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The Last Horror Movie. 2003. Directed by Julian Richards; screenplay by James Handel from an idea by Julian Richards.
Starring Kevin Howarth, Mark Stevenson, Antonia Beamish, Christabel Muir, Jonathan Coote, Rita Davies, Joe Hurley, Jamie Langthorne, John Berlyne, and Mandy Gordon. Prolific Films/Snakehair Productions.
Rated R. 75 minutes.
I’ve talked a lot in my reviews about found footage. It’s a sub-genre which I happen to love, though, there are certainly tons of bad ones out there. Having said that, are there really any more than bad horror, drama, comedy, thriller, et cetera? Nope, not at all. It’s merely the fact that, after The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity later, this sub-genre was reinvigorated after cult classics such as Cannibal Holocaust or The McPherson Tape, and naturally when a type of movie gets popular there are always other filmmakers looking to capitalize. Maybe this brings about more dreck than needed, but it also brings out quite a few excellent films in the lot which are more than worth the time to sit through.
The Last Horror Movie takes found footage, even a concept which we’ve seen before, and uses it to create a chilling, horrific bit of film. Certainly the, as I see it, overrated Man Bites Dog has stomped through the territory Julian Richards takes us into. However, it’s in the charisma and energy of the lead actor Kevin Howarth, playing a savage, voyeuristic serial killer, where the true horror of this movie lies and it is him, through every last scene, that will terrify you endlessly.
Using a cheesy horror video rental, naughty serial killer Max Parry (Kevin Howarth) tapes over the bad film on a VHS tape and lets other unsuspecting people rent it from the store. He’s even recruited an unnamed assistant (Mark Stevenson) to record all his murders and assaults on videotape.
Max goes on killing and doing terrible things, as the assistant films on. At one point he even attempts to involve the young, naive assistant in his work, putting a knife directly in his hands in order to experience the thrill of the kill.
Will Max Parry keep killing? Will he be caught? Can he successfully indoctrinate his assistant into a world of serial killing and depravity? With the tape wearing on, Max and his assistant find themselves in a scary, voyeuristic world where it almost feels as if the camera’s red light is our own eye, Max’s eye; and even scarier, we may come to discover that Max is not unlike a great many of us, terrifying and unsettling as the thought may be.
There are several amazingly chilling moments which deserve to go down in the horror history hall of fame. Honestly, there’s a wealth of horror in this short feature. I’ll discuss a few I think are particularly awesome and which deserve recognition.
The first happens very early, around 15 minutes in, as Max (Howarth) goes by a school, picking up a young boy. My heart started pumping as we watch Max, his video assistant taping the whole time, as he goes over to the boy, talks to him – you’d never suspect it was his nephew. There’s an undeniably pulse pounding lead up to this, until you see him at a door with the boy; his mother, Max’s sister, opens up and the terror is finished for the moment. But heading into this, even on a second viewing – and beyond – I’m consistently terrified by this part, though I know the outcome. Still gets me because the tension is there.
Other excellent, similar scenes happen as we often forget Max has an assistant following him with a video camera. Such as when we see a woman getting into her car in a parking garage, I actually lapsed and forgot Max wasn’t actually filming his own murders: then we see the woman in the car get strangled from behind, as Max sits in the backseat and his assistant films outside the car. Little bits like this make the tension and suspense of The Last Horror Movie draw out and last nearly the entire, scant 75-minute runtime.
What scares me most about the character of Max is how he, through this film and his own film within a film taped onto another film, sort of confronts us with madness, murder, and violence in order to make us confront the concept of voyeurism. How much should you watch? How much will you watch?
When Max kills two people separately in the same room – turning the camera away for the actual murder – he then asks if we’re waiting to SEE THE VIOLENCE – curious about what happened, hoping to have seen the savagery up-close (edited with quick cuts briefly of the stabbings full-on). What he says afterwards chills me entirely to the very core of my being: “If not… then why are you still watching?”
It begs the question, for the supposed person actually watching the VHS tape which Max has recorded over with his murderous rampage, why would you continue watching if you know what he’s doing is real/wrong? If that person, us the viewer, waited through those stabbings, we were waiting in order to see some bit of the blood and gore, to see the effects, the “realism” that apparently we’re craving terribly. The overall theme of this film is set in stone through this scene, as Max basically gives us his manifesto RIGHT HERE. Not only effective in making his actions and intentions known, it is downright fucking creepy and horrifies me each and every time I watch this scene.
I think there are obvious comparisons to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which I do believe are warranted. However, while there are certainly similarities I believe The Last Horror Movie goes further in certain aspects. There’s a similarly disturbing angle concerning video cameras: here we have Max; with John McNaughton’s cult classic, Henry and Otis use a video camera to record some of their nasty doings. There’s the whole essence of voyeurism and how the audience relates to what they’re seeing, whether it’s CNN news footage showing war and death or serial killers like these guys traipsing around, killing, savaging people and capturing everything on video.
Max Parry goes further than Henry and Otis in the sense of recording every last killing. They, often times, would do lots of terribleness outside of the camera’s frame. Not Max, though. He and his assistant carry the camera everywhere, anywhere, to get each single solitary moment of pain and torture recorded for the unsuspecting next viewer of the VHS rental. Max strangles, stabs, bludgeons, and even lights people on fire! His methods are completely barbaric. Whereas Henry and Otis in Henry videotape in order to get their rocks off later – sort of a substitution for having to physically revisit the scene of a crime like many serial killers do – Max records his murders in order to make the person SEEING THEM respond in a visceral way; they are either disgusted, or they find themselves drawn in (for any number of reasons). Either way, Max shows us this absolutely frightening display of serial murder and makes us accept the fact we are voyeurs – as citizens in a media dominated world and also as viewers, as an audience, sitting and watching the horror of a “realistic” movie. This is what rocks me so hard about The Last Horror Movie.
This is one of my favourite found footage horror movies. Absolutely at the top of the list, there aren’t many others which find themselves above this one; 4.5 out of 5 stars on my radar. Some may say it’s boring, that there’s nothing happening: to those people I say, are you serious? There’s a ton happening, as well as the fact The Last Horror Movie boasts a great deal of commentary on how we relate to horror/watch it and the voyeuristic tendencies which come along with seeing videotaped murder (doesn’t stop at fiction; think of the beheadings which have been filmed, the supposed tape of Saddam being hung, and tons of other real life death captured in realtime on video).
If you’ve not had a chance, do see this film as soon as you can. It’s not even that long, either. Both an excellent example of modern British film, British horror to be exact, as well as just a plain ol’ heavy horror film. If you’re a big fan of found footage done correctly, as I am, then you HAVE to see it! Necessary viewing for those who love this sub-genre. If you have any comments or theories of your own concerning Max, the film, then leave a comment and put in your two cents. Always love a good civil discussion or debate.