A Pair of 88s #1: The Last Horror Film

Suckers to the side, I know you hate my 88's!  But now might be the time to get yours.  As we're all stuck home on lockdown looking for films to keep us occupied, what better time to look back at our favorite cult labels and see if there's anything we missed?  And going back over my list, I see there are still a couple noteworthy labels I haven't made "Pair" posts for, and a couple Exotica-worthy titles from said label just dying to be covered.  In fact, 88 Films' blu-ray release of 1982's The Last Horror Film is a disc I've been meaning to cover since I started this site in 2014.  And hey, it's not like I have anywhere else to be today, so I guess the stars have finally aligned.
Not to be confused with 2003's The Last Horror Movie, which is sort of a Man Bites Dog/ Henry: Portrait Of a Serial Killer found footage flick from Fangoria about a killer making a horror snuff flick... The Last Horror Film is a more interesting, and distinctly original, piece of work.  It stars Joe Spinell as another loner psychotic, and forms a perfect trilogy with Maniac and The Undertaker.  In fact, it's a better picture than The Undertaker, and possibly even Maniac, depending on your attitude.  Maniac is a more of a controlled, cohesive character study of a disturbed killer, whereas Last is a wilder, unrestrained exhibition of Spinell's own unloosed psyche.  To put it in form of an analogy, Maniac is to Kubrick as Last is to Fulci.  So, okay, it might be hard to argue this is a legitimate better film, but it could well be a lot of peoples' favorite.
Last reunites Spinell with his Maniac co-star Caroline Munro, who instead of being the strangely genuine love interest of a deranged killer, is the perhaps more straight-forward, unwitting object of his obsessions.  But that's about the only straight-forward aspect of this affair.  See, Spinell is of course a down-on-his-luck madman again, but this time he's also an aspiring movie producer.  And Munro is a Hollywood star.  So he follows her to the Cannes Film Festival, intent on creating a horror film with her as the star, whether she consents or not.  And what really makes The Last Horror Film The Last Horror Film is that this completely independent film production really went to the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and stole all kinds of footage, guerilla style, right in the middle of their biggest events and regalia.  In a signature moment, Munro across a red carpet of reports and film stars, wearing only a towel and being pursued by a crazed Spinell.
And if you know your Maniac, you're familiar with how Spinell and his best friend - also on hand here - lifted the movie camera from the production at night to film their own improved scenes, which turned out to be quite compelling.  Well, that's like half of this movie.  We get everything from Spinell's vivid hallucinations of grisly murder to his daydreams of cross-dressing in a local nightclub.  We get movies within movies and Spinell's mother charmingly playing herself.  We're shown over-the-top extravagant production values set against cheap-looking, home video-like set pieces.  Vampires!  Strippers!  Airplanes!  Bubble baths!  Classic cars!  Castles!  Paddleboats!  Robin Leach!  Death by jacuzzi!  It's all here, and it all makes sense... at least in Spinell's mind.
Troma has the rights to this film, but it's important to note that this isn't a Troma production.  They didn't make this film anymore than they made The Stendhal Syndrome or My Dinner With Andre.  They're just the distributors; so don't expect anything along the lines of Nuke 'Em High or Sgt. Kabukiman cameos.  Thank goodness.  But that means, since 2000, they've been issuing it around the world on open matte fullscreen DVDs, usually under the alternate title: Fanatic.  In 2009, they made a bit of a special edition of it, and in 2015, they released it on blu.  But there's an even better edition, thanks to 88 Films.
2014 UK 88 BD.
88 Films presents this film in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio... which, to be fair, Troma's blu also does.  I'm going to outline all the advantages 88's release has offer Troma's, but PQ isn't particularly one of them.  Now, I don't have Troma's blu, so I can't do any down-to-the-pixel comparisons, but by and large, they seem to be made of the same transfer.  And it's... pretty good.  Taken from the original negative, it looks filmic and is certainly a revelation compared to the old, junky fullscreen discs that came before it.  But a lot of it's faded and a bit green.  This applies to some shots more than others, which perhaps betrays different film stock used during the original creation of the film, or just varying shooting conditions.  But it's the kind of thing a fancy, color correcting restoration would fix.  Grain is also a bit light.  There's no doubt that this could look even better than it does, but it's certainly a more than passable presentation in its own right.  Except, you know, for the composite footage.
regular footage top; composited insert footage bottom.
Surely, the biggest factor that sets 88's blu-ray apart from its Troma counterpart is that it's uncut.  Troma's edition is missing some of key footage that apparently has been removed from the source materials.  To compensate, 88 has edited in workprint footage, also matted to 1.85, to make a composite cut which runs about a minute longer, where a couple of kills are considerably more graphic.  You'll definitely notice the picture quality shift from full color filmstock to almost monochromatically blue VHS tape quality.  But between that flaw and watching a censored version, it's really not a consideration; 88 is the only way to go.  And honestly, between the steady shots, the run and gun in Cannes shots, the film-within-a-film shots and the hazy dream sequences, the insert shots don't feel as out of place as they might in any other film.

Audio-wise, we're given the original mono track in LPCM.  That's one more point in 88's favor, since Troma's audio is lossy.  Neither release includes subtitles, however.
And 88 wins again in the special features, although it's a closer race than you might guess.  Troma did actually cook up some worthwhile extras for this film.  First of all, Lloyd Kaufman gets into the spirit of things by filming his intro at Sundance.  That's amusing, though as you might guess, it runs a little light on substance.  But then they provide an audio commentary with Joe's friend and associate producer Luke Walter.  It's moderated by a kid from Troma, who detracts about as often as he contributes, but Luke has a lot to share, having frequently been on set and involved closely with the filmmaking, including enabling Spinell's indulgent forays.  It's a fun track with Luke pointing out who was an unwitting extra and who was an actual actor, telling risque personal anecdotes, etc.  They also have the trailer and that Mister Robbie promo clip Spinell made hoping to get Maniac 2 financed.  It makes more sense as an extra on Maniac, which it also is, but it's cool here, too, since these films are son closely tied together.

Anyway, all of the above are on both the Troma and 88 blus.  But both discs have exclusives.  Troma's exclusive, however, are all Troma-specific junk that has nothing to do with The Last Horror Film.  There's something about TromaDance and a short film called The Return Of Dolphin Man...  Unless you're a big Troma fan, you won't care.  But you will be interested in 88's stuff.  Well, most of it anyway.
First up is a short, nostalgic documentary called My Best Maniac (surely a play on My Best Fiend) where Walter takes us on a tour through Spinell's hometown.  He talks a little about the film, particularly an anecdote up front, but it's mostly a tribute to Spinell as a person, ending with a stop at his grave.  Then there's a short but great interview with William Lustig who shares with us what he knew about this crazy project, including how he was asked at one point to take over the direction (he declined).  After that, it boils down to odds and ends.  There's a promising sounding "Caroline Munro Q&A," but it turns out to just be a short clip with no connection to this movie.  She's actually being interviewed about Slaughter High and doesn't even bring up this film in passing.  I mean, it's still better than nothing I suppose, but what a let down.  Besides that, there's a long reel of bonus trailers, and that's about it.  The sleeve has reversible artwork, which is cool.
So yeah, The Last Horror Film is a must for any horror fan's collection, especially if you love Maniac, and extra especially if you've already sprung for The Undertaker.  There's no question 88's blu is the way to go either (uncut, lossless audio, the best special features). And yes, it's a region free release, so go ahead and import it even if your player's locked.  And I'll see if I can come up with another 88 Films release that's just as good for the next post.  'Till then!

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