The Last Horror Movie Review
Max Parry (Kevin Howarth) is a wedding photographer with a dark secret, and he’s decided that he’d like to share it with all of you. You see, Max is a psychotic killer, who is out to make a point by murdering innocent people and then asking how you feel about what you’re witnessing. In order to carry his message he has recorded his film over a horror VHS in the hopes that whoever rents it can be enlightened by his activities. Only there’s a twist should you make it through to the end. Max is watching you, make no mistake…
Let’s pretend that VHS is still popular and people rent them out loads. Alright let’s get straight to the point instead. The Last Horror Movie comes at a time when technology of the last few years has progressed beyond a time when tape could have made a film like this successful. It’s almost painful to say that Julian Richards’ film is just too late to enter the market. The very fact that its intended straight to video/DVD release got pushed back in favour of theatrical distribution only further damages its credibility as a film designed to shock within the intimate surrounds of a living room. As a video nasty The Last Horror Movie would undoubtedly have felt right at home during the early 80’s, particularly when it wears many influences from the era on its sleeve. By paying gratuitous homage to notable films like Man Bites Dog it stumbles into the realms of ludicrous at times, which threatens to harm its naturalism further. So where should a film like this draw the line? It doesn’t help when it obviously takes elements from other sources in order to provide some sly wink, and it’s questionable as to whether or not its dark comedy works (a scene involving cannibalism fails to shock as intended, though it‘s played for laughs through Howarth); these moments only help to undo what it is that the film ultimately tries to achieve - present a real and unfathomable depiction of a crazed lunatic with delusions of grandeur and lack of any morals whatsoever.
Filmed on £50,000 The Last Horror Movie is not only an ambitious home grown project, but it’s also a fairly nice looking one. Granted, it’s confined to providing a gritty realism as seen through the lens of a digital camcorder and it would seem apparent that most of the budget went on the initial set up of the film, but regardless it often gives off an appropriate atmosphere through which Max can draw us into - his own world as it were. In many ways - and perhaps more frustratingly - the film works exceedingly well as a video diary that chronicles a day in the life of a self proclaimed artist who is trying to make a point to the world. But it’s also a victim of Richard’s own need to create an artistic vision through a film that under the given circumstances would not be able to provide. Several examples would relate to the composition of certain shots throughout. At times Max gets wound up if his cameraman fails to get close up to the “action”, which is fair enough, but at other times the camera is positioned in such arty-farty ways that it seems unlikely that Max would actually take the time out to have his man set up these shots if all he wanted to do in the end was make a point during the killing itself; I refer to Richards’ favourite scene in the film, which sees the camera sit at the top of the stairs before slowly following Max down and into the kitchen in one long take. Impressive it may be, but in the context of the film there’s something too polished about it.
Having said that the film is remarkable in that it successfully does pull off some lengthy one-take shots, and that’s the key in showing off the realism it needs in order to sustain the viewer’s interest. The execution of Max’s murders are almost brilliant; I say almost because if it wasn’t for one particular shot in which he cuts the throat of a young woman (the knife never appearing to connect) you would be hard pressed not to believe that what you were witnessing was real. With regards again to the budget it’s clear that the special effects took much precedence; one scene that shows Max burn a man alive is horrifically real, and as a testament I can only say that I thought it was a stuntman and not a dummy as we later learn during the behind the scenes footage. Another impressive moment follows Max through a multi-story car park before he strangles a woman to death, while we see the struggle going on from inside the car, before her last breaths are there to see on the car window. Richards’ has a superb knack of following through in a faux-documentary style; not many films, let alone horrors manage to achieve this without the need to quickly cut in with another angle. If Richards’ goes on to make another horror film then it’ll be interesting to see how he uses this skill in order to rack up the tension, like he so desperately wants to here. Let’s not forget Stevenson’s input as camera operator for several shots though; perhaps a little extra credit wouldn’t have gone amiss.
One of the Last Horror Movie‘s bigger flaws is that at times it tries too hard by providing some kind of narrative structure. Max takes us on a journey, not just through his killing sprees but also into his home and family life. We meet his Grandma, sister, his best friends, his nephews (the latter of which initially conjures up an unsettling scenario, only for a rather fun twist instead) and we learn how each one feels about him. While this is all very well, because Max wants to illustrate how comparatively normal his upbringing was and how he’s far from the conventional killer it often plays up to the camera a little too much. There’s a moment in which his cameraman eavesdrops on a conversation between Max’s sister and her husband, while sitting on top of the staircase, peering through the banister. For some reason Max wishes to show us this in the end, presumably because it then shows that he has the one up on the husband - later touched upon during a dinner invite. But it also seems too voyeuristic, to the point that it just doesn’t feel likely. In addition there’s that need to look into his childhood, as if to ask if he were a product of a poor upbringing. As we see he wasn’t, but there seems to be a point being made here; a need to show us that he isn’t all bad.
When we get to the real meat of the film it rests entirely on the shoulders of Kevin Howarth. I have to hand it to him, his portrayal of Max really is superb. Max is handsome, intelligent and often well behaved, which only makes his character all the more disturbing. As we see a couple of times during the film his charm, charisma and looks create a false sense of security for his victims, which also explains his relative ease at getting away with so much. More importantly is that Howarth imbues his character with a real sense of emotion; he’s as prone to sobbing as anyone else despite his lack of remorse for murdering innocent people. Howarth does rely on that gleefully wry smile of his when channelling Max’s psychotic persona more than a few times, but his expressions tend to worm their way into the viewer’s conscience. His sadistic outlook on life and death and the pure ecstasy he gets from committing these lurid acts are just as disturbing as watching the murders take place themselves. As a man who truly believes that what he does has some kind of artistic merit, Howarth’s performance is disgustingly acute and morally corrupt, while being comically arousing and surreal. By rights, Howarth should go onto bigger things; he’s a very accomplished actor who hasn’t been given many chances to shine. Hopefully soon we’ll see a star come out of this.
