The Last Horror Movie

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THE LAST HORROR MOVIE continues two ongoing traditions. For one, it's a horror film staged as a mockumentry. For another, it represents Fangoria's umpteenth attempt to break into U.S. film distribution. Neither one of these institutions has met with much success in the past and THE LAST HORROR MOVIE is no different.

When it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, Fango has had a spotty record of bringing horror to the big screen. In the early nineties, they delivered a trio of films which weren't bad. There was the okay killer appendage film SEVERED TIES, followed by the decent offbeat vampire tale CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT and the awesome sci-fi gorefest MINDWARP, starring Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately, the films didn't do well enough to warrant the mag producing full-time. Eventually, they began to distribute foreign horror films in the U.S. Some of these were surprisingly good like ANGEL OF THE NIGHT and SCHOOL'S OUT. Others, like the god-awful LADY OF THE LAKE, threatened to destroy Fangoria's already tarnished reputation. They didn't have time to go away since then, but they've re-tooled their image anyway and are now looking to unleashed another wave of European horrors for the U.S. market. Such is the case with the British-lensed THE LAST HORROR MOVIE.

As it starts out, we are treated to yet another generic slasher film. About seven minutes in however, the screen flickers and Max (Kevin Howarth - RAZOR BLADE SMILE) appears. Get used to his grinning mug because you're going to be staring at it for over an hour. He tells you that he has taped over the film you rented from the video store but you're not missing much. It was just another in an endless line of bland, fake, odious schlock masquerading as entertainment. Max promises us something more. Ooooh, goody goody. Yes, please and make it snappy.

Well, he thinks he's pretty hot stuff anyway. What he is is a mass murderer (technically, serial killers plan their murders in advance and have a certain modus operandi - people fail to point that out and I'm getting sick of it). He tells us of how he became a killer and non-chalantly describes how he continues to this day and has been responsible for the deaths of over fifty people. What's more, he promises to take us along for the ride as he continues to kill several unsuspecting people. We do witness several very graphic murders. He doesn't do anything too fancy, but stabbings, bludgeonings and suffocations are still plenty disturbing, especially when told without cuts or dramatic music.

Max is a true sociopath. He has no guilt or remorse about anything he does and has an unapologetically negative outlook on just about everyone who isn't directly related to him. As he goes throughout his rounds killing people, he expounds on his theories and shares his meaning of life. And shares, and shares... Really, I got sick of Max very quickly. Howarth does a fine job in the role, but the character itself is a pain to deal with. The first few killings are shocking of course and it's always painful to see the consequences of murder, even if Max himself doesn't seem to care. But after a while, anything can be tiresome. Once you've seen a couple of Max's murders, you've pretty much seen them all.

How he plays them up makes him a bit of a bore as well. He's all suave and cool, showing confidence and satisfaction throughout the entire running time. The film offers him very little vulnerability, even when defending himself against others' opinions. This was a critical casting mistake in my opinion. Howarth is far too attractive and cool. The film follows him throughout his daily life but he doesn't come across as completely real. I'm sure there have been seductive killers in the past. I could certainly see how someone would fall for the charms of a Ted Bundy, for instance. But the film shows him as being far too good and assured in his life. In trying to be a realistic film about murder, it has fallen into a familiar trap in making the central character so dauntless. We've seen a million GQ serial killers, but here would have been a perfect opportunity to present us with a real loser. Someone who is only mildly popular, who has lots of outside pressures - not just friends and family - who is basically a pathetic schlub who only gets control or attention through his murderous acts. That's often the reality in the profiles. Director Julian Richards picks a very basic model for his killer and then seeks to explore the many dimensions of said character. But there are barely two dimensions to his persona, much less three and hence it isn't very exciting.

