The Last Horror Film and Shuttle

the last horror film
this week see’s the release of david winters’ 1982 film the last horror film (aka fanatic) on dvd. genre fans will immediately recognize joe spinell and caroline munro from their leading roles in maniac. this reunion is no coincidence as the last horror film is, in many ways, the spiritual sequel to that classic slasher. the success of maniac gave its producers the freedom to make another film, which they cleverly wrote to occur at the 1981 cannes’ film festival, not only putting the cast and crew right in the middle of cannes’, but also allowing them to stay in the best hotels free of charge. what results is a film whose “making of” story may be more interesting than the film itself, but luckily several interviews and a fantastic dvd commentary track ensure that you receive both.

fans of the disturbing nature and extreme violence of maniac may be let down by the last horror film. the tone of the film is far closer to that of an episode of murder, she wrote… than a classic slasher. you will not see any scalpings or exploding heads (or, angela lansbury, to be fair). however, if you were a fan of spinell’s portrayal of psychotic photographer frank, then you should be equally pleased by his scenery-chewing antics as filmmaker vinny durand. vinny is just as delusional as frank, believing himself to be the next great filmmaker and convinced that if he gets his favorite horror scream queen (munro) into his film, he’ll be an instant success. when attempts to convince her to be in his film fail, he begins following and filming her without her knowledge, slowly piecing his film together from the celluloid fragments he can steal of her daily life. i rather like that setup and the film has some surprises, but it never ventures into the subversive territory that maniac occupies. the film also features one of the oddest soundtracks i’ve ever heard. it sounds like the director just hit ‘shuffle’ on his ipod and let random chance choose the songs for each scene, as their appropriateness to the situation was obviously not the deciding criteria. this gives the whole film a surreal and playful quality that may or may not have been intended.

the real star of this dvd from troma entertainment is the commentary track featuring producer and best friend of joe spinell, luke walter. walter reminisces about his departed friend and the making of this film with humor, brutal honesty and a thick new york accent. rarely does a commentary track eclipse its subject, but this one does. other interesting special features including an interview with maniac director william lustig and the short film mr. robbie (aka maniac 2), starring spinell. while rather odd and tame if compared to maniac, the last horror film is a definite “must buy” for joe spinell fans and worth a look for any fan of early 80s horror.

magnolia pictures has been putting out several good horror films lately (e.g., let the right one in, the signal, etc.), and you can add shuttle to that list. shuttle is a great horror film and a great mystery, which is a rare combination. this a tightly written script about a group of people stepping onto an airport shuttle bus that is driven by — (wait for it…) — a murderous psychopath. despite the simple premise, the story ends up being rather complicated, although that isn’t immediately apparent. events occur early in the film that you immediately disregard because they seem unimportant, but they all come back later in surprising ways.

while this isn’t an artistic or highbrow tour de force like let the right one in, that shouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing it. shuttle is dark and gritty material told with style and talent and filtered through an exploitation lens. the filmmakers only goal seems to have been to create a slick thriller that will keep your attention and shock you in ways you didn’t expect and, if that’s so, those behind the creation of shuttle should consider it a complete success.

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