Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Last Horror Film

After the relatively huge success (for a low budget gutter level violence-fest [that's a recommendation by the way...]) of Bill Lustig's Maniac Caroline Munro and Joe Spinell were once again paired up following a drive from the original backers, probably in the hope of repeating the financial rewards.  As before, Munro is a celebrity beauty while the 'beast' is Spinell in another unhinged schizophrenic role.  Very unhinged.  His character, Vinny, embarrassingly envisions himself as a world class film-maker as he becomes increasingly obsessed with actress Jana Bates (Munro).  When he hears that she is to appear at Cannes film festival he packs his suitcase and 16mm camera to head off for the exotic region.  During the frenzy at Cannes people begin dying - anyone who seems to have anything to do with Bates.  All the while Vinny is grabbing footage with his camera and occasionally calling back home to lie to his mother that his work is becoming a great success (he doesn't even appear to have completed a film).  He is also working his way ever closer to Bates.

The film sits itself uncomfortably within the slasher sub-genre that was still booming around the time, but it's really unlike anything else that falls into that category.  It's quite kooky in many respects and the more forgiving side of me would suggest that the film's offbeat nature is deliberately humorous at the same time as being marginally satirical.  There is plenty of actual Cannes footage and at its best The Last Horror Film plays as an almost love ode to cinema.  In fact most of the story seems to be an excuse to show off the footage that director David Winters managed to capture on location (there is a certain amount of improvisation evident that can be endearing).

Whilst Maniac was a brutally sleazy affair, this one begins as if it's going to tread in the same footsteps, before veering off to the glossy flair of Cannes.  This is juxtaposed against Vinny's screwed up thoughts and actions, managing to keep one foot in the sleaze pit that spawned it.  Again, Spinell does pull off his messed up character surprisingly well (sometimes too well - witness the freaky transvestite dancing that's perhaps a little too scary): almost a tragic mother-loving train-wreck of a person, unrealistically infatuated with a film star while simultaneously excited by onscreen violence - amusingly at one point, when this characteristic is inter-cut with Bates explaining at a conference that she doesn't feel there is a connection between horror films and psychological disturbance.  Again, I would like to think the irony was a deliberate move.  I do feel that, particularly after the final scene has taken place, this film is supposed to be taken much more lightly than the viewer might initially expect.  There are certainly a couple of funny moments, one of my favourites being when Vinny is stalking the grounds of a castle in which Bates is staying.  It's quite a sight seeing his slightly overweight ass running away from pursuers while he's insistently carrying his bulky camera everywhere he goes.  The mother is quite a highlight too, simply because she is unbelievably badly acted/dubbed by Filomena Spagnuolo (Spinell's real life mother).  I wouldn't say this film always works, and I wouldn't even describe it as very good, but it does have a rather messy personality all of its own somehow, and there is some enjoyment to be derived from its quirks even if it never truly goes to places that could have elevated the whole endeavour.
88 Films have unleashed the 'uncut version' on the UK market, thankfully as a Blu-ray.  Playing in full AVC-encoded HD at 24 frames per second and running to 87:37 (minus 15 seconds for the opening statement) the transfer is taken from several sources.  88 have chosen to include the two previously excised goriest moments (a heart extraction and a chainsaw body split) from the only place they could get them - a VHS tape.  This material literally only lasts a few seconds and I think it's better that it's there than not, so personally I feel this is a good fan-motivated move.  The majority of the transfer has been constructed using either 35mm negative or prints - this means some of the footage can look grainy and appropriately grindhouse, but when it shines this disc really makes the film look way better than you'd ever have expected.  The best material exhibits loads of detail with great depth.  I was very pleased with this presentation.  Audio (billed as LPCM mono but filtering through two channels) is pretty good - the lively music track comes across as bold and enjoyable, dialogue is mostly clean, although there are some patches of hiss and crackle during quieter moments.  For a film of this type I was not overly concerned by anything, but some might find the more damaged elements to be a little distracting.  Somehow I can't imagine The Last Horror Film being better presented than it is on 88's Blu-ray.

The extras are nice: there's an audio commentary with associate producer Luke Walter, an enjoyable interview with Walter (who was also good friends with Spinell) running 23:51, a Lloyd Kaufman introduction (3:38), some grimy promo footage for the doomed Maniac 2 project (8:06), an interview about the project gestation with Mr Lustig, who was invited to direct at one point but Vigilante was happening at the time (3:42), a Q&A session with Caroline Munro from Glasgow in 2011, which is generally unrelated to Last Horror Film but information-packed none the less (11:07), some TV spots, and an 88 Films trailer reel showing off many of their Blu-ray released items (which runs 21:55 in total).  The cover is reversible, with some original cover art on the rear if you want to switch it around, plus the case contains a booklet.  It seems like 88 Films have gone over and above for this crazy Section 3 (i.e. nearly banned in the UK) movie.  It's never going to hit classic status but if you're remotely interested in checking this out or owning it then this is the disc to get.

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