This film draws obvious comparisons to earlier films. The most obvious is MAN BITES DOG, whose plot is more than a little similar to THE LAST HORROR MOVIE. That film knew it should balance it's premise with a sly wit and a skewed outlook on this crazy world. THE LAST HORROR MOVIE plays it straight and loses its appeal. HENRY was a drama, but it nonetheless painted a similar portrait of a ser-doh!- mass murderer. But John McNaughton's film was expertly paced, throwing enough curveballs to be chilling to the bone. THE LAST HORROR MOVIE is dull and repetitious. Don't expect the film to deliver on the red stuff alone either. The killings aim for realism, not gore. If the rumors are true, AUGUST UNDERGROUND presents a similar plot with far more disgusting results.

We also get a glimpse into Max's behavior and how he is viewed by others. Enjoyed by children but deemed immature by adults, the world at large has a low overall opinion of Max. They would never suspect him of murder but they certainly think he's a big talker who never does anything with his life. And in a way, they're right. He kills people, but he doesn't make money at it and he doesn't advance. It's a hobby, pure and simple. He could offer in his defense that he is an avid windsurfer, but while the sport may offer him a huge release, while he may be very skilled at it, and while he may make a good case for why he does it, it doesn't change the fact that it is something he does purely for kicks. And we all have something like that.

His interaction with people is really the only interesting thing in the whole film. He has an interaction with his sister's family in which her husband is a real stiff. Now, he may be the obvious anti-role model for Max. Why would you want to conform to society's wishes if conforming means you turn into someone like that? But he also has friends, funny and artistic, who are successful if not financially then at least of getting their act together without gutting anyone. Max talks endlessly about why he does what he does but although you would not expect to come around to his way of thinking, the arguments he makes aren't even compelling. Watch any show on Court TV and you'll hear far more likely explanations for anti-social behavior. The fact is killing seems to be the only thing Max is any good at, but the film fails to make that very basic observation.

The film offers an interesting occupation for Max. He is a videographer who specializes in weddings. But it fails to tie this into Max's social makeup except to let us know he knows how to operate a video camera. Here he sees people at arguably their most happy, the time in life in which they make the commitment to spend the rest of their lives with the person they love. Meanwhile, he returns home to his lonely shack. He also sees the deceit. Grooms or brides whose heart isn't in it, who hide their own dark secrets deep in their closets. But again, the film doesn't tie this in. It only uses it for a few jokes and one violent payoff.

THE LAST HORROR MOVIE even offers us a final twist that I won't go into here. Save for the fact that it makes the same mistake as other horror mockumentries like THE LAST BROADCAST. The twist may be unprecedented, but it also happens to make very little sense. Several times in the film, it seems as if Richards has run out of ideas. Max spends an awful lot of time, especially towards the end, simply taunting the viewer. It gets old very quickly as Max is forced to everything but wave his arms dramatically in the air and say, "Ooooooh...."

Trying to play a mind trip on the audience, he repeatedly asks, "How do you know this isn't real?" Well, let's see: A simple search on the internet will enable you to track the film's progress. The film alleges this is a VHS tape, when actually it's a DVD (Do studios even produce many VHS tapes anymore?). I didn't get it from a rental store as he says several times, I got it from Greencine. I remember Howarth from RAZOR BLADE SMILE. The DVD comes chock full of behind the scenes extras, including deleted scenes, auditions and commentaries. Shall I go on? In other words, much of the film's fear factor relies on it presenting itself as something it can never be in this day and age - a complete surprise.

But the worst sin committed by THE LAST HORROR MOVIE was one I saw coming from a mile away. I feared they might go down this road but prayed they wouldn't. The film plays the old guilt trip route. Presenting itself as the real thing and not a simulation, it notes that we have nonetheless not turned the video off and called the police. This was once a shocking comment to make. But that's just it, the point has been made time and time again and often by better films than this. It's an old dead horse they nonetheless drag out and pummel some more.

"Why are you watching?," Max snidely asks us. For myself, I don't have a choice. This is my job. In writing for Horror Express, I have to see it through to the end. I have to then write up a long and rambling account of the film and tell people how awful it is. Now I have done that, and my work is done.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis