Sometimes a film comes along that’s so mind-bogglingly bad, so irrationally bizarre that you can’t help but overlook all of its shortcomings and appreciate it for the sheer madness being played out on screen. David Winter’s The Last Horror Film is one of those movies. Reminiscent of Juan Piquer Simón’s terribly awesome Pieces (which was surprisingly enough made in the same year; must have been something in the water), The Last Horror Film rejects the notion of cohesion and tosses any semblance of logic right out the window. What we’re left with is one hell of a beautiful disaster.
New York City cab driver Vinny Durand has dreams of the big time. A horror film fanatic, he longs for the day when he can make his own masterpiece. To do so, he has to cast the top Scream Queen of them all: Jana Bates. When he hears she’ll be among the top attractions at the Cannes Film Festival in France, he pools all of his money together, packs his meager belongings, and catches the first plane out of New York to make his dreams come true. Vinny is unfortunately a bit delusional, and is rejected by everyone close to Ms. Bates in regards to having her read his script. This is only a small bump in the road for Vinny though, as he’s going to get his film made, whatever the cost.
What makes The Last Horror Film amazingly unique, and helps it stand out from similar fare, is the fact that it was shot on location at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival. The film was done guerilla-style during the fest, and I have no idea how they were able to get away with some of the stuff they did. If you’re a big fan of cinema, its pretty fun picking out all of the promotional posters that flash on the screen throughout, including everything from Anderzej Zulawski’s Possession, Jean Rollin’s Fascination, and an audacious advertisement for the Bond film For Your Eyes Only, where the long legs from the promotional poster double as an archway into a hotel. Even more surprising is some of the faces you’ll see littering the background; I’m sure Kris Kristofferson and Karen Black were just as surprised to see themselves in the film as everyone else was.
The other aspect that helps The Last Horror Film rise above other slashers is the presence of the always entertaining Joe Spinell. His aura of sweaty, perpetually drunk-sounding, slurring obsession is extremely effective, in the same way it was in Maniac, one of the best sleazy horror films to emerge from the 80s. That isn’t to say it’s quite as powerful though; as the filming of the movie went on, Spinell had more and more creative control over his character without much opposition from the director (so much so that his on-screen mother is his actual mom, as is the apartment he lives in), and because of that he does take it a little over-the-top at times. In fact, it’s said that some of his true quirky personality shines through in pieces of the film, including a possible (but unconfirmed) penchant for dressing in women’s clothing. Yes, there’s some freaky Joe Spinell cross-dressing present here, and it’s just as disturbing as you can imagine (even more-so thanks to some freaky face-paint). Regardless of the performance being a notch below his work in Maniac, he still captures an unstable, troubled madman better than most. It’s also great to see him and the amazingly hot Caroline Munroe together once again (even if that white streak in her hair is just about as terrifying as anything else going on in the flick!)
Otherwise, The Last Horror Film is a rather standard and lopsided affair. The script is as underdeveloped as they come, and only thanks to the talent of Spinell and Munroe are we at all intrigued by these characters; anyone of lesser talent and this film would have been dire. Editing is a little choppy, and I’m sure shooting at Cannes without a permit and the creative differences spoken of in the extra features had something to do with this. The film also asks you to suspend your disbelief at a hilarious level, even for a horror flick. The woman that Munroe plays, Jana Bates, is a horror film star, and has never been in anything else. Yet she’s apparently the most popular actress at Cannes, and is positioned to take the award for the best of the festival, over the likes of Meryl Streep and Faye Dunaway. Even in a fictional universe, this is ridiculously unbelievable.
But all convention is tossed out the window during the last few minutes of the flick. See, things aren’t exactly the way they’ve been made out to be, and when all is revealed you can expect to have an appropriately slack-jawed look on your face. Remember that “what the fuck did I just watch?!” feeling you got at the end of Pieces or Sleepaway Camp? Well, get ready for it one more time. The tail-end is even more insane, and what the hell Al Jolson’s “Mammy” has to do with anything in the previous 87 minutes is beyond my furthest comprehension. I honestly had to try and remember if I had forgotten about doing some psychoactive drugs before sitting down to watch The Last Horror Film, because I sure felt like I had when all was said and done.
The Last Horror Film is not a great film…hell, it isn’t even a good one. But it is damn fun, grade-A schlock. Spinell and the Cannes location make it interesting and different enough to appeal to those that are sick and tired of run-of-the-mill slashers, and the gonzo ending should make aficionados of bad flicks jump for joy. The next time your drunk and looking to laugh your ass off, it’s time to watch The Last Horror Film.
The good folks at Troma have deemed The Last Horror Film worthy to be a part of their recently envisioned Tromasterpiece line of releases, which is basically Troma’s answer to the Criterion Collection. It may seem hilariously inappropriate for those not into Troma flicks, but I have to say, it certainly has me excited about the prospects! The Last Horror Film is presented for the first time uncut, and to do so, it unfortunately had to be culled from multiple prints as well as be framed at 1.33:1. Luckily it appears to just be opened up, so no visual information looks to be missing. At its best, the print looks like a solid step-up from a VHS tape and at its worst is grainy and overly dark. Remember, this is a low-budget horror flick from 1982, so don’t expect any miracles. Still, it’s undeniably watchable. Audio is available in its original Dolby Digital mono, and is a bit unbalanced. While the majority of the dialogue is clear, the volume levels fluctuate and you may find yourself adjusting the volume on occasion, especially when a louder scene comes up directly following a softer one. An occasional hiss can be heard as well, but overall it’s just fine.
Since this is from the Tromasterpiece line, there’s a good amount of extras to dig into. First and foremost is an audio commentary from the film’s producer (and Spinell’s closest friend) Luke Walter and moderator Evan Husney. This is definitely among the more entertaining commentaries I’ve heard in a while, as Walter relays a ton of great information on crashing Cannes, the rocky production, and Spinell himself. Next up is a 24 minute on-camera interview with Mr. Walter entitled “My Best Maniac”. Walter goes around to a lot of NYC landmarks that Spinell frequented, including his apartment and a local diner. He also takes us to the cemetery in which Spinell is buried, which oddly enough was used in The Godfather, the film that gave him his first taste of Hollywood. Some of the same stories are told here as were in the commentary, but it’s a nice little homage to Walter’s best friend.
Also included on the disc is a short interview with Maniac director Bill Lustig, who talks about being offered the project as a sort of spiritual successor to said film, as well as how the budget for the flick inflated from 500K to 2 million due to everyone partying it up at Cannes. The most intriguing extra for my money is the short film Mr. Robbie, which was actually a promo reel for a proposed Maniac 2. Shortly before Spinell died, he got together with Combat Shock director Buddy Giovinazzo to shoot the short, in hopes that it would help them secure financing to make the sequel. It worked, but before pre-production could begin, Spinell passed away. It’s a shame, as the footage here, while having little to do with the original film, infuses the grimy, seedy atmosphere that both of the guys were known for, and it definitely looks like it could have turned into something worthwhile. Rounding out the release is a large stills gallery from Luke Walter’s personal collection, two trailers for the film (one for the alternate Fanatic cut), the obligatory introduction from Lloyd Kaufman, and trailer’s for other Troma releases (Faye Dunaway is in a film released by Troma?! Welcome to the Twilight Zone!)
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