Saturday, October 27, 2012

#143: The Last Horror Movie (Julian Richards, 2003)

On paper, a synopsis of this 2003 British meta-horror makes it sound like a total knockoff of the 1992 Belgian cult film Man Bites Dog. Though the premises are almost identical, the films really are very different in their tone, look, execution, and style. The latter film is a black-and-white, guerrilla-punk, pseudo-verite ball of energy, with a manic, bullying subject, and is a lot more violent, if my memory of a film seen about 15 years ago is correct. The Last Horror Movie is in color, is more satirical and contemplative, less violent, with a subject who fancies himself an intellectual. The film's style is the home movie, with a heavy tribute-to-the-dying-VHS vibe and a lot of commentary about horror movies and how we watch them. Both movies are pretty funny.
The film opens with a newscaster's voice over the credits reporting the prison escape of a serial killer. We then see a woman sweeping up in a '50s-style nostalgia diner after closing time. She gets a weird call on her cell phone and hears some glass break. She checks it out and sees a Halloween mask on the ground. She bends down to pick it up and is grabbed from behind by a crazy-looking man with a knife. Just before the big horror movie payoff, the screen goes fuzzy and the image changes to a smug-looking man in a chair, a shelf of VHS tapes on the wall behind him. He tells us that he has taken the liberty of recording over the generic horror movie we have rented (or "hired," in the parlance of the Brits) and that he has something much better for us. This man, Max (Kevin Howarth), is a serial killer and he and his assistant (Mark Stevenson) are making a documentary about him, his murders, and his everyday life outside of the killings.
Max is the type of guy you know too well if you majored in the liberal arts or do anything creative as either a hobby or a profession. He's an arrogant pseudo-intellectual, extremely pleased with himself, and fond of making obvious points he considers profound nuggets of insight and truth. He's an outsider. He doesn't play by society's rules. Since he is in almost every frame of the film, The Last Horror Movie could have grown tiresome despite its relatively short running time, but it doesn't. Howarth is very funny in the role, and the movie gets lots of laughs from the reactions of Max's friends and family members to the camera pointed in their faces. The film could have made lots of tiresome points about our reality-TV-obsessed culture but instead presents that information as a given. The humor comes from the situations and Max's hubris, not Scream-style po-mo lecturing. The way he holds and smokes his cigarettes is funny in itself.
The Last Horror Movie is also a love letter to renting horror movies on VHS from the local video store and that period in recent history in which someone was filming everything with a camcorder. Some reviewers have criticized this film for being anachronistic, but who cares if it is? The opening scene nails that late '80s/early '90s straight-to-video slasher movie look, and Max's day job as a wedding videographer gets that camcorder look just right. Max videotaping his documentary over a horror VHS and then putting that video back on the shelves for others to rent is a nice touch. There are some inconsistencies and plot holes, but they don't damage the movie much.
This is not a horror classic or secret masterpiece. It's short and relatively minor, and some of the satirical jabs are a little too obvious, but it's got lots of charm. It is consistently entertaining, funny, and knows its audience and subject. Though a postmodern commentary on horror and reality TV, it never devolves into the Wes Craven or Seth McFarlane referential void. The characters all seem like people we know, not ciphers. I recommend this one.

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