The Last Horror Film:
Here's a 'lost' horror movie that many of you probably haven't actually heard of (I certainly hadn't). Like many lost horror movies, multiple release titles have helped make this one an obscurity. Also known as Fanatic, The Last Horror Film also earns a place in the shadows of genre cinema because it's a sincere whack-job of a movie in ways both challenging and uncomfortable. But leave it to the good folks at Troma to have resurrected this offbeat slasher for releasing in an extras-enhanced, uncut version. But don't say you weren't warned.
Joe Spinell, that sweaty, scary actor of Maniac and Star Crash fame (not to mention The Godfather and Rocky) was never anyone's idea of a matinee idol. That rugged, pock-marked face, those lunatic puppy-dog eyes hiding under greasy, sweaty locks of hair; he's more like the stereotypical unhinged creep you'd cross the street to avoid meeting. Perhaps it's his all-too-realistic turn as the shotgun-toting, straight razor wielding ultimate mamma's boy in Maniac that turns off so many people. Yet, that movie's unexpected grindhouse success paved the way for this ill-advised vanity-project-cum-vacation-pork-barrel that earned Spinell and crew (plus Maniac's distaff star, Caroline Munro) a trip to Cannes for fun at the film festival and a little more flop-sweat from a crazed mamma's boy.
Spinell plays Vinnie Durand, a proto-stalker who lives with his mom, but really wants to get horror actress Jana Bates (Munro) to 'star' in his own horror movie. To this end, Durand loads up his camera gear, a white tuxedo and a red silk cape for jetting to the south of France, where he hopes to whisk Bates off her feet as she promotes her latest shocker, Scream (you may not have heard of The Last Horror Film, but it has heard of you). But will Durand's possessive jealousy and instability be a factor? 'Cause soon as he hits the sandy beaches, folks involved in making Bates' horror movies start dying in gory fashion. Or, will The Last Horror Film ride off into le soleil with possibly the most confounding, off-kilter ending in horror movie history?
Though sporting a fair number of effective horror sequences and a few nicely squelchy bits lovingly restored by Troma Team, this Horror Film is so weird (and dated) it can only fit comfortably in the 'camp' camp - and with that odd ending it's quite possible this is meant to be a spoof. Unintentionally silly, numerous montages set in French discotheques establish a vibe that's comically anachronistic and counter to any feelings of dread. It's hard to feel the fear while watching the Beautiful People boogie. But there are more musical montages, (fueled by bad '80s rock ballads) many featuring Bates and smarmy husband posing for the paparazzi - over and over and over. On the revelatory plus side, more montages of sexy nude sunbathers drive straight to the heart of writer/director David Winters' and Spinell's motivations for lensing a lazy horror in Cannes.
Yet there's true desperation in Spinell's vulnerable performance as he phones in cock-and-bull stories to his mom (played charmingly by Spinell's real mother) or pathetically waves a broken champagne bottle in Munro's face. Some nifty reinstated gore will mildly please you sickos, while a stylish and disorienting chase sequence, culminating in an expectations-overturning flashbulb blackout, demonstrates there's a real horror movie in here somewhere. Plenty of boobs and a bit of blood would seem to be enough, but watching Spinell scamper about in white sneakers (while a wolf howls in the background, no less) is just too funny for words. However, The Last Horror Film's left-field ending - calling into question everything we've just seen, and featuring a familial exchange closer in feel to a sketch from Mad TV - will leave you uttering three letters: WTF?
Troma has done a service in resurrecting this movie, but due to its forgotten status, and the label's desire to deliver an uncut R-rated print, the picture isn't great. Better than lost forever? Yes, but somewhat comparable to a VHS copy rented from a grubby coastal convenience store with a few movies next to the counter. The fullscreen 1.33:1 transfer contains certain elements from substandard prints, (for which Troma apologizes) which don't stand out too much from the general condition of the movie. A few scenes featuring Spinell's mom contain severe digital 'mosquito noise' while lots of other scenes have semi-subtle vertical bands of lighter color, flaring at the sides of the image, and various bits of minor print damage or reel-change markers. There's also a hefty layer shift at about 65 minutes into the movie. Otherwise, the image is often stylistically soft, and dark scenes lack some detail. But, there's plenty that looks OK too, so considering the origins of this transfer, fans of obscure horror should be pleased anyway.
The Digital Stereo soundtrack fares much better, with a healthy balance between dialog and loads of awful soundtrack music. No distortion will spoil the party, but there's not much in the way of an exciting mix to test your set-up.
Troma has thrown a good amount of extras on this disc, not the least of which is the fact that this is a Region Free DVD, which is pretty cool. Starting off is a goofy Introduction By Lloyd Kaufman (Troma chief.) A moderated Commentary Track with Spinell's friend Luke Walter rambles on mostly about Spinell and his adventures with Walter in France, while still delivering some goods about the movie and its guerilla filming-style. Plus, a half-hour interview with Walter, My Best Maniac, is by turns funny and poignant, as Walter drives around their old stomping grounds. It's a must-see for Spinell fans. A brief (about four minutes) Interview With Maniac Director William Lustig offers his bemused view of Spinell and the genesis of this movie. The creepy jewel of this collection is Mr. Robbie aka Maniac 2, director Buddy Giovinazzo's eight-minute short financing demo and Spinell's last ever cinematic work before his untimely death. Spinell acts as vengeful, unhinged clown (literally) Mr. Robbie, a hard-drinking freako who likes to defend kids by shoving their evil parent's heads into pots of boiling water before stabbing them in the eye with a knife. Great stuff! Trailers for The Last Horror Film and its incarnation as Fanatic are included, as well as a grip of Tromatic Extras - promos and trailers featuring all the boobs, atrocities and outrageous gore you can handle.
The Last Horror Film once again teams Joe Spinell with Caroline Munro, more-or-less reprising their roles as violent freako and beautiful victim from Maniac. Inasmuch as the film was in part something of an excuse for movie folks to have a nice vacation in Cannes while filming a bizarre horror movie, this Horror Film trades serious scares for '80s disco atmosphere, topless bathers and just a few nice suspense sequences and gore. Spinell's turn as a sweaty nut-job (bolstered by alter-ego fantasies) prone to fondling himself during screenings and slideshows is full of his patented pathos - it's unsettlingly realistic. However, an emphasis on musical montages, (possibly) unintentional humor, and a truly cracked ending, mark this as an unwitting horror spoof, which will appeal mostly to fans of psychotronic films. But for them, the disc is - cautiously - Highly Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
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