Video Diary Horror
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The Last Horror Movie (2003)
5th May 05
A strangely likable but deeply psychotic mass-murderer films a very graphic video-diary of himself going on an actual, real life killing spree and copies the finished movie onto a very innocent looking teen horror rental video cassette.
Review The Last Horror Movie opens in exactly the same way as countless other American Slasher flicks. The setting is a diner late at night - naturally - and a pretty young waitress has been left alone to lock up. All of a sudden, she hears a noise from the shadows on the other side of the deliberately badly lit set and not surprisingly, heads across it to investigate. It's now that we panic, although it's not immediately obvious whether we're stressing about the impending fate of the young girl, or the predictable quality of the movie in general. As it happens, it doesn't matter. As the killer emerges from the darkness, the entire screen crackles into TV snow and the bad slasher flick is gone for good. From the static emerges an entirely new image. Gone are the glossy yet uninspiring production values of the last minute or so, replaced by a cheaply shot camcorder image of a likable looking chap with a smug grin on his face. This, fright fans, is where the story really begins. Say hello to the irresistible evil Max Parry.
Initially, Max seems like a nice guy. He's funny, charming, obviously a bit of a ladies man and is generally the kind of fella you'd happily share a drink or two with. He explains that the video you've just rented (for that's the format in which this movie is meant to be viewed), is a load of old teen horror Hollywood rubbish. Luckily for you, he's taken it upon himself to save your evening by recording over it with something a little more enlightening. Max, it turns out, is a simple wedding photographer who has a rather shocking hobby.
He now takes us for a little walk around London and tells the merry tale of how he got into his peculiar hobby, relating it to a few famous landmarks in the process. This is the calm before the storm - when he's happy that we are up to speed, Max picks up the pace and slowly lets us into the rest of his lifestyle. This is his set up: by day he shoots wedding videos to make ends meet, by night he gets some poor soul to help him record his nefarious hobby, that hobby being murder. But Max is nothing like the stereotype for the deranged psycho. This guy is no escaped mental patient or crazy axe wielding deranged madmen, nor are his crimes sexually motivated and he’s not hideously grotesque either, far from it. Max Parry is a soave, sophisticated, middle class thirty something guy with family, friends and a kind of roguish charm. In short he’s a likable guy, which instantly makes the gory acts you graphically witness all the more unsettling.
You’ll see guys burnt alive, guys getting their throats cut, people being suffocated, couples stabbed to death and other such sickness and all the while you’ll be watching it as it happens. It looks close to snuff and is very effective considering the micro-budget they must have had to work with. What lifts The Last Horror Movie above it's contemporaries though is the level of thought provoking interaction maintained between Max and the camera. From the off, they build up a rapour together which develops into trust quite quickly, making it increasingly difficult to look away when the pitch black humour subsides and the real gore arrives. Actually, the real problem is Kevin Howarth's performance as Max; it is so mesmerizing and compelling that you're often not sure when you should stop laughing and when you should start wincing. For example, and not giving too much away, at one point Max has a victim tied to a chair and is brandishing the soon to be murder weapon before the poor guy's very eyes. It's pretty bleak, you know, until Max looks down at his victim, chuckles to himself and says, 'It's not your lucky day is it?' This makes you, the viewer, chuckle too. The simple interlude of black humour punctuated through Max's ever present charm is welcome, but while you're laughing he quickly plunges the knife in and it's all over.
This is a shock for two reasons; firstly because you've just witnessed a gory death pseudo-first hand and secondly because you were laughing at the time. This kind of thing happens all over the place. Indeed, if you get a chance to watch this in a packed cinema, take a moment to look around the auditorium and note the guilty expressions you'll witness on peoples faces to certain scenes. It only goes to show that the line between black humour and dark horror is a fine one.
Another of the reasons it's so hard to look away from the screen is that Julian Richards, the director, uses every trick in the book to keep you watching. In some scenes, Max will openly taunt a victim for your benefit and then murder them while the camera is looking the other way. In others, he'll taunt you and then kill them quite flippantly, or he'll taunt both of you, kill them off camera, ask you if you wanted to see that and then show you the deed being done anyway. Sometimes, Max even looks like he’s about to off someone when the whole scene turns out to be an elaborate but harmless set up, and that really catches you out. It's gripping stuff and the filmmakers have to be commended for the sense of closeness achieved between you and the victim, and between you and the killer. Furthermore, a horror filmmaker's job is to scare the wits out of their audience. In this day and age after films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project, there is no more effective a way to achieve a good scare than through realism, actuality and complete immediacy. At the end of the day, people like a good horror film because it allows them to witness second hand, in the safety and comfort of their own living rooms, events that they would have no desire to witness first hand. With The Last Horror Movie that is simply not the case, it is much more first hand and the whole experience is much scarier for it.
Of course, as with any low-budget production of this type, there are going to be some shortcomings. The image quality throughout is only a little better than that of a camcorder, but since that's the point, you can forgive it that. I mean, how do you shoot a video diary (or rather, video-nasty diary) on 35mm? Also, the supposed shock ending is not that much of a surprise at all and is actually more like the kind of finale you were expecting anyway. It does however fit very neatly in with the rest of the story, so I shan’t be loosing any sleep over the importance of that either.
Instead, I’m going to thoroughly recommend The Last Horror Movie to anyone out there who is tired of the usual big-budget cannon fodder as this movie is a little different. The whole experience is similar to stopping to watch if we see a police car, fire truck or even better an ambulance pull up, just to see what's going on. You know what I mean, it’s sheer morbid curiosity. And if you have that, watch this, even if only once, just so you can say you have.
Note, this review was originally published last summer. We've bumped it to coincide with the movie's limited run in the West End.
Versions Only a region 1 DVD available at the mo. Apparently a UK disc is going to hit the stores sometime soon.