Judge David Johnson enjoyed this revisit to the 'Nam with Italian zombie-gore sensibilities.
War is H-E-double-hockey-sticks.
>From Antonio Margheriti, Italian exploitation auteur, comes one hard-ass war movie.
Facts of the Case
David Warbeck plays Captain Henry Morris, a dedicated soldier doing his tours in Vietnam. When his shell-shocked best friend goes crazy and murders a fellow officer and then pulls the gun on himself, Morris escapes the madness and volunteers for a suicide mission behind enemy lines.
He hooks up with a squad of grunts and a tag-along photojournalist named Jane (Tisa Farrow) and the ragtag team threads its way through the VC-infested jungle. Their mission: to wipe out an enemy propaganda station. But they'll have to carve their way through a barrage of enemies to do that, a task that Morris and his cohorts are only too happy to indulge in.
Margheriti puts his finely-honed exploitation sensibilities to good work here, crafting an action-packed, hugely violent Vietnam saga that probably boasts more bullet flesh wounds per minute of runtime than most Hong Kong police flicks.
The story is simple enough: tough old Captain Morris, on a downward spiral towards self-immolation, signs up for a certain-death mission and rolls through the jungles smoking mofos. Supplementing the copious gunfire are two sequences that change the action-first dynamic and lend the film some depth as an anti-war piece. First is a pit-stop at an American base that's surrounded by Viet-Cong and contains stir-crazy soldiers with their own death wish and an uncontrollable libido that leads them to contemplating rape. The VC thwart the defense and another firefight breaks out and then it's on to the climactic scene, where Morris tracks down the propaganda station and discovers the secret player behind the conspiracy—*cough*Jane-Fonda-ish*cough*. It's all very straight-forward, allowing Margheriti the optimum narrative momentum to cram in as much war violence and exploding miniature huts as possible while also earning some hippie street-cred.
And there is much violence here. The Last Hunter is rich with the blood and gore that you would find in other hyper-violent Italian exploitation films, though the war setting (versus, say, a zombie or cannibal maelstrom) lends the bloodshed a more serious effect. Examples of the kind of slimy high jinks you'll find in the film: gunshot to the eyeball, complete with spouting blood from the ruined socket; spiky booby trap to the torso; hanging bowels; broken leg with jagged bone showing, followed immediately by severed leg with lots of bone showing; hapless dude on the receiving end of an exploding baby; hundreds and hundreds of exploding squibs; and finally, my favorite, the most uncomfortable sequence in the film: the water rats! Morris is captured by the VC and tossed in a submerged bamboo prison with another guy with a chewed-up face. Turns out, there are dozens of rats swimming around, biting into any fresh meat tossed to them. I can handle most anything in horror movies, but there's something about soaking-wet rats with that matted down fur that really freaks the crap out of me.
At its heart, I think The Last Hunter is strict exploitation, but Margheriti strives to inject some commentary on war in his film, which can be boiled down to: "War is @#$%-ed up." There are plenty of anti-war moments—the psycho soldiers depicted at the stronghold are portrayed more as victims than all-out bad seeds, Morris's friend in the beginning goes on a "this war sucks" tirade before blowing his brains out, there's a cheesy anti-war folk song playing over the end credits—yet Margheriti tempers this with Morris's strong sense of duty and the camaraderie shared by his squad. Also, the turncoat at the end responsible for the propaganda station is far from a sympathetic character. That being said, I think most people will volunteer for this tour because of the grisly action rather than the very special message.
The film gets itself an impressive 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, supplemented by a 2.0 mono audio mix. The video quality is strong, bringing the cursed jungles to life and making those fireballs look mighty pretty. Of the extras, the half-hour feature "Margheriti and The Last Hunter" is the finest, hosted by Eduardo Margheriti. A still gallery and the original trailer cap the bonuses.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The original Italian language track with subtitles would have been a nice alternative to the weak dubbed English track.
Very violent, and peppered with social commentary, The Last Hunter succeeds as a brutal, bloody, but entertaining war flick.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
• "Margheriti and The Last Hunter" Featurette
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