Welcome back to B-Movie Enema and our special January theme month, David Winters Winter.
This week, we’re going a little earlier in the 80s to see what David Winters would do in the horror slasher genre with The Last Horror Film. This movie also goes by the title Fanatic. In fact, my DVD that I have of the movie comes with that second title. I’m not sure if this was something that played in theaters with Fanatic, or if that’s just the home video distribution title from Troma Entertainment.
Either way, The Last Horror Film co-stars musician Judd Hamilton who also co-wrote the movie and co-produced the film with Winters. Hamilton was the brother of Dan Hamilton of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds who had the 70s hit “Don’t Pull Your Love”. Judd did a little bit of surf music to rock to country. He was married to the lovely Caroline Munro from 1970 to 1982.
Speaking of the lovely Caroline Munro, she’s our star of this movie! We’ve actually only seen her once before on the blog with the awful holiday slasher Don’t Open Till Christmas. Her part in that really was just a cameo. I know her best as the incredibly sultry henchwoman Naomi in the excellent James Bond adventure The Spy Who Loved Me. However, those simmering looks of her are also on display in the Hammer Horror classics Dracula A.D. 1972 and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. And then she would go on to appear in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Starcrash as well as some 80s horror classics like Maniac and Slaughter High.
And then speaking of the 80s horror classic Maniac and Starcrash, Munro co-starred in those with her co-star in this film, Joe Spinell! Joe Spinell was a pretty recognizable character actor in the 70s and 80s. He was a close friend of Sylvester Stallone’s which led to Spinell becoming Sage Stallone’s godfather. He appeared in Stallone’s Paradise Alley, Rocky, and Rocky II. He also had roles in the first two Godfather films as well. Up and down Spinell’s filmography, you can spot recognizable movies made by recognizable names. By the mid to late 80s, Spinell had some substance issues, but still worked with director David A. Prior on some Action International Pictures action films. He died in 1989 after slipping in his shower and cutting himself on his shower’s glass door. He was hemophilic and didn’t realize the severity of his injury. He fell asleep on his couch after the accident and bled to death.
Without a doubt, Spinell’s legacy is Maniac. It’s a terrifying movie and a fascinating one too. Think of it almost like Taxi Driver (another movie Spinell appeared in) that goes full into stalker horror territory. It’s a gritty and grimy movie that is well made. One last thing about Spinell before we get into The Last Horror Film, I want to point out that in 1976, Spinell appeared in four films – the Oscar winner for Best Picture Rocky, Paul Mazursky’s Next Stop, Greenwich Village, Bob Rafelson’s Stay Hungry, and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (another Best Picture contender that year). That’s a hell of a resume for just one year and a heck of a list of directors he worked with in just 12 months.
The movie opens on a fairly ominous one. A girl walks up to the camera, drops her dress to show her giant tits, and then a man in the shadows, with a knife mind you, cuts a wire and snakes it into the hot tub she’s gotten into. He flips the switch on a fuse box and she’s electrocuted. The girl dies and that’s when we see the title card come up for “The End”. The lights in a theater auditorium come up and everyone applauds. Everyone, that is, except for Vinny Durand, a New York City cab driver played by Spinell. He’s doing what most Mets fans do in many scenarios…
Sweating profusely while seemingly masturbating to on-screen murder.
A couple things of note while looking at the credits of this movie, David Winters also appears in this movie along with this production duties of co-writer, co-producer, and director. The man is multi-talented. Also, I saw someone in the cast named Mary Spinell. She play’s Vinny’s mother and actually is Joe Spinell’s mother, but both their real last names were Spagnuolo. If you’re a football fan, you know that name. Steve Spagnuolo is currently serving as the Defensive Coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs and he once was the Head Coach of the New York Giants. So… How’s that? Joe and Steve are cousins.
Okay, anyway, we enter into the movie proper now with Vinny in his cab reading the latest issue of Starburst Magazine. He’s reading about the hottest scream queen in horror films today, Jana Bates (Caroline Munro). He dreams of making his own movie with her as his lead. He believes that her success is all her own, and not due to Jana’s boyfriend and director of her latest film, Alan Cunningham (played by co-writer Judd Hamilton). While Vinny reads his magazine and daydreams about becoming an award-winning director, he’s getting razzed by the peanut gallery of other New Yorkers who knows he’s a little too head-in-the-clouds for his own good. That doesn’t stop him from dreaming about making a movie about his life and receiving an award from Jana Bates with some wild makeup, and interesting fashion sense.
