Appellate Judge Tom Becker thought this might be another prequel to Texasville.
Babes are dying to be in his movie!
New York City cab driver Vinny Durand (Joe Spinell, Cruising) has a dream: to make a horror movie with screen queen Jana Bates (Caroline Munro, Slaughter High). He's got a script prepared and a camera at the ready, and he just knows that with Jana starring, this will be the greatest horror film of all time. Now, all he has to do is meet her.
Over the protests of his mother (Mary Spinell, Joe's real-life mom), Vinny heads off to Cannes, essentially to stalk Jana, who is there promoting her newest movie and is in serious contention for an acting award.
Even without the unwanted attention of the creepy cabbie, all is not well for Jana. She's broken up with her husband and mentor, Bret (Glenn Jacobson), and is seeing Alan (Judd Hamilton), who directed her latest horror epic. They have all gathered for the festival, and the situation is tense—Bret is not happy losing the woman he made into a (horror movie) star.
Vinny calls Bret to try and get a hold of Jana, and Bret hangs up on him. Later, when Jana goes to meet Bret in his hotel room, she finds him decapitated. She runs out and gets the police, but when they return, the body is gone and there's no evidence that a crime has even taken place. Soon, other friends of Jana start disappearing, and then turning up—dead.
As Jana and Alan try to solve the mystery, the hulking Vinny draws ever closer, and we see that he's more deranged than we realized. He seems unable to communicate with women at all and is prone to bizarre and ugly fantasies—some of which involve Jana and her associates mocking him.
Is Vinny taking matters into his own hands, committing and filming gruesome murders to create The Last Horror Film? Will his leading lady end up being a victim? Are the people around Jana hiding secrets of their own? Or is there something even more sinister at play?
Whether you consider The Last Horror Film a work of art or a piece of trash depends on your personal aesthetic, but there is no denying that it's a bizarre and fascinating example of low-budget auteurism. The "auteur" in the case isn't the director, David Winters, or writer/producer/actor Judd Hamilton, but the star, Joe Spinell.
Don't know Joe Spinell? You've likely seen him. He had small parts in dozens of features, including Rocky (where he played the loan shark Rocky worked for), Taxi Driver, and Married to the Mob. Spinell was one of the great New York character actors and a great New York character.
It was in low-budget indies that Spinell really shined, and he shone no brighter than in 1980's Maniac, a notoriously violent thriller that put him on the road to cult stardom. His roles got bigger—in barely seen films, at any rate—and Spinell's dream was to make Maniac 2. Unfortunately, Spinell died before he had the chance to sequelize his great success.
The Last Horror Film re-teamed Spinell with his Maniac co-star, Caroline Munro. Munro is just fine as Jana, the object of Vinny's obsession. She screams extremely well—one of the best, really—and looks great in various states of undress.
But this is Spinell's film, and from the opening scene in which he enjoys himself a bit too intimately while watching a gory grinder to his hallucinatory trip through Cannes to the ludicrous and over-the-top denouement, Spinell throws himself into this like a cannibal at a fat farm. While the result might not be classically "great" acting, you can't take your eyes off it. By turns frightening, indulgent, silly, and poignant, Spinell gives the kind of low-budget legendary performance that would never fly in a studio production—which is what makes The Last Horror Film such a compelling piece of pulp.
Of course, from the standpoint of any kind of traditional movie, The Last Horror Film is, at best, uneven. As a straight slasher, it's fairly entertaining, even if some of the reveals are both predictable and far-fetched. Attempts to make social statements are interesting, if obvious. There's talk of how horror movies desensitize people, along with references to Jodie Foster and John Hinckley—who tried to shoot President Reagan on her behalf—and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. These bits place the film squarely in its time and, along with posters for movies from the 1981 Cannes festival, make it something of a nostalgia piece.
When Spinell's not on screen, we're left with a shaky murder mystery, slightly silly gore effects, and some sporadically annoying supporting characters. At times, the quirkiness seems forced, as though the film is weird for the sake of being weird, and the parallel storytelling—Spinell's nutjob and Munro's celebrity victim friends—just doesn't work as well as it should.
When Vinny finally meets Jana, however, the film picks up considerably, starting with a tense and memorable scene that ends with an incredible bit of business for Munro. The film was actually shot at the 1981 Cannes festival, and the locations are great—plus, it's a pleasure to see any murderous-fiend movie set outside of a summer camp or middle-class neighborhood.
Troma gives us a terrific special edition disc. The picture and sound quality are pretty good, given that this is an almost 30-year-old, low budget film. The film is very well shot, though some of the dark scenes are a little hard to make out. Nicks, scratches, and reel change markers are present, but I'm guessing most of this is from the print. This is the "Uncut Director's Edition," with a running time about four minutes longer than what's listed at IMDb, and a title card at the beginning warns us that some recently unearthed footage sourced from "inferior" sources. Honestly, it was hard to tell much of the unearthed footage from what had been there all along. Audio is pretty good—dialogue comes through clearly, as does the '80s pop-rock soundtrack—but the lack of subtitles is a liability.
In many ways, the stories behind the film are more interesting than the film itself, and in this special edition, we get stories a-plenty. Most of these stories come courtesy of Luke Walter, Joe Spinell's self-proclaimed best friend. Walter is more than happy for the chance to reminisce about his lost pal and the experience of making The Last Horror Film. These are great stories, and you know that through the years they've been shared on barstools, at barbecues, any time people familiar met up to remember. The Last Horror Film was shot guerilla-style, with lots of "stolen" footage from Cannes. Given the number of unauthorized shots of celebrities, it's a wonder the film has ever seen the light of day. The "making of" The Last Horror Film is a fun, remarkable tale, and Walter has a great time recounting it in a feature-length commentary, with Troma's Evan Husney joining him (more as an amused and appreciative audience than anything else). Walter also shares his memories of Spinell in an interview shot in Spinell's old Queens neighborhood. These two supplements alone make the disc worth picking up for anyone interested in fringe cinema.
In addition, we get a brief interview with William Lustig, who directed Spinell in Maniac, as well as Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie, the short film Spinell made to try to get funding for the Maniac sequel. With a photo gallery (Walter's personal pictures), trailers for The Last Horror Film (as Fanatic, its alternative title), an introduction from Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, and a Troma trailer vault, this is a pretty great package. The only thing might have improved it would have been hearing from Caroline Munro or David Winters, who in addition to other achievements, long ago dated Linda Lovelace and is listed as a producer on her legitimate fiasco, Linda Lovelace for President.
Inventive, schlocky, clever, silly, and gross, The Last Horror Film is not going to be everyone's cup of plasma, but it's worth seeing as an example of a cool mini-budget indie that doesn't shoot for the mainstream. Troma's package is a nice showcase for the film and a fitting tribute to force-of-nature Joe Spinell.
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