It wasn't uncommon during the boom days of Italian cinema for various directors, producers and studios to rush a film into production in order to capitalize on the popularity of a successful American film. Romero's Dawn Of The Dead resulted in an onslaught of zombie films and the success of films like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now resulted in a slew of Italian war movies, one of the best being the late Antonio Margheriti's The Last Hunter. While Margheriti may be best known for his horror films like Castle Of Blood and Cannibal Apocalypse, he was no slouch in the war movie department turning out enjoyable action epics like Commando Leopard and Codename: Wild Geese. The film in question, The Last Hunter, is played a little more straight than some of his other genre entries, but it's still got those moments where you're reminded that this is still an Italian exploitation movie even if it's certainly better than average.
Captain Henry Morris (David Warbeck) sees his comrade kill a fellow soldier before shooting himself when a dispute in a Saigon brothel gets ugly. Shortly after, Morris is shipped into the thick of the Cambodian jungle in hopes that he and his rag-tag group of grunts can take down a radio tower where a local disc jockey is spreading messages to the people that the top brass would like to put a stop to, permanently. Along the way, Morris meets up with a pretty female reporter (Tisa Farrow) as he and his crew face the many dangers of war along their path to take down the tower.
As grisly as any other war movie made around the same time, Margheriti's film is shockingly violent and at times it almost revels in its nastiness. That being said, there's definitely a decent story underneath all the blood and guts and it's that story that makes the film work. Granted, it borrows heavily from The Deer Hunter not only in name but also in terms of a few rather familiar looking set pieces but Margheriti puts enough of his own spin on the material that the film can't be dismissed as a simple rip off even if there's no denying the influence. Margheriti comments on the brutality of war, the nature of man and the distrust that becomes inherent in those forced to fight for someone else's ideologies and beliefs.
David Warbeck, best known for his work on Lucio Fulci's The Beyond, makes a fine, grizzled, bitter male lead though his chemistry with pretty Tisa Farrow (yes, Mia's sister, and the star of Fulci's Zombie) isn't the most explosive. Unfortunately those familiar with Warbeck's real voice will quickly pick up on the fact that someone with an American accent has dubbed him. Granted, he plays an American soldier, but it still doesn't sound right. John Steiner of Argento's Tenebre plays one of the grunts under Warbeck's command and the other supporting cast members might be a little familiar to seasoned fans of Italian genre films.
The outdoor/jungle scenes were shot in the Philippines and look pretty good considering the film was made fast and cheap. Some of the interior shots were obviously shot inside a studio and they detract a bit from the believability factor but not enough to ruin the picture if you're able to suspend your disbelief just a little bit. Ultimately the film moves at a good pace, proves to be entertaining enough, and if it's flawed, at least it's reasonably well made.
The print used for this 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer features French opening credits for some reason and the first few minutes show some moderate to heavy grain. Once those minutes pass, however, The Last Hunter looks quite good and is noticeably better than the previous R2 release from Vipco in the United Kingdom. Color reproduction is quite strong and while the darker scenes again show some grain there are no compression artifacts to complain about. Print damage is little more than the odd speck and flesh tones look life like and natural. A few scenes are a tad on the soft side but by and large this is a very nice transfer of an older low budget film.
The only audio option on the disc is a fairly standard sounding English language Dolby Digital Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. In terms of quality, although the track is a bit on the flat side it is at least perfectly acceptable. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to understand, there are no issues with anything but the faintest instances of hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced. The score sounds quite good and if the track isn't as dynamic as one might have hoped, it certainly gets the job done.
The most substantial supplement afforded this release is an excellent video interview with Eduardo Margheriti, the son of the late director, entitled Margheriti And The Last Hunter which allows Eduardo to show off the Italian studio where much of the film was shot, to explain what his father was going for with this film, and to relate his own personal on-set experiences on the picture where he had a small supporting role.
Rounding out the extra features are a nice still gallery of promotional artwork, the film's original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.
While it borrows from better known and better made American films of the same era, The Last Hunter is still an effective and surprisingly grim piece of exploitative wartime drama. Dark Sky's disc looks and sounds quite good and the extras are a nice touch, providing some welcome background on the film and the man who made it. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.