Vinny goes home to see his mother. He tells her that he’s got his ticket to the South of France. He’s headed to the Cannes Film Festival where he hopes to meet Jana Bates and convince her to make a film with him. His mother thinks this is a bad idea. He’s lost in his dreams and she’s afraid that this will only “upset him again” so maybe he should just be happy with the cabbie job he’s got.
Joe Spinell is going whole hog in this movie. He shouts to his mother that he is going to become the greatest director ever. He then tells her that he’s leaving to go to Cannes and he starts getting a little emotional about leaving his little old mother. This is a wild performance, but, man, Spinell is a fascinating actor and he’s doing a great job showing that he’s not a guy who’s doing alright mentally.
This came out in October 1982, right? Well in February 1982, The King of Comedy starring Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis was released. It’s a very similar concept. It’s possible The Last Horror Film/Fanatic was made to capitalize on this delusional loser-turned-desperate-success kind of drama. I dunno. Either way, it’s kind of an interesting sub-genre. Ever since the rise of daytime talk shows and reality shows in the 90s, people have desperately tried to subvert talent for a moment of fame without really thinking about how truly fleeting that fame will be. It seems as though people the early 80s felt the same way.
Vinny arrives in Cannes where he hitches a ride with an American who drives an American flag-inspired Corvette and dresses like a Texan. After he gets set up in his hotel, he flips through his guide to Cannes. While he looks around for where he will find Jana Bates, we hear a radio report discussing the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. That was due to an obsessed fan of Jodie Foster’s who attempted to write her letters and eventually impress her. We’ve basically got the same thing happening here between Vinny and Jana.
Okay, so Vinny finds out when Jana is going to arrive at the airport and dresses in his fanciest white suit and red shirt and takes his camera to capture her arrival. But before that, there’s a fantastic scene that without context is freakin’ brilliant to try to understand. Jana is a horror actress, and apparently the best there ever was or ever will be. The judges from all these different countries for Cannes are watching her latest film. Basically, it’s the last moments of her newest horror film, Scream. All we see is her screaming hysterically while her killer is basically melting her face off. Each of the judges, in their own languages, talk about absolutely brilliant her performance is. They look at their ballot for Best Actress at the film festival and circle her name, Jana beating out Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, and Meryl Streep.
Eat your hearts out, Streep and Fonda! Neither of you acted in a movie where your fucking face got melted off! Try again next time, assholes!
That night, Jana is attending a party put on by her ex-husband, Bret, who produced Scream. Bret is a little bit of a slimy turd. A woman approaches him to talk business, but he would rather talk with her about the casting couch. Another director in attendance, and the guy that actress who wanted to talk business last worked with, Stanley Kline, thinks that Bret Bates is full of shit and an asshole. Stanley Kline is played by our man of the hour, David Winters!
Vinny was stonewalled at the front door of the club. He leaves in a huff thinking they have no idea who they are dealing with. So, he goes home, gets in his director’s costume, and imagines what it would be like for people to see him like he sees himself. With his awesome white suit and Panama hat, and his trusty camera, he’s able to follow folks into the club to film some of the goings on. Whenever he’s looking through the camera, he breathes heavily and sounds like he’s getting his rocks off.
The next day, Vinny calls Jana’s room. Bret answers and tells Vinny that he won’t let her see any scripts without it coming through an agent. So, Vinny tries a different method. He sends a bouquet of flowers to Jana with a note that reads: “You’ve made your last horror film.”
I think it’s safe to say that Vinny has a movie from a different genre to pitch her and that’s what he’s meaning by saying something like that. However, the poor dude has no idea how to translate that meaning to the written word. That note is fucking weird and aggressive. It comes off as a legit threat.
With Bret Bates being an obstacle, Vinny needs to deal with him. Vinny sends Bret a bottle of champagne with the same note. Bret sees that as the threat it certainly looks like. When Jana returns to the hotel room to discuss some business with Bret, She finds the door open and no Bret to answer her calls. After she picks up the phone that was ringing on his desk, she goes to the bathroom to try to find her ex-husband. She finds him, alright…
More, when she opens the door all the way, and it bumps his foot, his head falls off. What she doesn’t realize, at least at first, is that she was not alone. Someone is filming Jana’s discovery. She sees someone in the room, closing the door after she ran out. When she calls the police, they find no evidence of a murder. While Jana was dealing with all that unpleasantness, Alan was talking to Stanley Kline about a movie that he’s offering to Alan to direct, starring Jana. The deal seems pretty good, but there’s a catch. Kline refuses to deal with Bret Bates.
I… I guess that’s not a problem anymore, huh?
Vinny continues his French Creeper Tour by going to a beach where some girls are skinny dipping. He’s caught by another woman who makes fun of him for just wanting to watch. It doesn’t help him when he whimpers and can barely even talk to them. He’s just a poor weirdo.
