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The Last Horror Movie (2003)
Director: Julian Richards

review by Paul Higson

At the 2003 Festival of Fantastic Films four new British feature films were previewed, Mitchell Morgan and Jon Kirby's Requiem, Tony Luke's Dominator (which picked up best animated feature film), Julian Richards' The Last Horror Movie and Hadi Hajaig's The Late Twentieth. None of the British features ran longer than 80 minutes and Richards' The Last Horror Movie took the best feature film overall in the competition. Anyone familiar with Richard's shabby first horror feature Darklands may well have approached his third feature with trepidation if not the lowest of expectations. How wrong we gladly were.
   The digital medium has most of its practitioners nervous, preferring the painterly of the well-lit 35mm but stuck with the affordable. The plots repeatedly make excuses for the medium, faux documentaries, CCTV, science fiction eye-cam and home movie story formatting, are fast becoming overused and the audience will soon tire of it. Even films shot on 35mm are excitedly exploring the vividness of reality perspective horror in films like the latest in the Halloween series, Sean S. Cunningham's Extreme Close-Up and Raoul Girard's Cortex. The Last Horror Movie is the latest to take up the idea of the snuff documentary as it is chronologically recorded, a theme most notoriously previously served in Benoit Poelvoorde's Man Bites Dog. Indeed, the influences of that earlier film can be felt in this new production, certain tricks like the quick montage of killings serving as a passage of time are blatantly borrowed. The film also carries a feel of Mangled Alive and Fatal Attraction in Jack the Ripper's charming descendant's address of the camera as he commits his atrocities. The Michael Haneke back catalogue may also rest on the author's shelves from Benny's Video to Funny Games. The real surprise is in how much of the short screen-time of 79 minutes is spent exploring new details and thoughts on the sickening theme and it really is incredibly thorough. This is not some hastily put together draft, this is a showcase screenplay; this is a script that has been poured over in detail, the best of it tightly scrunched for maximum effect.
Philip Rosch Kevin Howarth
Kevin Howarth (from those other British horrors Razor Blade Smile, The Ghost of Greville Lodge and Nick Sherard's upcoming Don't Look Back) is Max the evil documentary moviemaker with the intention of giving the world, or a minor disbelieving part of it, the ultimate horror movie experience, even though the end product is in actuality an endlessly appended director's cut that grows with its eventual, carefully orchestrated rental. Addressing the camera, Howarth is captivating and disturbing, a rugged handsomeness and a careful superfluous delivery, a voice that invites you onto every intrinsically considered word, both superb casting and playing. The performances in all are natural and strong, as the killer moves between his sister's family and the killing ground, and they need to be as there are many victims and one death played under par will ruin the horrific continuity.
   The viewers' complicity is repeatedly put to the question. "So why are you still watching?" could yet become one of the great horror movie quotes. This is played like a classic game of chess. There are bluffs, vague action is countered by explicit action, horrors that it has been thought had been escaped are thrown back on us. The home-time collection of the child from outside the school gates, shooting his trademark evil grin at the camera and what follows, is disturbing yet remarkably clever. The selection process for the victims is an insight we could have done without, compelling and direct. The viewer is too often brought too close to the killer's mindset. He is capable of anything. His intelligence makes him seemingly infallible, much to the frustration of the audience. It is an experiment in horror and we are all witting students. Comparing it to other successful recent British horror films The Last Horror Movie becomes sharper still, they all run longer and as entertaining as they all are they dip under the weight of influence. The script of The Last Horror Movie is more inventive than the generic beds of My Little Eye or 28 Days Later. Those films counter for that with a pace, though The Last Horror Movie is only leisurely at its centrepoint, the appallingly calm persona introducing us to his crimes evokes an effective, haunting distaste that goes further than any other recent British horror picture. James Handel has taken Julian Richards' basic premise and built something special up around it, Richards' should keep hold of his telephone number. Handel meanwhile has a second horror script in preparation with "Four Horsemen" as part of their much-vaunted initial slate of four new British horror films; his first horror movie should hopefully not be his last.
The Last Horror Movie Julian Richards - director
It is an intense film that has an intelligent excuse for each and every horror it drops on us. Despite that it could have a few problems with the BBFC particularly when going for a video release, and it is of quality enough that it should certainly be picked up for video distribution. It is in fact primarily constructed for effect in the video domain, is safer on the big screen because in playing out as a video rental it removes a theatrical audience to a relieving safe distance. It is called The Last Horror Movie for a particular reason, brought forward at the end, but there are several quantifiable reasons for the title. It is not declaring itself the ultimate horror film experience as did David Winter's The Last Horror Film of 1982, by the infantile determining factors that it purported to differentiate itself by being a snuff film starring industry types and starlets within the confines of another film. Delving into the theme as thoroughly as Richards' film does means that no one could possibly follow it up to any original effect. It is an attempt to kill the theme, deter people from faux documentary horror filmmaking, beyond the movie's actual final definition of the title, it is the last word on digital cam address horror and, to boot, a threat to Bernard Rose's upcoming Snuff.
   The only difficulties beyond the BBFC's consideration are the way it sells itself, the fatally ironic poster, a naff video sleeve that requires a closer look, could reduce it to non-rental status, looking too much like a David DeCocteau direct to video title. Then again, that could be the intended quad poster only, with something more eye-catching for the eventual video release. It is also too successful in installing a sense of guilt into the participant viewer. The Last Horror Movie was the title of a British horror script greatly anticipated in the mid-1980s, promised by Marek Kanievska (director of Another Country), but impossible to deliver with the then terrible reaction to the horror genre in Britain. Well the title at least finally arrived and it is sported by a movie that genuinely shocks. It is ridiculous that the industry has not played upon last years successful horror crop, this film should have been one of those instigating a new age for British horror. A gap year so soon after the hit year is not the way to go. May the Festival of Fantastic Films' award be the first of many for this bold exercise! In fact, I expect it will be.
The Last Horror Movie

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