31st Jul2014

‘The Last Horror Movie’ Review

by Mark Allen

Starring: Kevin Howarth, Mark Stevenson, Antonia Beamish | Written by James Handel | Directed by Julian Richards


Found footage horror films are usually a tough trick to pull off well. Not only do they require realistic performances and events so that audiences are (at least partly) convinced that what they’re seeing is real enough for the length of the movie, but the filmmakers have to also balance that with telling a compelling, terrifying and – crucially – entertaining story. Some are more successful than others, with The Blair Witch Project  and the [REC] series being more obvious examples, but the found footage train has seemed to be running out of steam lately with many of the films made in the style regurgitating tropes that were only developed in the last twenty years and offering fuzzy, ill-executed plots that often only resolve when the protagonists buy the farm.

Which is why The Last Horror Movie is something of a more interesting prospect when viewing it today. Produced in 2003 and originally released on DVD by Fangoria, director Kevin Howarth’s attempt at subverting horror tropes by using the found footage format to record a serial killer’s ‘home movie’ over a cliche-ridden schlockfest must have seemed incredibly fresh in the days when mockumentaries were still a relatively new genre. Viewed in today’s light, however, the film seems woefully dated and doesn’t offer any particularly deep insights that haven’t already been explored in any number of Introduction to Horror Film books.

After a brief introduction wherein a waitress in an American diner is frightened and slashed to death in quick succession, the tape (again, this is 2003, which means we’re meant to believe we’re seeing the film on VHS) cuts jarringly to an image of Max (Kevin Howarth), a smiling serial killer with a creepy smile who tells us that he’s recorded over the film we thought we’d rented with his own. His aim? To get us to really think about whether we want to see the brutal murders he commits for kicks and consider whether or not there’s something wrong with us when we do.

There’s not a great deal of plot to the movie; Max shows us plenty of his kills, filmed by his quivering homeless assistant who claims to want to commit a murder himself, and intersperses it with scenes from his family life and smug monologues to the audience. Although the murder scenes are disturbing in their lack of score and relative realism (the mere idea of someone breaking into my home and stabbing me to death for no real reason is chilling all on its own), The Last Horror Movie comes across as very slight because of this lack of narrative thrust, and Max’s unanswerable questions posed toward the audience become more and more irritating the longer he goes on, making judgements about how much we’re probably judging him and if we’re so disgusted by his actions, why don’t we just turn him off?

I think this is the film’s fatal flaw: The Last Horror Movie can’t possibly make the statement it thinks it’s making because, despite Max’s grinning assertions to the contrary, we’re never in danger of believing that what he’s doing is real. He sneers at us and smirks to himself in silence as we continue to watch (and I can’t help but feel like director Richards had similar expressions on his face during the film’s first screenings), but there’s no argument, no possible counterpoint to his actions or statements within the story and as such the movie exists within its own foreign bubble which seems to be more a reflection of what’s inside the main character’s head than the reality he claims to depict.

A personal aside for a moment: I’m not a huge fan of violence in film, especially when it’s aiming for realism. Cartoonish, Tarantino-esque blood and guts? Sure, that’s fine – it’s divorced enough from reality that I can’t truly associate it with the hideous things that some people can be capable of. But the representation of someone being strangled with a tie or bludgeoned to death with a brick in a public toilet isn’t something I can stomach easily, even when the prosthetic wounds or fake blood aren’t especially convincing, as in this movie. But I can appreciate that kind of work when done thoughtfully and with care, as in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which TLHM clearly takes a big cue from. That film made me sick to my stomach, but that  was its intention; it didn’t take joy in sickening me as this film is clearly attempting to. In trying to tell us that we’re all monsters, The Last Horror Movie has really only told me that it’s pretty fucked up to make something for the purposes of entertaining people and then start judging them for it.

In the end, the movie does have an interesting if highly implausible twist: following the conceit that we’ve rented this picture from a video store (remember those?), Max goes on to tell us that we can’t really be allowed to talk about what we’ve just seen and that we’re going to meet the same fate as those unfortunates we’ve spent the past hour watching get whacked. The gag doesn’t really land because there’s no way anyone could believe that unless they’d actually rented the film on their own from Blockbusters in 2004, and that’s a pretty marginal audience for a twist ending. (And besides, it doesn’t actually seem like The Last Horror Movie was ever released on VHS…) It probably would have worked far better as a short film in which Max’s snooty, unsymapthetic personality wouldn’t have been so grating or anything near as hammy. Seriously, it’s astounding to me how none of the unsuspecting relatives or friends in his life realise  he’s a mass murderer after the over-the-top mustache twirling he does in every scene.

As it stands, The Last Horror Movie is an interesting concept spun out into an unconvincing, mean-spirited 75 minutes of exploitative violence and sixth-form-level social commentary. Which in the vast landfill of low-rent slasher movies is probably more than can be said of many films, but at least most of those have a sense of fun about them. I prefer my schlock with a sense of humour, frankly.


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