The next day, Bret is still missing and Jana knows she saw him murdered. However, no one believes anything she’s saying. The cops can’t find anything. That even includes Bret, whose body is undeniably missing. Yet, Alan thinks that this is all some sort of practical joke. I guess Bret is known for these types of stunts. Okay, maybe not decapitation stunts, but you know what I mean. Alan and Jana continue on with their publicity tour because, I suppose, the show must go on.
I think this movie is actually really neat to look at. This movie is clearly taking place during Cannes. In fact, the movie was shot without permits at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival. I guess that kind of answers the question of whether or not this was inspired by The King of Comedy or something, huh? It really does seem like this was mostly inspired by the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. However, the guerilla-style filmmaking on display here at Cannes creates something really freaking cool. You really do get an idea of what it’s like to be at the film festival. It’s loaded with movie advertisements and displays. The hotel where Bret was staying has this freaking awesome For Your Eyes Only display that basically positions the entrance to the hotel between the famous legs that adorn the movie’s poster. Vinny’s hotel is apparently connected to a theater. It’s a sprawling town that is basically also acting like a giant movie convention. It’s great. It makes me want to go there and check it out sometime.
But you and I both know, I won’t. Unless Melissa Joan Hart is there. Then I will go there and follow her around with a camera while I’m wearing my awesome white suit and Panama hat and send her flowers with the note: “You’ve made your last God’s Not Dead movie!” Yeah… I… I can do that. Maybe I should do that. I’ve got ideas for movies. I’ve got ideas for fuckin’ rad movies. I’ll make her a giant star. Yeah, that’s it! I’m gonna become a great movie director!
Uh… Oh shit. I’m still writing this article. Fuck. Maybe… Maybe ignore that last paragraph?
Vinny calls home to tell his mother that he’s got Jana Bates to star in his next movie. He’s set up to be the producer and the director. His mom is seeing through this. She thinks this has all gone too far and he’s sick. He retreats into another daydream where he confronts himself and he says to himself that he sucks and he couldn’t even get Jana Bates to speak to him. He begins to break down and ultimately hangs up on his mom.
It also turns out that not only is Vinny a very sick individual, others besides Jana and Bret Bates have received the “You’ve made your last horror film” notes. Actors, directors, producers, and agents have also gotten the notes and they know that Bret got one too before he disappeared. They are looking for police protection, but the police don’t believe them. They know that Bret was a movie producer. He knows special effects and marketing shenanigans.
The next target for this attacker is the agent Marty Bernstein. Marty gets a letter from “Bret Bates” to meet him to talk about a movie for one of the actresses Marty represents. He’s directed to go to a specific theater to talk. While Marty is blinded by a projector, the killer sneaks up behind Marty and kills him with multiple whacks from a hatchet.
Vinny’s mind is deteriorating faster and faster. He calls his mother again and continues to feed her the fantasy that he’s hitting it big at Cannes and he and Jana are making the scene with everyone and so many people want his movie. Also, while Jana is answering questions about being in so many horror films and possibly gaining a fan like the ones who shot John Lennon and Ronald Reagan, Vinny is practically worshipping at his shrine for Jana. He’s projecting pictures of her onto a screen and stroking her and kissing her and so forth. It’s not looking good that he’s somehow maybe not the guy who’s killed Bret and Marty.
Side note… At this press conference that Jana is answering questions at, one of the interviewers is Robin Leach. When I was a kid, his show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was on late at night on weekends from 1984 to 1995. It was a show all about what the title says. It basically was the first show to really show off how the rich lived. We seem to continue to care way too much about these people’s lives to this very day.
How’s Vinny doing? Well, let’s see. He goes to a strip club and storms the stage to kiss and grope a dancer who he envisions is Jana. He doesn’t get in trouble for that except maybe being asked to leave. Later, he goes to check out the new Stanley Kline horror film which makes him nearly throw up. He storms out and actually runs into Kline and tells him what he thought of his film. So, to answer the question posed at the start of the paragraph, Vinny’s not doing well.
Stanley and his girlfriend Susan are both on the killer’s list, but Stanley is a weirdo too. He takes Susan out to this secluded spot. He has her close her eyes and he produces a knife. She rightly asks him what that’s all about. He says that he was just going to carve their initials in the bench like kids do. So he tells her to close her eyes again and then says that he has a surprise and she needs to find him to collect that surprise. He then runs off.
What the fuck, Stanley?
