Joe Spinell is perhaps best known to fans of horror movies for his unhinged portrayal in Maniac (1980) as character Frank Zito. The film’s depiction of a troubled man with the mother of all mommy issues (pun intended) is a character that still disturbs over three decades later. However there is another film that Spinell should be remembered for within the horror genre, as the big man would go on to play another disturbed individual in 1982’s The Last Horror Film. 88 Films have released it on blu-ray, for the first time, with restored footage that had been previously cut for being too gory.
The plot concerns itself with New York City cabbie Vinnie (Joe Spinell) who is an aspiring film maker. He is desperate to escape his dull and non-exciting life. He decides to go to the Cannes Film Festival, telling his elderly loudmouth mother (played by Spinell’s real mother) that he’s going to shop around a film he has been working on, and that world famous horror movie starlet Jana Bates (Caroline Munro) is ideal to be the lead. Vinnie, it emerges, is obsessed with Bates and the chances of his film being made are slim.
Vinnie travels to France to the festival although he starts losing his grip on reality as he encounters Bates who is there doing the publicity rounds. Vinnie hallucinates about being with her and his non-existent film being a success. People close to Jana, who just so happen to stop Vinnie fulfilling his ‘destiny’, start being killed in brutal fashion by an unseen person. The frightened scream queen receives a note saying “You have made your last horror film.” It appears Vinnie’s unrequited affection has turned violent.
The most striking thing about The Last Horror Film is Vinnie’s obsession with Jana. Throughout the entire movie it seems director David Winters is trying to send a message that sometimes being a fan of horror movies can be a bad thing. Vinnie talks about Jana and tracks her down as if she is his, because he has admired her for so long by seeing her films. In the years since The Last Horror Film instances of fans of celebrities ‘going too far’ have increased, most notable being the murder of US sitcom actress Rebecca Schaffer. Only 21, she was shot by stalker Robert John Bardo in the doorway of her apartment building. This caused anti-stalking laws to be taken seriously for the first time. It seems the role of Jana Bates will suffer a similar fate. Does Vinnie think he can do to her for real what he has witnessed happen to her in the movies? Or does he feel it would bring them together in a twisted ideal of love and possession?
Spinell, of course, is the most striking performance. Similar, again, to his role in Maniac he is often a whimpering man that craves female attention in a bizarre way. Despite the menace his hulking frame creates he does have an air of tragedy around him and, as a result, gains sympathy. He loses himself regularly in fantasies in which he receives awards for his non-existent movies, where he is happy and smiling. The reality is that he is a nobody in a sea of nobodies flooding the Cannes Film Festival. He is shown phoning his mother back in New York who tells him straight he is in a fantasy world, which causes him to become upset and start crying. Unfortunately it is never fully explored as to why he is this way and what emotional trauma he may have experienced to end up like this.
In this release previously cut scenes of violence and bloodshed have been restored. Some of the death scenes are realistic and very brutal. Whoever made the original cuts must have been appalled by what they had seen. The restored footage has suffered from ageing and isn’t anywhere near the picture quality of the rest of the movie. But this may enhance the film for some, as it is obvious when you are watching the newly re-inserted footage and can witness what, for many years, you weren’t allowed to see.
The disc has a load of brilliant extras- some previously seen on Troma’s Tromapiece release of The Last Horror Film- that really enhance the movie. Lloyd Kaufman appears in a brief introduction video which features him erroneously say the film was released in 1979, prompting an on-screen message saying Lloyd is not feeling well hence the mistake. He likes poking fun at himself. Spinell sadly passed away in 1989 after accidentally cutting himself and bleeding to death (he suffered from hemophilia, meaning if he ever bled it would not clot and stop like non-sufferers) but associate producer and friend Luke Walter talks about the late actor in a 23 minute video. Luke also does the commentary duties.
Fans of Maniac will be in for a treat as director William Lustig discusses The Last Horror Movie and, this may be the biggest extra for some buying, the disc also includes a short video for what would have been Maniac II entitled Mister Robbie; the short is only 8 minutes long but features Spinell as a children’s entertainer who violently kills those who abuse children. The footage and sound is poor although for die-hard Maniac fans this will be easily overlooked.
Miss Munro features in an 11 minute Q&A from June 2011, moderated by 88 Films Calum Waddell. Caroline offers a good insight into working on the film Slaughter High, and also discusses her career transgression from model to actress.
Of course there is the usual 88 Films Trailer Park and TV spots for Fanatic- The Last Horror Film’s alternative title.
The feature and extras together make this a fantastic release by 88 Films. As a simple horror movie it is fun and entertaining, look beneath the surface and it becomes much more. Munro is her usual stunning self and Spinell puts forward another brilliant, troubled performance that will only serve to remind people of what a talent he was. The soundtrack is pretty awesome, too.
Available from 88 Films here.
Categories: 80's horror