The Last Horror Film (1982)
"Babes are dying to be in his movie"
Vinny Durand is an New York taxi driver who obsesses of becoming a big-time film director and heads off to attend the Cannes Film Festival in the vain hope of making beautiful actress lady Jana Bates the leading lady in his horror film. The problem is that he has never made a film before and no one knows who he is. His arrival coincides with a series of violent killings of the actresses’ friends.
Reuniting Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro from 1980’s Maniac, I can see the intentions here a mile away, especially with the underlying plot – besotted man with mother issues and on verge of a complete psychotic breakdown stalks attractive woman who wants nothing to do with him – being virtually the same, with a few different bells and whistles tacked on. Maniac was one of the 80s best exploitation slasher films, a truly grimy and grubby experience with a fantastic performance from Spinell and some superb make-up effects courtesy of Tom Savini. The Last Horror film is clearly an attempt to see if lightning will strike twice. Sadly, it won’t, but that’s not to say that The Last Horror Film isn’t worthy enough to stand on its own two feet. It’s not as well-made and the lack of William Lustwig in the director’s chair could be a big part of this, but the tone is generally lighter with more black humour and it’s not as seedy (though it does have its moments). It’s clear there was little pitch to this film aside from “let’s make something similar to Maniac with the same actor and actress” and the story feels very much put together at the last minute. One of Maniac’s issues was trying to buy how someone as stunning as Caroline Munro’s character would fall for an overweight, out-of-shape fruitcake like Spinell’s character and it did take you out of the narrative trying to accept that. Here, the two revert to stereotype with the ‘beauty and the beast’ characters more familiar to audiences. There is a whole lot more going on in The Last Horror Film though so having this traditional set-up allows some of the other story to get a bit sillier and madcap because believe me, things do go crazy.
The Last Horror Film is bordering on experimental in its approach, almost as if it was made up as shooting went along based upon what they able to film. Most of it was shot without permits at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and so a lot of it has been filmed guerrilla-style, in secret, around the festival itself. With all of the glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival on display in the background, The Last Horror Film appears to have a bigger budget than it actually did, though its obvious which footage has been shot for a narrative purpose and which has been shot documentary-style to pad out the running time with footage of limos, cheering crowds and people enjoying themselves on the beaches. The beauty of the film is that this plays perfectly with the story in that no one knows who Durand is and so watching him try and get into events, pretend to be famous and make his film on the sly is just exactly what was happening in real life - Spinell and the crew would wait until the real celebrities had left, gate-crash the scene pretending to be a big star, with all of the real paparazzi flashing their cameras and real doormen and security guards stopping them from entering, and make sure it was all caught on camera. It’s smart, maverick filmmaking which gives the film an unpredictable, rough edge.
Never what you’d consider a leading man or even photogenically camera-friendly, Joe Spinell was nevertheless an effective character actor who managed to find roles in some of the most critically-acclaimed films of the 70s (Rocky, Taxi Driver and The Godfather), worked with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Sylvester Stallone (Spinell was even made godfather to Sage Stallone) and was friends with Steven Spielberg. This should give you an insight into how well-liked he was and how rated he was. He finally broke into the limelight with the sleazy and grimy 1980 exploitation slasher Maniac, which has become a cult classic and made Spinell a firm favourite in the genre.
Like Maniac, The Last Horror Film is Spinell’s platform to shine and whilst Vinny Durand, his character here, doesn’t meet the same crazy levels as Frank Zito, he’s still capable of delivering a great performance and is central to the film at all times. Durand has a genuine likeability that it’s hard not to root for him as he tries desperately to make his film – given that he’s playing an obsessed stalker, it’s a feat in itself that Spinell manages to get the audience to actually get behind him but that’s a credit to the man’s intensity and genuine talent in front of the camera. The scene where he finally comes face-to-face with Munro as she is taking a shower is a tour-de-force of genuine acting, so much so its hard to know where Spinell is performing and where he’s really going insane. The character has lots of hallucinations of being famous and some do borderline on complete camp, with Spinell overacting massively. I will admit, Spinell is not for everyone but it’s in the quieter, more down-to-Earth moments where he can calm down a bit and showcase his skills. Sadly, Spinell was taken far too early, having been found dead in his home after accidentally cutting himself and bleeding to death at the age of 52.
Finally, with this being a horror film and all, there are some kills. Disappointingly for slash fans, the body count is lower than anticipated but there’s some cool make-up on show for the kill scenes here including burnings, stabbings and a chainsaw attack in the finale. What blurs reality is the film-within-a-film moments so some of these sequences are in fact part of the horror films that Munro is starring in. An interesting side-note to end on – the fictional film that Munro’s character has made is none other than Scream and promotional posters around Cannes advertise a film called Stab. Horror fans will recognise the links with a certain Wes Craven 1995 post-modern teen horror and its sequel.
As I praised him highly in Maniac, I’ll praise him highly again here. The Last Horror film isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination, a messy scrapbook of ideas and set pieces which has been ad-libbed and winged as much as possible, but it’s a great vehicle for the supremely-talented Spinell to showcase his bug-eyed range and it has some inspired moments of magic which would never have occurred had they filmed it ‘properly.’
The Last Horror Film
Director(s): David Winters
Writer(s): Judd Hamilton, David Winters, Tom Klassen
Actor(s): Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Judd Hamilton, Devin Goldenberg, David Winters, Susanne Benton
Duration: 87 mins