Color, 1982, 87m.
Directed by David Winters
Starring Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Judd Hamilton, David Winters, Susanne Benton, Mary Spinell
Troma (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A bizarre footnote in early '80s horror history, The Last Horror Film was a widely-hyped film (at least among the Famous Monsters-reading fan community) promised to storm theaters during a glut of features starring Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. Much of the anticipation arose from the reteaming of its stars, Joe Spinell (a character actor from films like Taxi Driver and Cruising) and scream queen Caroline Munro (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), who starred in 1980's surprise splatter hit, Maniac (not to mention 1979's unsurprising non-hit, Starcrash). Their third time out together, shot during the colorful 1981 Cannes Film Festival, promised to be a dizzying meta-horror film that would turn the genre on its head. Then... it pretty much vanished. Yes, it played a couple of token screens (sometimes under the alternate title of Fanatic), but the end result proved to be much stranger and certainly goofier than anyone expected, playing more like someone's deranged European vacation sprinkled with a handful of bloody kill scenes and wacko banter between Spinell and his mom. Of course, these oddball qualities are exactly what makes this film so fascinating today and an amusing change of pace from the typical slice-and-dice fare of the period.
Once again playing a sweaty obsessive, Spinell stars as Vinny Durand, a sad-sack cabbie with a deeply questionable crush on horror star Jana Bates (Munro), for whom he's been envisioning a dream project. Undeterred by his kvetching mama, he takes off for France to woo Jana with his movie pitch while she's promoting her latest release. Of course, his efforts to cut through her keepers prove to be more difficult than he anticipated, particularly the strong-arming presence of her boyfriend, Alan (played by Munro's real-life spouse, Judd Hamilton). Soon the men in Jana's life start turning up with their head floating in a hotel bathroom sink or lying in bathtubs with their throat slashed, while Vinny gets closer and closer to the woman of his dreams when not experiencing colorful delusions at local strip clubs.
Unlike Maniac, this film tries to pack a sting into its tail (which, now that you know, won't be much of a surprise), but it's still basically a showcase for Spinell to strut his stuff. And strut he does, delivering a scenery-chewing lead performance that manages to almost single-handedly negate the film's multitude of narrative and technical issues. His fantasy scenes are an obvious attempt to riff on the mannequin delusions of Maniac, of course, but in this case the idea of a reflexive look at horror idol worship and the superficial allure of movie making in general gives it all a distinctly different flavor. Of course, Munro is always worth watching and looks great with her grey-streaked hairstyle, not to mention a show-stopping scene in which she's terrorized and chased from her hotel room in nothing but a towel (which the awaiting press thinks is an elaborate publicity stunt). If that weren't enough, the film is also a delicious early '80s time capsule, kicking off with Depeche Mode's "Photographic" blasting over the opening titles and peppering the entire running time with great on-location Cannes footage promoting the likes of For Your Eyes Only, First Blood, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Cannibal Holocaust, and Andrzej Zulawski's Possession, for which a briefly-glimpsed Isabelle Adjani actually did garner an award for appearing in a horror film along with a more traditional Merchant-Ivory film the same year, Quartet. Of course, the obligatory Côte d'Azur topless sunbathing babes are thrown in for good measure, too, along with brief celebrity sightings ranging from Marcello Mastroianni to Cathy Lee Crosby.
Much of the disjointed feel of The Last Horror Film can be attributed to its undisciplined and very messy production history, with director, co-writer and co-star David Winters (a former choreographer and helmer of the patchwork MST3000 favorite Space Mutiny as well as some very wild TV specials for Ann-Margret and Raquel Welch) apparently yielding many sequences over to Hamilton (who co-wrote and co-produced) and Spinell. At times this nearly rivals Night Train to Terror for violent tone shifts, but that also guarantees you won't be bored for a second. You might even say it serves as a sort of forerunner to Scream (the name of its movie-within-a-movie, coincidentally) with its house of mirrors approach to horror, refracting each layer upon the other until finally pulling it all away for a truly surreal concluding ten minutes. As if the self-commentary weren't enough, the script also tosses in liberal nods to the wave of early '80s celebrity assassination attempts (especially Hinckley's attempt at Reagan) for reasons that might be considered tasteless if the film didn't have such a scattershot, ultimately lighthearted approach.
