The Last Horror Film (1982)

Ladies and gentlemen, today is the first day of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, so I thought I’d celebrate by talking about a very particular horror movie filmed guerrilla style around the festival. Is it exploitative? Yes? Is it sleazy? Hell yes. Am I pandering? Of course. You should have figured out by now that I have no shame. Now let’s talk about The Last Horror Film.

Vinny Durand is a New York City taxi driver who obsesses over making a movie with Jana Bates in the lead role. He manages to get some time off and a ticket into the Cannes Film Festival, but he remembers to check in with his mother repeatedly back in New York. Meanwhile, someone is stalking Jana and murdering various members of the film industry, while cinema goers relish in violent horror and exploitation flicks and walk around the beach topless. Or swim topless. Or sunbathe topless. I’ve seen fewer topless women in a porn. It’s that kind of movie.

Still, it actually helps reinforce the main statement of the film, which is about an obsessive fan living in a world of fantasy and voyeurism. Who is Vinny Durand? He’s a Mets fan, for one thing. Yeah, got that born loser thing going. He probably roots for the Knicks too. More importantly, he gets sweaty watching exploitative murder sequences and chokes over gore, he surrounds his bedrooms with magazines and photos of an actress he isn’t supposed to ever meet, and he struggles with sexuality and perversion, including sniffing stockings on the beach before being tossed away as the gross bum that he is. Vinny is the worshipful film fan, the creep who demands more and more and more…and truth be told, he’s also the surrogate for us. We’re watching a movie where the press worships movie stars. Hell, some of this movie was filmed at Cannes without telling people, just another eye in a worshiping crowd of adoring fans and photographers. Who knows how many people stole the images of actors walking up a carpet and put them on their walls at home? Suddenly, Vinny’s not so disgusting.

The other half of this is Jana, who is treated as a normal human being. Yes, she’s a star actress, but she experiences trauma and fear, she’s terrified by Vinny’s bizarre yet worshipful behavior when he does finally get near enough to show it, and when she tries to tell people what she has witnessed, her words are doubted as a publicity stunt by virtue of who she is. She can’t lead a normal life, not because of Vinny, but because the general public has put her on a pedestal and refuses to let her down for even the most human of reasons. When she does get to escape in the end, it’s unfortunately to the worst possible situation: an abusive man.

Yeah, that’s right. The Last Horror Film doesn’t only revel in how disgusting we are as fans, it also revels in how disgusting of a place Hollywood can be. In one scene, a producer openly sexually harasses an actress who approaches him about a movie project and refuses to even talk to her when she rejects his advances. In another, a man admits he pretends to be rich just so he can get women to sleep with him. Ultimately, it all comes down to a man who refuses to let a woman break up with him and threatens violence, only to be stopped by the most unlikely of people.

This movie bills itself as a horror comedy, but I don’t see it as all that funny. It’s a pretty raw look at the film industry, fame, and how we fail as people. I’d put this up there with Peeping Tom on the devastating effect of the movie camera. That said, Vinny at least gets to make his movie. If you’re wondering why you recognize Vinny, that’s Joe Spinell, writer and star of the 1980 film Maniac. If you’ve never seen Maniac, you’re missing out on something fantastically terrible and terribly fantastic. As for Jana, she was played by Caroline Munro, a scream queen who also worked with Spinell in Maniac and Starcrash, as well as numerous 1970s Hammer productions and slasher films in the 1980s.

The Last Horror Film is a fantastic film about the worst parts of our culture and art. It also managed to become a supplemental Video Nasty. Now that’s a badge of honor right there. It also got distributed by Troma, which is like a double whammy of awesome.

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