But to get more critical Max is a very pretentious character, therefore you have to wonder if the director (or should I say screenwriter, James Handel) is offering us a pretentious display of dialogue deliberately within Max’s monologues or if he’s just trying to be clever; one suspects that the latter might fall into play. Max lulls in the viewer by questioning their own morality and testing human nature itself. In some ways what he says is true; we can’t help but look and be fascinated by death. We know that we shouldn’t watch somebody being killed but basic curiosity forces us to examine the darkest parts of the human condition. Therefore Max continually asks us why we’re still watching a film that is so disturbing, along with several other questions that are supposed to make us wonder if we should be judging him at all; he even goes so far as to suggest that it might be our fault that he has decided to carry out this ambitious experiment. Richards’ points aren’t entirely original and as a piece that presumably is meant to challenge certain taboo areas it struggles to balance itself evenly between the views of its central character and the artistic endeavours of its director.
Well they took their sweet time releasing it (after several pushbacks) but Tartan finally brings us The Last Horror Movie on a respectable DVD.
These can be a little annoying. First of all the main menu features spoilers aplenty in terms of killings, but it’s upon selecting options that you’re treated to a grating static noise every time, which soon gets tedious.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (although I doubt if Max had released this on DVD he’d have taken time out to cater for widescreen enthusiasts) the film has been carried over to DVD very well. Being shot digitally means that the image is stable, although it shows aliasing. There’s consistent grain inherent to the source which varies depending on light sources being used. Detail is good, flesh tones are spot on, while the desaturated look lends itself to the bleakness of the film. Black levels aren’t particularly deep but they hold up well.
Over the months Tartan has helped to turn DTS into a gimmick. I don’t understand above all why films like this are given DTS, let alone 5.1 surround which practically further destroys its effectiveness. I imagine it was given a 5.1 mix for cinemas though, but I’m inclined to just recommend the 2.0 option. The most you need from this film is clarity and a strong sense of projection coming from Max’s victims; this is provided on the most standard track, and if you want to go along with the film’s premise that this is all real then don’t go bowing down to the essentially louder mixes.
Audio Commentary by Julian Richards and Kevin Howarth
The director starts by discussing the opening credits, along with his idea to lampoon the teen slasher flicks of the 90s; from here we learn of further influences such as Tenebre. Occasionally Howarth cuts into Richards speaking, but he seems to recover and finish his thoughts. Richards talks about a lot of technical issues; pointing out differences in filming equipment used and so on. There’s a fair amount of discussion tailored towards pick-up shots and creating certain environments. It tends to start getting tiring when the deluge of praising (self and otherwise) begins, back slapping, pointing out little bits here and there and relishing all the little twists that the film has to offer. Richards loves his work a little too much, which shouldn’t be discouraged, but it does hamper the listening experience somewhat. The pair communicate well and enjoy themselves watching the film again, but it’s a very standard track and does get repetitive quickly.
Included here are two short films. The first is Julian Richards’ “Pirates” (24:41) from 1987. This tells the story of three youngsters who discover that their employee is dealing pirate videos and exploiting them in the process. The trio is made up of a muscle head, a brainy college kid and a rebellious teen. I had a difficult time getting into this; it’s horribly clichéd, suffering from an awful soundtrack and a not too involving plot, athough it does have some decent performances.
The second film is Lawrence Axe’s “Self Help” (3:03) - winner of The Last Horror Movie Short Film Competition. Tedious isn’t the right word to describe this dull-fest; sometimes I wonder how these films win awards. A man listens to a self help video for 3 minutes (camera stuck on his face) until a shadowy man kills him. No tension, no eye opening direction or sense of originality. The end.
Original Trailer (1:25)
This is the trailer that enticed me in the first place to seek out the film. It’s a very interesting one that does well to sell the film’s premise.
Deleted Scenes (6:36)
It’s obvious from the start why these were excised from the film; they’re far too comical. Admittedly they are funny, but seeing Max whack a woman over the head with a frying pan and then put a German hat on her head before scribbling on a Hitleresque moustache is a little too much within the film’s confines. There are only three deleted scenes; the others are of Max reading a news article in the newsagent before being asked if he’s going to buy it or not, and an extension of him teaching his assistant how to kill a woman.
This short piece, introduced by Richards looks at Howarth and Stevenson’s original auditions, pointing out just why they were so good. We don’t get to see any other auditions for comparison but these do demonstrate a natural knack from both performers. There are also some newly recorded short interviews by Howarth and Stevenson.
Although brief we learn a little about production, starting with the café set-up and Richards telling us how he came up with the idea. He goes on to mention how the film takes a swipe at the films from the 80s and 90s and that clearly its influences are there. Richards talks about some of the technical shots, including special effects, of which most were impressively pulled off. The rest of the piece is made up of interviews with Howarth, Stevenson and a couple of crew members, who offer anecdotes and thoughts on production.
Tartan Trailer Reel
Trailers for Dig!, Sky Blue, Silver City and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things can be accessed here.
I suppose at the end of the day the only thing that really goes against The Last Horror Movie is that its just too late; the era of video nasties is long over. It’s been done better in the past and that fails to make it a revolutionary concept. It’s just about impossible to buy into it as being real because of the medium on which it’s presented, despite the fact that it’s executed very well. Its ambiguous nature at times can go against it, rather than enhance the experience; however the film is a curious piece of work and it’s worth seeing for Kevin Howarth’s performance alone.