The Last Horror Film first popped up on video during the VHS era in its standard R-rated edition from Media in the U.S. and a slightly longer variation in the U.K. This extra footage (amounting to under a minute, including a gorier climactic death for the killer) failed to materialize in Troma's first DVD edition under the Fanatic title, but their much-needed reissue in 2009 under the more famous original title manages to finally get things right. The extra footage is integrated back into the film (in what appears to be the exact same transfer), with the new bits of somewhat lesser quality but quite welcome all the same. The nocturnal climax looked dark and muddy even in theatrical prints and doesn't fare much better here, so just expect that going in. If the extended cut weren't enough, the special edition sweetens the pot with a number of juicy extras obviously compiled with care and attention absent from much of the company's self-promoting earlier disc. "My Best Maniac" spends an afternoon trotting around the late Spinell's old haunts with his best friend, Luke Walter, who reels off a string of affectionate anecdotes about his buddy. Water, who was apparently present for the entire film shoot, also contributes an audio commentary with Evan Husney in which he covers the entire film from the vantage point of Spinell's contributions, which also helps to make sense of how it all came together and what its star expected to take away from the project. Maniac director and Blue Underground founder Bill Lustig also appears for another interview in which he talks about how the film originally came together and the rather immature expectations and circumstances from which it sprang, often chuckling in disbelief at his own memories. "Mr. Robbie" (also pitched as "Maniac 2"), a grim and moody short film by Combat Shock director Buddy Giovinazzo, is also presented here in its entirety, a nice prelude to Troma's much-needed special edition of Giovinazzo's nasty little masterpiece. Also included is the usual silly and ultimately head-scratching video intro by Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman, a still gallery of Spinell images from Walter's archives, a trailer under the original title, an alternate trailer and TV spots as Fanatic, and a much more restrained than usual batch of Troma-related promos.
In 2014, UK label 88 Films took a stab at the film in what remains its definitive version to date, a combo Blu-ray/DVD set with a new HD transfer from the original negative (bearing the Fanatic title) with its first widescreen presentation framed at 1.85:1. Clocking in at 87 minutes and 17 seconds, it's a complete presentation with a fleeting handful of shots (one of the chainsaw swipes at the end and part of Night Caller) culled from the same lower res source as the prior Troma DVD. Image quality is fairly nice under the circumstances with virtually no element damage and accurate colors, though it's definitely on the darker side and looks quite soft throughout. Extras here include the commentary, "Mr. Robbie," TV spots, Kaufman intro, and Lustig and Walter interviews; the trailer has been dropped, but an 11-minute Q&A panel with Munro has been added.
Well over a year later, Troma revisited the film for its own standalone Blu-ray release in the U.S., and while you might expect it to just be a port of the 88 Films transfer, that's not the case at all. No damage clean up has been performed, so debris and scratches are prevalent throughout; the shrinking of the negative that caused some minor warps at cuts during scenes is more pronounced here, and the image looks brighter with a paler, greenish cast throughout. Furthermore, the extra footage inserts aren't included here, which means we're back to the old cut version running 86 minutes and 48 seconds. On the positive side, there's a substantial amount of additional image information on all four sides of the frame, which you can see by clicking the comparison frame grabs below, and the brightness brings out some detail unseen on previous transfers. (The ones seen elsewhere here are all from the 88 Films release.) The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track sounds pretty anemic and distorted compared to the LPCM option on the UK disc, but it's hardly unlistenable. The commentary, trailer, and "Mr. Robbie" are carried over here again, and you also get a new Kaufman intro (featuring the terrifying sight of him cavorting down the sidewalk in drag) and a batch of unrelated Troma bonuses like a 2015 Tromadance highlight reel, an episode of Kabukiman's Cocktail Corner, and a strange short video for "Dolphin-Man."
Troma Blu-ray Frame Grabs
Updated review on January 17, 2016.