Shiny Shelf

The Last Horror Movie

By Matt Hill on 08 December 2004

From the off it’s important to note that anyone who has seen ‘Man Bites Dog’ will have difficulties taking ‘The Last Horror Movie’ seriously as an original construct. A serial killer offs people at random as an initially impartial and passive cameraman films his exploits, with us increasingly questioning the motives of either party and the implications of their involvement.

But as anti-hero extraordinaire Max barks on about “doing something that’s never been done before” , strangling his latest victim as a jerky hand-held camera films on, the desire to point him in the direction of any high-street video shop with a decent enough World Cinema section to grab a looksie at Remy Belvaux’s masterpiece is almost too much to bear. It would certainly save many lives, that’s for sure. And a hammer or two.

The Last Horror Movie’, you see, has had a typical indie gestation. Released to the presumably bored glances of those who stumbled upon it on these shores earlier this year, it later went on to a much stronger reception in the US and a mountain of festival furore (and awards) followed from New York to Buenos Aires. With more of a promotional budget this time around, one would guess, its distributors have decided to chance their arm once again in the choppy UK waters.

You can see why. The more brutal and less glossy likes of ‘Saw’ and ‘Switchblade Romance’ have been turning the horror heads of the homeland and ‘The Last Horror Movie’ can more than hold its own in this company. It’s indeed testament to the novel final act and the captivating performance of Kevin Howarth in the lead role that such a well-trodden premise (see also ‘Peeping Tom’ and ‘American Psycho’ for forebears) can be reinvigorated to the point of rebirth in this guise. As Max, Howarth is all Patrick Bateman false smiles, veins pumping with a disturbing energy. He confides in us eye-to-eye, he explains his motives, and he makes surprisingly good arguments that have you uncomfortably twitching in your seat. (Would you sell your television to save an African child?)

Ultimately, he draws empathy from situations that should command none, engaging with us on a personal level, moments before brutally slaying another extra in his perverse production. It’s a gut-wrenching, scene-stealing performance – which is just as well, because his mug takes up almost 90 per cent of screen time. However, everyone else here acts their socks off too, which is incredibly satisfying in a Brit flick, filmed in the UK with an entirely British cast, and thankfully without the names ‘Curtis’, ‘Grant’ or ‘Firth’ within a country mile.

Former ‘Brookside’ director Julian Richards goes at his own material with gusto, cutting scenes of mutilation with meat tenderisation, showing enough – but not all – of the carnage to make the murder scenes Texas Chainsaw’-tastic in the “did we really just see that?” stakes. He also expertly withholds aspects of the characters’ backgrounds until they will have most impact, constantly attempting to provoke reactions from an increasingly blas? and desensitised mainstream audience. In our viewing alone, six people walked out – it may not be the most original conceit, but it’s damn well effective. And in a delightful final reel, Richards turns the setup inside out, taking it further away from its Gallic-pillaged premise and giving it a vaguely post-modern slant, although gladly avoiding the slide into pretension.

Unavoidably, ‘The Last Horror Movie’ will work better at home. It is produced, similarly to ‘The Blair Witch Project’, to be enjoyed as a faux-snuff experience, a grainy glimpse into a modern urban nightmare that will jolt the viewer out of their soft-focus ITV daze. On the big screen, ‘Switchblade Romance’ recently handled similarly gory motifs with more cinematic finesse and a great deal more claret, but despite its sometimes ‘not as clever as it thinks it is’ over-considerations, Richards’ vivid ‘reality’ just gets the nod for its raw, unsanitised intensity.

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By Matt Hill

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