The exploration of evil and the dark side of human nature is one of the driving forces behind the horror genre, attempting to put a face on the wickedness and brutality which so often seems inherent in life. Of course, very few films actually take this seriously, exploiting the fear of the unknown no further than gimmicky masked maniacs or oversized rubbery monsters. There have been some significant exceptions, however, films which have tried to honestly evaluate the depressingly bland and wretched figures traditionally characterised as devil incarnate, such as “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and the Belgian “Man Bites Dog”.
It is the latter to which Julian Richards’ effort, “The Last Horror Movie” is heavily indebted, following the exploits of an outwardly normal seeming man who happens to be a serial killer in his spare time. Although not quite as successful as its inspiration, being ultimately too smug and self-important to truly convince or chill, “The Last Horror Movie” still makes for entertaining and thoughtful viewing, and is a welcome breath of fetid air in the current dirge of toothless sequels and remakes.
Amusingly, “The Last Horror Movie” starts off with a mock up of a cheap, generic slasher movie before the tape supposedly cuts out, switching to video footage of Max (Kevin Howarth, also in the British vampire film “Razor Blade Smile”), who politely introduces himself and informs the viewer that he has recorded his own film over the original. His film basically consists of himself, having paid an assistant to follow him around with a camera as he goes about his daily business, which generally includes equal amounts of domestic chores, philosophical ranting, and random murders.
As such, the film itself is essentially plotless, being little more than a series of vignettes connected by Max’s frequent tirades, largely directed at the viewer, taunting and constantly questioning whether we are enjoying the bloody mayhem we are watching or not, and if we believe that we ourselves would be capable of such acts. There is no real character development as such, and although we do gain some insight into Max’s life, despite his rants and relentless self promotion, we never get any real idea of exactly where his madness comes from. As such, he makes for a rather bland central villain, and one which exists solely as a voice for the director to underline quite needlessly that this is a film with a message.
To be fair, this is the point which Richards is trying to make — to demystify the modern serial killer and expose the glorified, hackneyed image usually used by horror films. Indeed, Richards takes this one step further, actually attempting to implicate the viewer in the proceedings, not only through Max’s incessant addressing of the camera, but more subtly through the use of the video medium. The viewer is reminded many times that they have the choice to simply stop watching, and through this, Richards questions why we crave such visceral, anti-social experiences, and indeed whether or not we have any right to feel superior to the murderous Max.
The proceedings are fairly bloody, with a number of sadistic killings, though most of these are shown indistinctly, with Richards wisely shying away from the graphic details and avoiding a reliance on the kind of cheap make up effects which would certainly have turned the film into something far more generic. Max’s actions, including cannibalism and torture are themselves repellent enough to shock the viewer, and the inclusion of too much blood would have been somewhat gratuitous.
The film’s main flaw is that Richards overplays his hand, and after being mocked by the protagonist for the umpteenth time, it starts to become annoying rather than insightful. The film basically has one statement to make, which it repeats endlessly and with a distasteful lack of subtlety. This detracts from the overall realism, and at times pushes the proceedings into the realm of art house surrealism, accentuated by Max’s facetious suggestion that the whole thing may be a joke. Matters are not helped by the final act, which attempts to introduce a final twist aimed at one further attack on the viewer, though which sadly comes off as a rather laughable contrivance, and one which, in-keeping with the rest of the film, is hammered home several times in case it has not been properly understood.
Still, despite such criticisms, “The Last Horror Movie” remains a valiant, reasonably intelligent effort to deconstruct the genre. Although nowhere near as clever as the director seems to think it is, and too self important to ever be truly believable, “The Last Horror Movie” nevertheless manages to entertain and engage, standing out in a genre which all too often has neither the will nor the wit to offer anything beyond cheap thrills.
Julian Richards (director) / Julian Richards, James Handel (screenplay)
CAST: Kevin Howarth …. Max
Mark Stevenson …. The Assistant
Antonia Beamish …. Petra
Christabel Muir …. Sam
Jonathan Coote …. John