Distributor: 88 Films
BBFC Classification: 18
Director: David Winters
Starring: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Judd Hamilton, Devin Goldenberg, David Winters, Mary Spinell
You know when a successful comedy series runs out of ideas so they make a ‘one-off special’ which usually involves the characters going on holiday to create hilarious scenarios away from their usual surroundings? That’s what The Last Horror Film feels like, only these characters are Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) and Anna D’Antoni (Caroline Munro) from 1980’s Bill Lustig-directed grindhouse classic Maniac. Well, that’s not strictly true as this film has nothing to do with Maniac apart from having that film’s two lead actors teaming up again but here Joe Spinell plays Vinny Durand, a New York taxi driver with dreams of directing an Oscar-winning movie with actress Jana Bates (Munro), the hottest star in the movies. Durand has bought a ticket to the Cannes Film Festival and is going with the intention of getting Bates to appear in his movie, the main obstacle being he’s never made a film before and nobody knows who he is.
But once he arrives at the festival the people surrounding Jana start to get bumped off in gruesome ways, all the while Durand convincing himself and his mother at home in New York (played by Spinell’s real mother under the name Mary Spinell) that he is on the verge of making a masterpiece with the object of his affections.
So Joe Spinell stalking Caroline Munro whilst having a bit of a mother fixation and having a few mental breakdowns with a few dream-like flashbacks thrown in – haven’t we seen this before? Yes, it is basically Maniac played out at the Cannes Film Festival, albeit with a streak of black humour and a lighter tone that makes it more fun to watch. What also adds to the fun is the fact that the film was shot guerrilla-style at the festival without permission, which may explain a few of the quick edits in the film.
But, like with Maniac, it’s the central performance from Joe Spinell (credited second in the film after Munro) that carries the film and keeps you glued to the screen, and that’s an odd thing to admit in a movie that features Caroline Munro, naked breasts and bloody gore. Yes, for some reason a sweaty, overweight, middle-aged man is the centre of attention in a film that will gratuitously sweep a camera across a crowded beach full of near-naked beauties and that is testament to Spinell’s intensity as an actor. The man is the embodiment of pre-Giuliani New York griminess (in the nicest possible way, of course) and taking him out of the city and putting him in sun-drenched France isn’t the most obvious thing to do as he does stick out a little bit amongst the glitz and glamour of the film festival, but Spinell’s wide-eyed grimacing and manic outbursts are so great to watch that maybe taking him out of his comfort zone was the smart thing to do.
Caroline Munro gets top billing in the film but ultimately she doesn’t have a great deal to do except hang around the festival doing photo shoots so Spinell’s character can spy on her. In truth, Munro has never been the greatest actress on the planet (or even in the films that she’s in) but she does have presence when she is on-screen and what she does have to do she sells quite well. The quality of the image on the Blu-ray does vary quite a bit as this Uncut Special Edition was assembled from various sources and in the darker scenes where Munro is made up in full movie star regalia the colours don’t always show up very clearly, making her face almost nondescript and her multicolured hair the only thing you can really see. It’s not a major issue as you don’t expect films set in cinemas to be brightly lit but when the face you can’t see clearly is Caroline Munro’s you feel you’re missing out on something.
But whatever its pros and cons, The Last Horror Film is a movie made by film fans for film fans. The references and in-jokes come thick and fast and seeing the endless array of different posters for films showing in Cannes that year is a movie nerd’s wet dream; for example, the big display for the then-latest Bond film For Your Eyes Only raising a smile as Caroline Munro was in The Spy Who Loved Me only two Bond films previous. As a companion piece to Maniac it feels like one of those sequels that takes the idea of the original but makes it more accessible – a little like comparing Evil Dead II to The Evil Dead – although unlike most sequels it helps to be quite cineliterate to fully appreciate it. It’s not as good a film as Maniac (Bill Lustig was approached to direct The Last Horror Film but declined as he was working on Vigilante) but the ending is suitably nutty – or meta, in modern parlance – and seeing a sweaty Joe Spinell crying like a naughty child to himself is always good value, plus there are some good kills in the film that will appeal to slasher fans. However, it will make you want to watch Maniac straight after and see proper New York scumbags slumming it in their own territory, if only because it feels more authentic.
Special Features: Audio commentary with associate producer Luke Walter, moderated by Evan Husney, booklet notes by Calum Waddell, optional introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, My Best Maniac conversation with Joe Spinell’s friend Luke Walter, interview with Maniac director William Lustig, Mister Robbie promotional trailer for the never produced Maniac II: Mister Robbie, trailers, reversible sleeve incorporating original artwork.
UK Release Date: 21st July 2014