Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE LAST HORROR FILM (1982)


The Last Horror Film relates the sad tale of Vinny Durand (Joe Spinell). A New York cab driver, Vinny has dreams of becoming a Hollywood film director but as the film begins he lives at home with his mother (Spinell's real-life mom). Obsessed with horror film actress Jana Bates (Caroline Munro), he's convinced that if he can just speak to her she will recognize his genius and be thrilled to star in his movie. He is, of course, delusional — and if there is any doubt seeing his bedroom covered in photos of Ms. Bates from floor to ceiling will put them to rest. Determined to overcome all obstacles he loads up his 16mm camera and sets off to the annual Cannes Film Festival to somehow meet with his beloved actress.


Once he's in France Vinny begins darting around Cannes, camera on shoulder, trying any way he can to get in front of Jana and attract her attention. The actress is being feted about town and spoken of as 'in the running' for awards for her roles in a string of horror movies — my favorite unbelievable element of the film. At the same time someone starts killing movie-makers at the festival... all of whom are connected to Vinny's favorite actress in some way. Is the clearly unstable Vinny doing the slicing and dicing? Or is there something else going on? And who is sending notes to Jana and her filmmaker boyfriend (Judd Hamilton, Munro's actual spouse) stating that they have made their "last horror movie"? Is it Vinny? Someone with a 16mm camera certainly seems to be able to catch Jana's reaction to the discovery of her dead ex-husband on film just before the body mysteriously disappears.


Does our erstwhile obsessive film fan have more than a single screw loose or is he just a determined man misunderstood by less discerning people trying to hold him back? Actually, that's a silly question. Vinny is obviously nuts! Unable to hold his shit together long enough to watch a gore film, or control his lustful urges while a nude woman dances in a club, he's the classic repressed sicko with no good way of expressing his feelings. The film tries hard to slather a sense of social commentary over these goings on with a reoccurring voice-over that lets us partially inside Vinny's mind, but it doesn't work very well. Even less effective is the repeated, intrusive radio news broadcasts relaying violent real-life incidents from the year the film was made. The filmmakers were trying (I guess) to underscore the harsh, terrible reality of the world that makes horror movies such a tame thing in comparison, but it just comes off as pointless. I agree with what I think the film is saying with these inserted news stories but it would take a better movie to effectively communicate the idea without seeming inane.


There comes a point while watching a movie when the viewer realizes that they are watching a bad 'un. No matter when this moment comes it's immediately followed by a conscious decision to either keep watching or to move on to some other, less crappy thing in life. I almost always opt for sticking through to the bitter end just to see if there is anything of note in the disaster onscreen. Often this can be a fool's game and a real waste of time, but on occasion there are benefits to my drive to complete whatever film I've started. In the case of The Last Horror Film there are a number of reasons I'm glad I stayed until the end credits — but the script is not one of them. The reasons to soldier on are the two stars and the one stroke of brilliance the filmmakers mustered up: shooting the entire thin tale on location during the 1981 Cannes Film Festival. The movie could be a whole lot less good and still be worth watching simply to see the amazing sights of Cannes in full movie spaz-drag. I found myself pausing and rewinding several times to get a better look at posters, theater marquees and strange advertising gimmicks that litter the French landscape. My favorite is the hotel entrance made up with the artwork for the Bond film For Your Eyes Only that places the doorway between a pair of shapely female legs. Mon dieu!


And I'd be lying if I claimed I didn't enjoy some aspects of the movie. I always like seeing Caroline Munro onscreen, even in such a poorly written, underdone tale. She is a true beauty and was at the height of her stardom when this was made. She's a pleasure to behold even with the awful white frosted stripes running through her huge '80s-style hair. And Joe Spinell is really good here, putting his all into a performance that didn't require much more than a half-assed effort to get the job done. He sputters, stumbles and sweats his way across the screen looking at times like a kid in a candy store and at others like a bad boy caught looking at Playboy magazine. His frustration, anger and naivety combine to make Vinny a sad sack you end up pitying, even as you know he can't come to a good end. His dreams are simply too big for his abilities.

5 comments:

Nick Rentz said...

I'll sit through anything with Munro in it. I sat through Slaughter High because of her. Have you seen that one? If you have, what did you think of it?

Rod Barnett said...

Have not seen that one yet. I understand all the actors are far too old to play the characters they are playing- is that right?

Nick Rentz said...

Yes, that is correct. The characters are all unlikable and dumb. Two characters sneak away from the group to have sex when they know they are being killed off one by one!The script is bad too. It does boast some entertaining death scenes and of course Caroline Munro.

Rod Barnett said...

Caroline Munro's appearance will cause me to see it one day, I assure you!

Nick Rentz said...

You can pick it up pretty easily with several other movies. They're mostly terrible, though. Waxworks is the best movie in the set.