12 November 2011

THE LAST HORROR FILM/1982/JOE SPINELL/CAROLINE MUNRO

THE LAST HORROR FILM aka FANATIC 
 

1982/Director: David Winters/Writers: Judd Hamilton, Tom Klassen

Cast: Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell,  Judd Hamilton, Devin Goldenberg, David Winters, Susanne Benton, Filomena Spagnuolo( Mary Spinell)

I am certain even the most modest horror film fan has heard of Hammer and Bond girl Caroline Munro. Her long brunette hair and general looks are often simply stunning and she has starred in some fairly memorable horror flicks like The Abominable Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Slaughter High and the shlocky Italian sci-fi film Starcrush. One of her co-stars in Starcrush was New York City veteran character actor Joe Spinell. Spinell’s name may be less familiar to many except for the cognoscenti of b-films. He is more known as a supporting actor and had small roles in The Godfather, The Seven-Ups, Rocky and Taxi Driver before he had his first starring role in the 1980 William Lustig splatter film Maniac. We will get to Maniac in the second part of this double feature and instead will start off with what is sort of a follow up to Maniac pairing Munro and Spinell up again. That film is 1982’s The Last Horror Movie or Fanatic was it was originally released as on DVD. I got a hold of the Fanatic version of the film and not the new Troma release of the movie that is supposed to include a few extra minutes of scenes and some extras including commentaries and interviews. I have to be honest I never listen to DVD commentaries. Simply never. So I do not know if I going to go out of my way to find the Troma release but we will see. I would be interested in the interviews with Spinell’s buddy Luke Walter and Maniac director William Lustig who seems to have stopped directing films (his last being Uncle Sam, which I liked, in 1997) and now produces and is the head honcho at Blue Underground DVD.

I have seen Maniac a few times actually and was excited when I recently read about The Last Horror Movie and that Spinell and Munro had teamed up yet again for a horror/stalker type of film. Of course I expected it to a gore fest like the often over the top Maniac was and was surprised to find that the film was modest in the shock department. There are some gruesome deaths and blood shed to be sure but the film is actually a rather clever poke at slasher film cliches, the world of obsessed fans and the snooty films film makers they pursue. The film is a horror film but is a comedy as well and yet never becomes a wittless spoof. The film was shot guerilla style (i.e. without shooting permits and permission) at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and that in itself makes the film a curiosity. Slasher type films usually are relegated to a few overused locations, the most notorious being camp grounds or high school/college campuses. The backdrop of Cannes adds a little excitement to the low budget production it would not have been able to achieve in yet another sorority house. And while Munro looks gorgeous as usual and it si fun to look for the fleeting faces of celebrities scuttling from ceremony to ceremony the star of the show is Joe Spinell. He is creepy and pathetic as cab driver and loser Vinny Durand who is beyond hope in his delusions that he is a great film director and that horror queen Jana Bates (Munro) will star in his ‘next’ (actually first and only) horror feature if he could only get the opportunity to talk to her and pitch his idea. He does not get much support from his co-workers or his mom (played by Spinel’s real mother Filomena Spagnuolo). The early scenes of the film of Vinny pleading with his mother to support him were shot in Spinell’s real New York City apartment. Mom just wants Vinny to give up his obsessions and have a plate of macaroni but Vinny is off to Cannes France to meet Jana and shoot his brilliant horror film.



All he has to do now is have the chance to talk to Jana and he is certain she will go along with the project. But first he has to contact her and that is not easy as she is the hot time at this year’s film festival with the judges even selecting her performance in her new film Scream over actresses like Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda. She is always accompanied by her entourage that includes her current boyfriend Alan (played by Munro’s real life husband at the time Judd Hamilton who also wrote and produced the film). Also hovering just outside the shadows is her estranged and former mentor husband Bret Bates.  While the relationship is on the skids Bates still manages Jana and produces her films. As well Jana is the object of adoring horror fans and paparazzi. Vinny begins having melt downs as his attempts to pitch his idea to Jana or her agent are foiled one after the other. Soon bodies start popping up and Jana is stalked by a masked cameraman. Notes are sent telling future victims ‘you have made your last picture show’. Among some of the people stalked and eliminated is director David Winter (formally Mr. Linda Lovelace) who plays Stanley Kline a horror film director with a popular but revolting, in Vinny’s opinion, slasher film.

Now I am trying to change some of my approach here and I am giving less spoilers to films and shorter synopsises. I do not think there is anything terrible about spoilers but I am just trying to do something different for some reviews. I feel it is sort of hard not to give something away here and there but in the case of The Last Horror Movie there are actually a couple little twists and turns that would be ruined if I gave them away now. While the film is low budget it has some clever little moments. It works as a satire of the whole horror film business as well as the superficiality of awards ceremonies in general. In moment we will explore Mania which came out before Last Horror Movie and, as I said already, also featured Munro as Spinell’s object of obsession. While Vinny is obviously an extension or reinterpretation of the character Zito in Maniac there are differences to be sure. I would actually recommend seeing Maniac first then this film so you can see some of the similarities and, I believe, deliberate differences in the characters. Spinell is a bit funnier in this film and the conflicts with his mother who admonishes him constantly for his ‘crazy ideas’ is funny without ever becoming corny or contrived. The last line of the film between Vinny and his mom is worth the wait.




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