Color, 1980, 96 mins. 27 secs.
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Starring David Warbeck, Tisa Farrow, Tony King, Bobby Rhodes, Margi Eveline Newton, John Steiner, Massimo Vanni
Treasured Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Dark Sky (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The The Last Hunterfirst and easily the most popular The Last Hunterof the brief Italian wave of action films about the Vietnam War, this large-scale look at the horrors of combat cemented cult filmmaker Antonio Margheriti as one of the country's premiere action specialists. The director had tried his hand at action films before, including the previous year's Killer Fish and 1978's The Squeeze, but from this point on (including an even bloodier 1980 'Nam offering, the war/horror hybrid Cannibal Apocalypse), he would turn out one accomplished shoot 'em up after another well into the '90s.

After his best friend and fellow solider completely snaps and commits suicide during a violent night at a Vietnam brothel, Captain Henry Morris (Warbeck) is sent on a secret mission into the heart of combat during the chaotic final year of the war. His mission: to take out a radical American female radio announcer who's urging U.S. soldiers to disregard commands, drop their weapons, and go home. To fulfill his mission, Morris teams up with war photographer Jane Foster (Zombie's Farrow) and two other soldiers (Demons' Rhodes and Cannibal Apocalypse's King) for a long slog through the jungle where they encounter ambushes, plenty of dead bodies, and the raving Major Cash (Tenebrae's Steiner) who sends his men on deadly coconut-gathering runs through enemy fire. However, that's nothing compared to what Morris finds when he reaches his target.

In true Italian exploitation style, this film tips its hat openly to recent American films including The Deer Hunter (which obviously inspired the title), Apocalypse Now, and even a bit of Coming Home-style PTSD. However, you'd be hard pressed to call this film a rip-off since it has plenty of original ideas all its own. In addition to a very heavy amount of violence (there's gunfire and bloodshed roughly every eight minutes), the film makes no attempt at sentimentality or jingoism and works all the better for it. The real ace up its sleeve is The Last HunterWarbeck, a fine actor best known at the time for headlining one of the better British '70s T&A comedies (The Sex Thief) and Russ Meyer's box office disaster Black Snake, as well as turning up in supporting roles in Duck, You The Last HunterSucker and Twins of Evil. He turned out to be a first-rate action hero able to handle the conflicted nature of his character while running through explosions and wielding various firearms, something that served in well in what would turn out to be a lucrative Italian career thanks to The Beyond, The Black Cat, and more Margheriti projects with The Hunters of the Golden Cobra, The Ark of the Sun God, the nutty miniseries Treasure Island in Outer Space, and another 'Nam film with Tony King, Tiger Joe. Not to be overlooked is the catchy, diverse music score by the great Franco Micalizzi, which carries over some of the unexpected funk from his masterpiece the previous year, The Visitor.

Released in U.S. theaters by World Northal over three years after its run in Europe, The Last Hunter became one of the most popular early VHS titles from Vestron Video and stayed around on video shelves for years. Unfortunately it's also one of the label's worst transfers, almost entirely devoid of color and so murky and heavily cropped it's almost impossible to tell what was going on. Much better is the 2007 Dark Sky DVD, taken from a hybrid Italian-French print and featuring both a closer approximation of the correct aspect ratio and improved (but still lackluster) color. That disc also features "Margheriti and The Last Hunter" (22m52s), shot at De Paolis Studios with the director's son and frequent assistant director, Edoardo Margheriti, chatting about his dad's career and the significance of this particular film. The English export trailer and a still gallery are also included.

That brings us to the film's debut on Blu-ray from Code Red in 2018, which improved radically over the DVD with much better flesh tones and a vast amount of The Last Hunterdetail now visible that wasn't even hinted at in prior transfers. There's also a significant amount of additional image info The Last Hunteron all four sides, and since this is taken from a different source (with English-language opening credits), you'll see some very minor little editorial differences as well. This version runs 20 seconds longer than the Dark Sky DVD, with little variations popping up during the in and out points of some shots (check out the helicopter attack during the main titles for one of the more noticeable examples). The DTS-HD MA English mono track sounds very good and presents a clean representation of the originla mix; it's worth noting that the film was shot entirely in English with some pretty expert looping done afterwards (even on Steiner, whose British accent was presumably unconvincing for the role); only Hell of the Living Dead's Newton comes off poorly with the slipshod looping done on her character, who thankfully only speaks for a couple of minutes. If you ever wanted to learn more about Tony King, you'll want to take a look at a pretty astonishing new interview featurette (19m54s) as the former pro footballer chats about his co-stars and director, the odd circumstances behind his early speaking part in The Godfather, and his memories of the "firm" Ruggero Deodato. Incredibly, the camera keeps rolling for an insane interruption outside the room just before the 15-minute mark, too, resulting in one of the more outrageous editing choices you'll see. Next up is a new John Steiner interview (8m57s), recorded at his usual real estate office and finding him in a cheerful mood as he recalls shooting in the Philippines and the "family affair" feel on being on a Margheriti set. For some reason the camera's placed right up against Steiner's foot on the desk, which makes for a very odd viewing experience -- especially during another inept editing decision as he takes a phone call! The theatrical trailer is also included, plus bonus ones for The Fury of the Wolfman, The Mummy's Revenge, Seven Blood-stained Orchids, Almost Human, and The Violent Professionals.

In 2023, U.K. label Treasured Films selected The Last Hunter as its inaugural title with what will likely be the definitive edition for a very long time. Here you The Last Hunterget the usual English track in LPCM mono with optional English subtitles, and while you'd expect the film to look the same, this is actually a significant leap over the U.S. Blu-ray with much improved color timing, deeper black, and better compression with a finer, more convincing grain structure. Frame grabs in the body of this The Last Hunterreview are from the U.K. release, but you can clearly see the difference below. The 2,000-unit limited edition comes with outrageously luxurious packaging including a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Graham Humphries (the first time this film has ever had really good key art, and it looks great), a 60 page perfect-bound booklet with essays and interviews by Troy Howarth, Eugenio Ercolani and John Martin, and six collectors' art cards. (Buying directly from the web store also gets you a reversible fold-out poster.) The feature itself comes with a new commentary that can't be assessed here since it features this writer, Howarth, and Ercolani, but hopefully you'll find it worth a listen. The copious video extras start with The Outsider (61m31s), a career-spanning retrospective of Margheriti's cinema created by his son Edoardo, here on Blu-ray with English subs for the first time. From his early sci-fi favorites through his westerns, gialli, and beloved nutso '80s output, it's all covered right here and will make you want to have a Margheriti binge immediately. The new video essay "Apocalypse Hunter" (17m50s) by Ercolani uses a reel-to-reel tape device to examine the film as a progression of the violent output in '70s Italian films designed to get moviegoers back in the theaters during social upheaval, with the obvious Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter influences mingling with Margheriti keeping up with fellow filmmakers at the time like Lucio Fulci. In "From Dawson to Dawson" (28m18s), Edoardo Margheriti offers a new interview about working with his dad on U.S. shoots like Cannibal Apocalypse and the many hats he sometimes wore on the sets, including quick bit roles and taking stills, as well as the path this film paved for his father's subsequent Namsploitation titles. In "Margie in the Jungle" (13ms), Newton looks back on the film as part of a wave of titles ranging from Hell to Alberto Sordi prestige comedies, noting with amusement that she wasn't aware of the cult following these films had until much later. "Jungle Boogie" (16m36s) features Micalizzi chatting about his score and its groovy connections to his '70s crime movie work as well as the shifts in audiences and marketing at the time this film was released with a slew of other legends like Morricone still having a major impact on his craft. Finally in "Mud and Blood" (18m43s), actor and stunt man Massimo Vanni looks back at his glory days of action films working on everything from Rambo cash-ins to cop movies all the way through the '80s Bruno Mattei frenzy in the Philippines. Also included are the English trailer (in a gorgeous new scan) and a pretty incredible 67-image gallery with some wild behind-the-scenes photos and lots of posters and video art.


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CODE RED (Blu-ray)


Updated review on April 17, 2023