“Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the Big Bad Wolf. What frightens us today is what frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf”-Alfred Hitchcock
End of the Road (written and directed by J. Spencer) takes us to a small Montana diner where waitress, Betsy (Tatum Langton, Grey’s Anatomy), befriends a strange drifter, passing through town. The strange man (Daniel Van Thomas), looking wilted and gaunt – like a zombie extra – is not a man at all. As the full moon nears, Betsy and a diner full of people are running out of time. In a matter of minutes, the vagabond will turn, and eviscerate any human he sees.
When we first meet Betsy, trudging along in the snow, she seems hard, independent. At first glance, she looks like a Final Girl, tough leather, smoky eyes, and pepper spray. Betsy seems like the type of girl who could take down Freddy Krueger with a kitchen knife. But past the hard exterior and black eyeliner, is a subtle, yet bright, red hood. Is Betsy a modern, kickass Red Riding Hood? From what we know of Red Riding Hood, she doesn’t make it to the end of the story. En route to deliver cake and wine to her sick grandmother, Little Red Riding Hood gets brutally murdered, by a wolf in human clothing. The original story was a cautionary tale, as all horror is, teaching young girls not to stray from the path.
In the American children’s watered-down version, a woodcutter bursts on scene, saving the girl and her dear grandmother. But in the real story, the actual tale, the wolf slaughters two generations of gullible women, then falls asleep, next to their corpses. Hinting subtly at the real Red Riding Hood, who was torn apart by a ruthless beast, paints Betsy in an entirely new light. Seeing that red hood, gives new meaning to the opening scene of End of the Road. If Betsy is another Red Riding Hood, her trust will get her killed. And according to the rules of horror, if there is no Final Girl, everybody dies.
Spoiler alert. Everybody dies.
The short film opens with a quote, “Tis a silly sheep that makes the wolf her confessor,” from a French proverb. The adage speaks to the duality of man–that behind every Dr. Jekyll there is a Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hide? How did I just get that? So corny. While monster movies can be cheesy, End of the Road is not. It has an eerie House of Wax meets Psycho feel, with the diner as a modern Bates Motel. And it’s that eerie tone and unnerving feeling of dread that makes this such a successful slasher.
I have a rule with horror films—if no one dies within ten minutes, I’m out. This is why I gave up on Annabelle and why I love Friday the 13th. I need blood, guts, gore, intestines being ripped out, eyes gouged out. You’ve got 90 minutes, so there should be big body count, carnage candy. With this 11 minute short film, I was curious to see how much blood could be spilt in the limited time. A few minutes into End of the Road and I was hooked.
The tension builds immediately as we wonder who Betsy is and what’s in store for her. She seems guarded and there’s a sadness behind her eyes. At first, we’re not worried about Betsy, she’s quick with the pepper spray and can fend off a homeless meth-head. Yet, knowing she could be a gullible Red Riding Hood, our trust in her fades. When the werewolf-to-be comes on screen, Betsy trusts him immediately, letting him in, without thought.
As Betsy argues with the meth-head, the near-wolf runs to her rescue.
“Leave her alone!” he shouts, in a cracked, strained voice.
The man looks shady as fuck, but Betsy befriends him anyway. She doesn’t seem to notice that his claws puncture his hands, as he makes fists of rage. Nor does she mind when he’s really weirded out about letting her see his wound. Shaded from her view, the stranger’s hands heal quickly. The gashes morph into soft, unbroken skin, healing as only werewolves and vampires can. In this moment of dramatic irony, we watch Betsy invite the man to her diner for a warm meal. Then we count down the minutes, the seconds, until this guy morphs and tears Betsy to shreds.
Unlike most slashers where the killers have some hardcore mommy issues and a revenge plot (Yes, I’m talking about you, Jason), werewolves just kill. There is no backstory, no motive, no explanation. Werewolves don’t have one-liners. They are completely primal; divorced of any humanity or remorse. The killer isn’t Norman Bates, dressed up in his mother’s clothes. It’s an Alien-level sadistic monster who turns humans into spaghetti.
“People usually become someone else after you let them in anyways,” Betsy says to the man before he turns. She states it to explain he must leave after she finds a bandage for his “wounds.” Within that line she also foreshadows her death. Moments later, the man grabs a newspaper, sees it’s a full moon, and turns. This part definitely got a laugh. If you’re a werewolf, you should probably check for a full moon before accepting a dinner invitation. Keeping track of the moon’s cycle is your main job. But no, this slack-ass werewolf doesn’t know it’s a full moon until he reads it in a newspaper. The newspaper is a nice touch, as it adds to the disconnected feel of the diner. The diner, lit up against a wet backdrop of nothing, seems to exist in a dream world, outside of reality.
Then the fun begins. The wolf is kept largely out of sight, a nice Frankenstein technique, where the monster remains hidden. When Mary Shelley crafted Frankenstein, she drew on the philosophies of Edmund Burke. Burke posited that the greatest fears come from the unknown, that the deadliest monster is a monster unseen. Nothing is more terrifying than the monster one imagines. Nothing ever lives up to the fantasy. This subtle move keeps the suspense, as we can only imagine how big, and scary this monster really is.
The monster is revealed piece by piece, first an arm, then a snarling face. The wolf is terrifying (as terrifying as killers can be to horror geeks), with razor-sharp, gnashing teeth, and a mucous-filled snarl. This isn’t Teen Wolf where the high school jock has charming yellow contacts, morphing privately into a CGI-ed puppy. This is a real wolf. He doesn’t court humans; he guts them from groin to sternum, leaving a massacre in his wake.
Then Betsy begins to cry, and with that, she’s as good as dead. In slashers, Final Girls don’t cry. She does manage to pepper spray the wolf, but that only works on parking garage perverts. Betsy would do better with some bullets soaked in Wolfsbane. But it appears that this small-town waitress doesn’t know shit about werewolves, or Red Riding Hood.
We then see the killer reflected in Betsy’s eyes, ala Wes Craven. There’s a pained scream, and slash, Betsy’s dead. Blood is sprayed against the glass windows of the diner. Betsy dies, a shredded heap of flesh among a mountain of corpses. Diner patrons and staff once on different sides, now come together, in a pile of oozing bodies onto the floor. One man’s stomach looks like a mixture of road kill and Spaghetti-O’s.
The kills are real, gritty, and well-timed. In less than ten minutes, End of the Road packs in brutal kills, subtle allusions, and a badass Red Riding Hood theme. This horror short is worth every second of your time. So turn off MTV and watch a real werewolf murder the shit out these unsuspecting townspeople.