TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH: THE LAST HORROR FILM (1982)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares
I’m a big fan of Joe Spinell. He was a character actor who had small roles in tons of famous movies, from the first two GODFATHER films (he played Willi Cicci), to ROCKY and TAXI DRIVER (both 1976). For a long time, he was a recognizable face who had limited screen time, until he started starring in low-budget horror flicks like the gore classic MANIAC (1980) where he played the insane killer Frank Zito, and THE LAST HORROR FILM (1982).
In THE LAST HORROR FILM, Spinell plays Vinny Durand, a cabbie who hangs out outside a comic book store when we first see him, reading a horror movie magazine in his cab, until a bunch of delinquents hanging out on the street corner start to harass him. He lives with his mother (Joe’s real life mother, Mary Spinell, who’s a scream!) and is obsessed with glamorous scream queen Jana Bates (Caroline Munro, who we also saw in MANIAC). He has pictures of her all over the walls of his bedroom and he keeps telling his mother he’s going to be a director and make a movie with her someday. His mother thinks he’s nuts.
Meanwhile, Jana has arrived at the Cannes Film Festival to unveil her new movie. So what does Vinny do? He takes some time off and goes to the French Riviera to convince his favorite actress to star in his first motion picture.
Everyone thinks Vinny is loony to follow his dream, and he is. But that doesn’t stop him from setting up shop in a hotel room at Cannes and do his darndest to get an audience with Jana and convince her to be his star.
But to get to her, he has to first get through her entourage, which includes her womanizing ex-husband, producer Bret Bates (Glen Jacobson), and her new boyfriend, who just happens to be the director of her new film.
Gradually, people associated with Jana start to meet violent ends, including having their throats cut, bullets to the head, electrocutions in their baths and even a chainsaw through the skull. But Vinny has a hard time getting close enough to Jana to talk to her, and is getting increasingly frustrated (at one point he breaks into her bathroom window with a hunting knife, but she gets away). In between each violent incident, Vinny takes the time to call his mother back in Brooklyn to let her know how he’s doing.
Vinny even stalks Jana to a castle in the country owned by a rock star friend of her boyfriend’s. He thinks the place is the perfect location for the finale of his epic movie THE LOVES OF DRACULA (and yes, he intends to play Dracula).
A twist ending completely hoodwinks us and ends the movie on a laugh-out-loud note.
Spinell is so interesting because he in no way resembles the typical leading man type. He’s hulking, pock-marked, and very creepy. But there’s also something very endearing about his character here. Despite all his fanatical behavior (the original title of this movie was FANATIC) and creepy stalking around, you can’t help but root for the guy to make his movie and prove everyone wrong.
Vinny Durand actually reminded me a lot of Robert De Niro’s character, Rupert Pupkin from Martin Scorcese’s THE KING OF COMEDY (also from 1982). I think Vinny and Rupert would have gotten along just fine together. They’re both socially-awkward, obsessive stalker misfits with a dream, who live in their mothers’ basements.
Director David Winters does a good job with a miniscule budget (he actually made this movie guerilla-style, filming around the actual Cannes Film Festival without a film permit), and Spinell proves himself to be a capable star. And it’s nice to see Joe reunited with his MANIAC co-star, the very beautiful Munro.
Unlike the ultra-serious and actually scary MANIAC, which has gone on to become a midnight movie cult classic, THE LAST HORROR FILM actually has a sense of humor and plays games with our expectations. THE LAST HORROR FILM is in no way in the same league as MANIAC, which is still Joe Spinell’s finest hour, but it’s a lot of fun, and definitely worth checking out if you’re a Joe fan.
The DVD of this film – rescued from obscurity by TROMA Studios – also features a rare short film called MANIAC 2: MR. ROBBIE (1986), which you can find in the Special Features section of the disk, and which is also worth checking out. As far as I can tell, this movie has nothing to do with MANIAC, despite the title. Joe plays a kids’ show host named Mr. Robbie (not Frank Zito), who empathizes with the letters he gets from poor tykes who have abusive parents, and seeks to right some wrongs. For a short film, it’s pretty satisfying and was directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, who also directed the terrific (but very bleak) low-budget film COMBAT SHOCK (also from 1986).
THE LAST HORROR FILM might not be for everyone, but if you’re a Spinell fan, you won’t want to miss it. And the ending is guaranteed to crack you up.
© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares