The Last Horror Movie Review
You're watching a cheesy slasher film called The Last Horror Movie. A pretty, all-American girl is being stalked by an escaped lunatic. Business as usual. Just as she's about to be killed, the film stops and the face of a middle-aged Englishman fills the screen. He introduces himself as Max and explains that he's recorded over this movie with a documentary he's made about his life. You're not missing anything, he says with a smile, the film was rubbish. He promises you'll find his little project much more interesting. You see, Max is a serial killer.
Not an ordinary serial killer of course. Max considers himself an artist. Together with his assistant, a homeless Scottish junkie, Max kills people and films their deaths in the name of art. Well, mostly. He does get a certain enjoyment from killing but he also hopes to learn something profound about life and death from it. Sometimes he interviews his dying victims and asks them for their thoughts on the project they're taking part in. The "project" is something Max takes very seriously. Without it, his existence is mundane and empty. He shoots wedding videos for a living, he has a casual girlfriend, he's pals with his young nephew. His sister and his friends mock his pretentiousness and urge him to make something of his life, not suspecting that this is exactly what he believes he's doing.
The Last Horror Movie is an interesting experiment that might have been more successful had it been released ten years ago. Back then, a film as violent, sadistic and amoral as this would have been assured no end of free publicity in the popular newspapers, under headlines demanding someone ban this sick filth. It's unlikely that the British Board of Film Classification under James Ferman would have allowed it to be released. As a result, the film would have acquired legendary status as a video nasty and sold like hot cakes wherever dodgy videos changed hands. Unfortunately for its creators, times have changed. The tabloids are no longer interested in horror movies and the BBFC's current examiners saw fit to pass The Last Horror Movie completely uncut. Without any controversy to give it underground appeal, the film is forced to survive on its merits alone. But can it?
As an extreme horror film, it's effective in places. It isn't particularly gory, not compared what you see in mainstream war movies these days but its murders have a matter-of-fact quality that makes them more disturbing than Hollywood death scenes. Its victims are terrified, ordinary people we can relate to and Max's cruel interaction with them adds to the nastiness. The effect of watching a snuff film is well achieved. Of course anyone who really wants to watch snuff needn't bother with faked death scenes when real footage of terrorists murdering hostages can be downloaded from the internet. A horror movie today has to work extra hard to have much of an effect and I suspect the only people reading this who would be freaked out by The Last Horror Movie are those of you who have already decided you won't be seeing it.
As a jet-black comedy with something to say, this is reasonably incisive and sometimes funny, although it isn't sharp enough to sustain interest for one and a quarter hours. It could have done with a few more scenes like Max's attempt to coach his assistant through his first killing, a sequence which makes you laugh, cringe and squirm in your seat. The portrayal of Max as an arrogant, self-proclaimed "artist" is a strong point. His belief that most people are sheep and that his cynical view of the world makes him superior is a fascist philosophy and one that's popular among those who have just enough brain cells to persuade themselves they're smarter than they actually are. Max is a well-observed character and all the more loathesome for it.
Despite all its good qualities and its admirable use of a low budget, The Last Horror Movie fails to achieve the visceral effect it's aiming for. The crucial flaw is that it's all too obviously just a movie. This is a film that badly needs to create the illusion of reality and it can't. To be fair, that's no easy task nowadays. Thanks to the reality TV boom in the last 5 years, viewers are more qualified than ever to tell the difference between a scene that's real and one that's staged. Consequently, faux documentaries like this one must be a lot more sophisticated than they were when The Blair Witch Project scared us all silly in 1999. Every event must look unscripted, every actor must seem absolutely natural.
Director Julian Richards gets the first part right. Except for a couple of clumsy moments where the camera eavesdrops on things it realistically couldn't have, The Last Horror Movie does capture the feel of a film made by a gifted amateur documentarian. Its weakness is in the performances of its cast, which in too many cases look like just that - performances. Star Kevin Howarth is the biggest offender - he has British Thespian stamped all over him: in his looks, in his accent and in his mannerisms. Not that he isn't scary at times - he is - but he's not a naturalistic actor and he reminds us constantly that we're not watching a documentary. This is also true of many other members of the cast and that's enough to destroy the film's suspension of disbelief.
One last problem, which will affect those of you who see this in a cinema: the format of the movie, especially its ending, is tailored specifically to audiences watching it at home on video or DVD. The premise is that you're watching a video that's been recorded over. Watched alone on DVD on a dark night, the killer's closing monologue could be quite chilling - just imagine your doorbell ringing as the credits roll! Seen at the cinema (or on television), it's like a joke that falls awkwardly flat.