The Last Horror Movie
A serial killer uses a horror video rental to lure his next victim. What begins as a teen slasher transforms into a disturbing journey through the mind of Max Parry, a mild mannered wedding photographer with a taste for human flesh.
Julian Richards (idea)
The Last Horror Movie – released in the infancy stages of the out-n-out reality show blitzkrieg – may well have been considered disturbing or outrageous so many years ago, but it’s pretty darn tame by today’s standards. In other words, the film doesn’t completely work (true gems stand the test of time), and although this is my first viewing of the piece, I don’t believe it held up.
Max (Kevin Howarth) is a cannibalistic serial killer. He kills a wide slew of ages, races, histories – and his victims are from both sexes. All of this seeming “randomness” keeps the authorities from properly creating a profile to catch him. He’s decided to hire an apprentice (played by Mark Stevenson) – to not only film Max’s life and crimes (which is meant to become “The Last Horror Movie”), but to teach his new assistant the ropes and eventually become a murderer himself. With a slight nod to American Psycho, Max lives an otherwise normal life as a handsome and charming wedding videographer. He has a close circle of friends and loves to visit with his sister and two young nephews. His ultimate goal is to use his film (recorded over a B-horror film VHS tape called “The Last Horror Movie”) to choose his next victims.
A similarly plotted film came out a few years after The Last Horror Movie, and it was a far better film in terms of quality, pace and performance. It’s a little film I like to call Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (which I placed on my list of the Top 25 Horror Films of the Century So Far – check out a link to that article here). It also follows the exploits of a serial killer, with behind-the-scenes anecdotes, secrets of planning/kill choices and on-screen kills.
I am really torn when examining the work of lead actor Kevin Howarth. There were moments when I found myself saying, “This guy is so charismatic, so sexy and so appealing”, and then five minutes later, I would be thinking, “I’m not totally buying his performance.” I get that the character has to have an air of cockiness around him, but the few times I doubted his cock-sureness, it stood out like a sore thumb. I truly believe that had Howarth’s work been more consistent – the film would have overcome many of its other shortcomings (continue to read) and fared better in this review. As is, he doesn’t quite make it.
Other performances were acceptable, but none were particularly mind-blowing. Some of the victims were quite believable – under the duress of these violent moments, but many of the people in Max’s “normal” life simply existed – neither good nor bad performances.
The attempts by the filmmakers to hold up a mirror to ourselves – and how we as film audiences are able to witness and accept stomach-churning murders without turning away or simply shutting the film off – work to an extent, but overall, they end up feeling flat. More than once (and it becomes a big part of the film’s climax) Max talks directly to the camera, asking why we’re still watching and if we’re judging his actions, why aren’t we judging our own? This motif becomes tiresome and repetitive. We get it. The final reveal and personal threat from Max – nicely done with some tingles of “oohs” and “aahs” – isn’t a perfect payoff. By that point in the film, these audience guilt trips have already run their course.
And there are plenty of films which have VHS home entertainment as a central idea or an important sidebar, but in the last 13 years since the film was released – we have moved into an on-demand society. No one leaves their homes to gather home entertainment – Redbox may be the one exception. This important part of the film’s final few moments… well, you can’t help but see it as dated and therefore, wholly unimpressive. And the ideas in the film’s ending are not something we would necessarily worry about today.
The gore effects are all pretty well done, but there are no scares and little suspense. And that brings me to this…
My biggest beef (that’s an inside-joke for those who have seen it) is that unlike the afore-mentioned Leslie Vernon story, there was no build in The Last Horror Movie. It was just a bunch of murder scenes, spliced with on-camera interviews with Max. In Leslie Vernon, the entire time was spent building anticipation of his big score/kill – one he’d been planning for, setting up and rehearsing for a very long time. So from the get-go, we’re waiting for that big moment – and it doesn’t disappoint. Here, Max just goes about randomly killing – but to what end? So he can throw our own morals back in our face? As mentioned above, that doesn’t quite work. But with no heightening of the stakes and no big event to anticipate, the film just falls flat.
Some of the humor works, certainly not all of it. If we continue our comparison to Behind the Mask, it doesn’t adequately reach those horror-humor heights. I saw on a piece of cover art, the quote from another critic (probably from back in the day of the film’s release), “Stomps in the footprints set by Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”. To me, that’s not accurate. The film’s off-again/on-again humor, and the fact that it didn’t work – was a distraction. Had the film gone the somber, disturbing and completely dark route of Henry, it may well have worked.
On that note, there were several moments where the film dabbled in the realm of one of my most hated sub-genres – torture porn. As a few of Max’s victims were being butchered, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach – too realistic, too graphic? As I did for the majority of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, I felt incredibly uncomfortable. But there were plenty of other gruesome deaths (a montage of bludgeonings comes to mind) which were comical and inoffensive. It’s a perfect example of how the film didn’t take a side. Commit to the darkness or don’t. Unless you’re one of the most gifted writers/filmmakers in the horror biz, you simply can’t have it both ways. It’s too difficult to pull off – evidenced by The Last Horror Movie.
The Last Horror Movie is a really fine and original idea – 13 years ago. It’s a pre-cursor to the brilliant Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – minus that film’s meta-heart, strong performances and joyous celebration of serial killers.
The film is available on DVD and VOD platforms – perhaps at Redbox?