The Best 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.

Update 5/5/20 - 9/20/23: Man, Severin and 88 Films have become the new Scream Factory and Arrow, when they were constantly releasing the same titles, and fans were always waiting to see which had the superior release.  Well, they latest salvo in this war is Severin's new 2-disc UHD/ BD combo-pack, which interestingly enough was only available during their brief Summer Sale.
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 was also an even better BD special edition, thanks to 88 Films.  But now, Severin has restored the film in 4k on UHD.  So let's see how much better they could get it.
1) 2014 88 Films BD; 2) 2023 Severin BD; 3) 2023 Severin UHD.
Both 88 and Severin present this film in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio, scanned from the original negative, but 88's has a faded look, and leans a bit green, which Severin's corrects.  It varies shot to shot, and some are reasonably close, but just look how much better separated the colors are in that second set of shots.  The sky's supposed to be blue, but not the waiter's jacket.  Grain is also somewhat lighter on the 88, even when just comparing the two BDs.  And of course, detail that gets blocky and pixelated when you zoom in to on the blu-rays stays rounded and realistic on the UHD.  It's a distinct improvement even before you get to the composite footage.
1) 2014 88 Films BD; 2) 2023 Severin BD; 3) 2023 Severin UHD.

Surely, the biggest factor that set 88's blu-ray apart from its Troma counterpart was 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 not so much on the Severin, because they were able to find the missing footage on a 35mm print.  Yeah, there's a difference between the print and the OCN's quality, but if you didn't know what footage was restored, you probably wouldn't notice the difference, whereas you couldn't help but notice it before.  And I agree with 88's decision to crop the footage to 1.85 rather than have the AR shift, but it was at the cost of losing picture information that Severin has been able to restore.  So as exciting as it was when 88 was able to construct their composite, Severin's is now equally exciting.

They both provide lossless versions of the original mono track (LPCM on 88 and DTS-HD on the Severins).  That was another point in 88's favor, since Troma's audio is lossy.  Also, neither release included subtitles, which Severin finally does.  So it's progress after progress.
88 also beat out Troma in the special features, although it was 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 and sharing his own personal memories of Spinell.  They also 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 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.  Then there's a long reel of bonus trailers, and that's about it.  The sleeve has reversible artwork, which is cool.
But Severin now, has the best extras package of all, and it's all new.  They start off with an audio commentary by Luke Walter, which I had assumed was the same one on the previous blus.  But no, this one's different, and Severin's moderator is a lot better than Troma's.  Next, we have a second commentary by Caroline Munro and Alan Jones, and it's terrific.  We've been getting so many mediocre commentaries from the boutiques lately that I was starting to forget how much value a top level commentary can have.  Munro is in good spirits and happy to discuss everything.  And Jones is a knowledgeable critic more than ready to not just moderate, but add real insight whenever Munro didn't have so much to say.  They really compliment each other, and together manage to stay focused and entertaining for the entire running time.

They also interview Spinell's old friend, Sal Sirchia, who shares some personal history and dispels some myths about the actor.  He even plays some answering machine messages he saved and visits his grave.  Then there's a great locations tour, which finds all the spots in both New York and Cannes where the original film shot.  And there's an audio-only interview with producer and co-star Judd Hamilton, who has a lot of dirt to dish... he even blames his divorce on this movie.  And that leads us to his producer's cut.
2023 Severin producer's cut BD.
Yes, the director managed to keep the final cut on this film, and Hamilton's always been unhappy with it.  So Severin allowed him to go back and finally cut it his way.  And... it's not as good.  He basically just trims a lot of the nudity and some of the fun Cannes location footage (including that shot of the crowds in front of that giant James Bond sign at the Carlton in my first set of comparison shots).  It's definitely a case of a producer not fully appreciating the film his talent made for him, though to be fair, he only really takes 6-7 minutes out of it, and it's all thoughtfully done.  It's also brighter, but that might be less of a creative decision and more down to the compression or whatever, because it's presented here in HD, but only allotted 3GB of disc space, which is less than most DVDs.  So goodbye film grain and all of that.  It also has lossy audio and no subs.  But considering it's basically just a cut version, it's probably only going to be of interest to fans as a quick novelty anyway.

Anyway, Severin's release also includes an extensive, 100-page full-color book, half written by Hamilton, and also including a vintage interview with the director David Winter and some vintage artwork.  It also comes in a delightful, embossed Maniac II: Love To Kill slipbox, which they describe as "extremely unofficial."
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.  88's blu used to be the way to go (uncut, lossless audio, the best special features), until Severin came and raised the stakes (higher picture quality, subtitles and even better features).  Die-hards might still want to hang onto their 88's for some of those exclusive extras, like the Lustig interview.  But Severin's has become the definitive first choice now... at least until 88 decides to take up the gauntlet again and make their own 4k edition.

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