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Last Horror Film, The

Troma // R // December 15, 2015
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 6, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Similar to the dreams of its protagonist, The Last Horror Film's ambitions exceed its grasp. It's surprising how much director David Winters has on his mind given the film's decidedly exploitative combination of nudity and gore, but he doesn't seem to have a good grasp on how to translate those ideas into something cohesive, allowing the movie to limp to a goofy conclusion rather than a bitingly satirical one.

Character actor Joe Spinell (whose bulbous eyes, stringy hair, and lumpy complexion make him look like a cartoon caricature of himself) plays Vinny, a taxi driver obsessed with horror actress Jana Bates (Caroline Munro). Determined to cast her in the leading role in a movie he calls "The Last Horror Film", he takes his savings and crashes the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, where Bates is earning rave reviews for her newest horror film. Upon arriving, however, he finds himself shut out of swanky industry get-togethers, rejected by Jana's estranged husband and producer Bret Bates (Glenn Jacobson), and increasingly frustrated by the inability of others -- including his concerned mother (Mary Spinell) -- to believe he can successfully realize his cinematic vision.

Winters, along with co-screenwriters Judd Hamilton and Tom Klassen, has two ideas he wants to explore: the legitimacy of horror films as great cinema, and the way celebrities are viewed by their adoring fans (a subject clearly inspired by John Hinckley Jr.'s attempt to assassinate Reagan -- in a nod to Hinckley's inspiration, Vinny is a New York City taxi driver). The latter depends on Spinell, and Spinell turns in a strong performance. Although Vinny may be a psychopath, Spinell's own inherent decency shows through in the form of a desperation. Vinny doesn't want to be a bad guy, he just wants to be understood, to express himself. Even if his only outlet for his dreams is an unhealthy and creepy obsession with Jana, they are, at their core, innocent: he really just wants to make a great movie. That said, the script muddies the waters with some generic rejection by women that feels like a more armchair exploration of what makes vinny tick.

Munro has an equally interesting role in the movie as the object of Vinny's obsession. When she stumbles upon a grisly murder scene and flees, investigators return and discover no sign of foul play. With no proof that Jana wasn't pranked, she is forced to resume publicity for her new movie, putting on a happy face for the crowd despite her reservations. One thing that's oddly interesting is that Jana's film is called Scream, and a Cannes ad pops up for another called Stab, and The Last Horror Film explores some of the same ideas about where horror movies intersect with reality. Most of Cannes is convinced the disappearances and rumors of a killer are just part of an elaborate publicity stunt, and later in the film, when Jana runs down the middle of the street screaming while fleeing Vinny, paparazzi flashbulbs go off all around her. There's a germ of an idea in the way Jana has to give up her basic autonomy and humanity to be a movie star, even passing her presence off to a body double at one point, but the movie never quite engages it.

Winters' other good ideas include a number of fun, surreal dream sequences in which Vinny imagines himself as a successful director, and filming (as far as I can tell) at the real Cannes Film Festival. The film is an interesting curiosity just as a time capsule, with montages and backdrops filled with elaborate promotional billboards for 1981 releases (some which would go onto be classics, like Zulawski's Possession, and others that would not). The setting gives the movie a unique feel, even before it moves to a giant gothic castle for the finale. It's only too bad said finale can't bring the movie's various elements together into something satisfying, opting instead for a reveal that kind of reduces the movie to an elaborate trick, and then even goes a step further in a direction that would appear to render everything even more meaningless. In the end, The Last Horror Film is little more than an inspired B-movie, rather than the insightful masterpiece that Winter probably hoped it would become.

The Blu-ray
The Last Horror Film gets art taking a page from the film itself, depicting a frame of a film print with Jana's face on it, all torn up and bloody. The motif continues on the back, with a couple of additional photographs from the film presented as film frames. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p AVC, The Last Horror Film looks generally decent, but has a number of significant issues that plague the entire transfer. In terms of detail, the picture has a detail and depth fitting a new high-definition transfer -- you can see every pore on Joe Spinell's face, every greasy hair dangling off his head. Contrast is often anemic, with brightly-lit scenes appearing a touch too bright and dark scenes becoming a touch murky, with green or gray shadows, and the foggy bit the movie opens with is on the very edge of coherent definition, with the reds and blues all very nearly blending together. Print damage is also consistent, from flecks and scratches throughout to white vertical lines in the picture at times. However, the real issue has to do with the physical transferring of the film: for whatever reason, every single shot transition bounces slightly, with the image even visibly warping in the brief moments as the frame jumps. The same thing or something similar actually happens during a scene at the front of the film, of Spinell driving his cab, but is still easily visible and very distracting on the transitions, especially when cuts are placed close together -- some early Cannes montages are nearly unwatchable.

Although the press release identified the audio as Dolby Digital Stereo, the disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono soundtrack that sounds decent. The film's dialogue oftens seems like it was dubbed in post, slightly disconnected from the picture, but it does have a nice clarity. Pops and hiss are noticeable throughout, and music and effects have a slightly canned feel. There is also an obnoxious thumping during the opening logos, but it goes away once the movie starts.

The Extras
The three film-specific extras are all carry-overs from the "Tromasterpiece" DVD: an audio commentary, the short film "Mr. Robbie", and an original theatrical trailer. New extras are all "Tromatic Extras" -- a new introduction by Lloyd Kaufman (4:07) about cross-dressing, B-Roll from Tromadance 2015 (5:20), a goofy short film called "The Return of Dolphin Man" (4:48), and an episode of "Kabukiman's Cocktail Party" (9:44).

The aforementioned "Tromasterpiece" DVD also included an interview with William Lustig, a featurette with Spinell's best friend Luke Walter (the same man on the commentary), and a different introduction, so those who love the film will have to retain those DVDs if they want all of the bonus material.

Conclusion
The Last Horror Film is a surprisingly fun picture. Its reputation would suggest something grimier, more mean-spirited, but it's mostly a goof. It'd be a better movie -- maybe even a minor gem -- if it jettisoned some of that goofiness in favor of satire, but it's enjoyable just the same. That said, Troma's Blu-ray release isn't a slam dunk. The transfer has some weird issues that distract from the movie, and there are a number of more film-centric extras that have disappeared in favor of general Troma bonuses. Lightly recommended.


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