of a film within a film.

And, no, this is not a house, unless houses become such when filled with miserable slaps to the ear, saws whirring hot blood-to-skin action, ill-lit. There are too many stairs. Too many cameras giggling reels behind doors. We need to pretend to hurt you until we hurt you, and, be sure, we will hurt you.




A VHS copy of The Last House on Dead End Street is unearthed from a box of similarly unmarked videocassettes dropped near a dumpster in the parking lot of a non-violence non-profit in Binghampton, New York. The tape is marked by two red circular smears on the front of the tape, and the recipient only discovers the film by accident as the tape slices into the film’s opening sequence preceded by twenty-seven minutes of home video footage of a cement cell: bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, the sound of water dripping through unseen pipes (barely audible), the clatter of tools scraping metal, footsteps pacing behind the camera. Waiting. Breathing. And, suddenly, the swelling of the film’s title over black slams into focus, stuttery throughout. The film’s quality crackles with grains and pops, white lines of wear like ghost-veins staining (or enhancing) the experience. And what better experience of Roger Watkins’s first film than something discarded and erroneously found, for this is the cinema of what is thrown away, discarded, obliterated. Of what is ignored until the subject itself wreaks his revenge through the act of framing his spite. He will show you how much he hates you. He will place himself in the center of this torture and abuse himself by being caught in the act.

The red smears on the tape will be forgotten. The recipient will eventually tape over the film, which is only proper given the nature of the film’s haunting prophecy, a message once uttered by the King of Denmark, himself, who spoke from beyond the grave, saying, “Remember me.” And we will. And Watkins, too. This film is what happens when you are forgotten, when what you are seeking lies in the dregs of extremity. There is nothing fun about this film.




Lie down. Lie down and rest, little deer. There is no way out of the maze.  




But the original title of the film was apparently The Cuckoo Clocks Of Hell, its runtime doubled from the version we are able to experience today, the original cut lost to the folds of time, a punishment of Fate, perhaps, for this display of blessed vileness captured by Watkins as director, actor, producer. Most of the names in the credits are fake, its budget purportedly spent on drugs. On clocks and doors. I heard there was scene in the film where a character flees through the underground hallways, opening door upon door upon door only to emerge in a room in his own house, thus warping the sense of place (and time) that the film already manipulates. This scene was cut. I can only imagine the profundity of this scene, though, and how it would serve to escalate the insanity that plays out in the film’s third act of violence. I think it would add a necessary sense of unreality to a film that subjects its viewers to a starkness seeped in nihilistic performance art. There would be something sublime in this escalation of being lost.




The story is thus: Terry Hawkins, a drug-addicted youth, just released from prison, vows vengeance on those who oppressed him through the creation of a snuff film that he plays off as fake.




This was not the first Roger Watkins film that I saw, though it is his most well known. After another pseudonymous directorial venture with Shadows of the Mind, Watkins would spend the rest of his career directing pornographic films. If we look at The Last House on Dead End Street through the lens of pornography, we find that Watkins, even from the outset was already there, for there is no turning away in this film. When Watkins takes us to the basement operating table, he allows us to enter the chaotic bloodletting of amateur surgery. Even in the film’s first act set-up, he lets us know his intentions. We follow him as the foreplay of the violence to come. But this is not simply a work of “torture pornography.” This is not just a snuff-like film depicting the circumstances and execution of the creation of a snuff film. Watkins character, Terry Hawkins, in the recruitment of his cast of masked murderers, plays with an erotism embodied in Hawkins’ manifestation as an intensely sexual young man with a proclivity to destroy the lives of his oppressors through a violence of the body.

In one scene, Watkins lies under the bed of an unknown couple. The scene is filmed as softcore pornography with one exception. Watkins is not simply lying under the bed as a voyeur. Prior to the couple’s entrance into the room, we see a phallus-like thrusting welling up from the boxspring. The thrusting could, at first glance, be that of a sexual deviant, but suddenly a large knife jabs up from a hole in the mattress, a knife being wielded by Watkins. The knife retracts and the couple enters. They continue to make love on the bed. Everything about their tender actions is marred by the presence of Watkins under the bed. We don’t know if or when he will strike. He does not strike in the scene, but given the hidden nature of things and the set-up that we know is there, we can assume that he does. We can assume that the corruptive nature of Watkin’s work is on full display in this film. What can be worse than being fucked by a knife?




My grandfather shot a deer and hung the deer in our garage. A bucket was placed below the deer to catch the blood, a blade used to slice open the deer. The deer dripped in the bucket. Meat was eventually scraped out from the inside. My grandfather broke the deer’s bones, and stuffed the carcass in a black garbage bag. It was autumn and the sky hung in crisp and blue shivers.




The Last House on Dead End Street is Watkins’s most excessive piece of work, even given his extensive experience in the production of pornography that would follow, a film that unrelentingly exposes viewers to a fleshy interiority of the vitality of a violence that explodes, keeps exploding through the simulation of sex, through the blood and blades, through the labyrinthine corridors and smokey offices of exploitative producers. The slain animals. Animals in the act of copulation. A fiercely psychotic narrator. The lens of what it feels like to orgasm spurts of a stranger’s blood, and weaken, and never stop. Never satiated. Perhaps, Watkins’ excessiveness is kept alive through his characters’ inability to feel joy without harm. In this cinematic universe, the only sense of happiness possible comes from bashing someone’s skull in with a lead pipe or a deer hoof.




Pull out the guts, spill blood in soft patterns on the floor like poems to honor the dead. They’ve never seen a film like this, a film to enhance the feeling of what it will be like to die. Make them die, Terry. Bury their lives under the click of your camera. Brings masks to the party. Bring switchblade knives and women who like to hit to the party and listen for the tick.

I hear my grandfather in the walls. I hear a stack of tapes being smashed in a cement room. I’m in a parking lot at night. I’m climbing the hill to the university. We’ll make it look like a sanitarium of roses. I’ll hold your hand, help you down the stairs. I’ll frame you in front of a window in autumn. In winter, the colder the better. The colder the hotter my touch when I knock on the door and sleep in your bed.

In the end, we’ll all become streets of horror. There is nothing fake in the enaction of the extreme. To be lucid. To be master.

To find yourself drugged on set, speed-shrieking the director.

Howl for me.  

To wander streets that end in death.

I’m a dead deer fucking the tears of guilt.

The tick.

The tape, destroyed.

Taste red smears and swallow.

I can feel it.

Keep walking.

There is one house.

We’ll call it the last house.

The rest will be cells and sleep and death.

We’ll never leave.

We’ll become shadows and text.

Utter obliteration.