Susan, not wanting to play the game he’s set up, decides she has to follow him so she can convince him to drive her back to the hotel. Just as Stanley tells Susan to go up the stairs to find him, where he is still playing with his knife, mind you, he gets stabbed by our killer. Susan goes to the roof of this castle or fort or something and finds Stanley’s dead body. Our killer then shoots her multiple times in the back of the head and she falls off the building in a crumpled mess.
So now we’ve made it to our final act. I know we’ve made it to the final act because Vinny’s latest daydream is basically his victims all laughing at him for being a failure. Also, he’s got himself a bottle of champagne and he’s planning to break into the hotel room that Jana is currently taking a sexy bubble bath in.
I would be kind of curious to find out how many people might do goofy stuff to try to get the attention of actresses at Cannes. I’m sure the number is not zero, but how big does that number get? Is it a security nightmare for people like Angelina Jolie or Margot Robbie? Is it relatively tame? I can’t imagine that would be the case. It’s not like Cannes is completely off limits to the public. If you can afford to go, you can go. Same thing as the Toronto International Film Festival, or Telluride, or Sundance. Is it pretty hefty adoration, but still kind of innocent or does it get scary? I guess I could try to find out, but I’m wondering how often do actresses get scared that some greasy guy might try to break into their hotel rooms and stuff.
So, anyway, just after Jana finishes her sexy bubble bath, a greasy Vinny busts in through her bathroom window.
Vinny tells her that he brought her the kind of champagne she likes to drink. She begs for him to get out of her room. He says he just wants to talk about the film. He tells her that she’ll be perfect for the movie. She then screams for him to leave and he breaks down and starts crying about how she doesn’t understand him.
He smashes the bottle of champagne and then holds the broken bottle neck up to her and starts directing her as if they are making his movie. When a bellhop rings her room’s doorbell, she’s able to push her way past Vinny and run out into the lobby where she tries to escape from him down the stairs. As he chases her through the hotel and out into the street, the collected people in the lobby applaud thinking this is a publicity stunt. It frustrates Jana who really is in danger. It kind of catches Vinny off guard for a minute because he sees them almost as if they are applauding him as a director… Until he remembers he’s batshit crazy. Jana runs all the way to her movie premiere where Alan finds her. He puts her in a car and they drive off.
Unfortunately, they are returning to the hotel that she just escaped from. Guess who’s still there? Yup, the Phantom of the Cannes Film Festival.
Alan gets Jana back to their room and he calls security. He realizes that Jana really was right about finding Bret dead and that there really was danger to her. Alan and Jana make a plan to go out to a friend’s place outside the town to be safe and then they will come back in time for the awards ceremony. That’s great and all, but two issues. One, Vinny heard what the plan was before he decided to cheese it and go back to his room. Two, he followed them.
Jana decides to dress up like an Rhinestone Wonder Woman.
Despite bodyguards looking out for any trouble, Vinny is able to sneak past and get onto the grounds of this castle that Alan’s rock and roll buddy, Jonathan, owns. Once night falls, Vinny gets into the castle. He kind of gives himself away by being in awe of this particular room. When he comments out loud how this is a perfect set for a movie, he gets chased off by the bodyguards. In the confusion of everything, Jonathan gets shot and killed. However, no one says anything about that.
The next morning, Alan and Jana rush off. She even comments how they never even said goodbye to their host. He says not to worry about it and that he has a plan. He’s going to ask a woman from the airport who looks like Jana to basically be a decoy. They head to the awards ceremony while Vinny gets ready for his grand finale. He writes a letter to his mother and dresses as a policeman and sneaks into the theater where the ceremony is being held.
Well, all the plans to keep Jana safe go to shit. She was ushered backstage so that the decoy will sit in the crowd with Alan. But backstage was where Vinny snuck into dressed as a cop. He chloroforms her and steals away with the actress while her secretary is off getting her some water.
Interesting note about this moment. Of course, everyone knows Jana is gone because she’s called the winner of the award for Best Actress. It’s said that Jana is getting the award and it’s the first time a performance was awarded to a horror film. Interestingly, that very same year this was shot at the Cannes Film Festival, Isabelle Adjani won Best Actress for her role in Possession – a horror film. How’s about that?
Okay, so Vinny takes Jana back to Jonathan’s castle where he plans to shoot the final scene of a movie about Dracula. He shoots his scene with some pretty cool effects to make it look like he’s really staking her as if she’s a vampire. She comes to and he kindly tells her that she did wonderfully and he helps her out of the contraption and everything seems to not be so scary as we might think. Yes, Vinny definitely has issues. On the way to the castle, he told Jana that someone was trying to kill her. He even named himself as the crazy person who is after her. It’s like he has a split personality – a good Vinny and a bad Vinny.
There is someone else present at the castle. There’s someone else filming the goings on and has been doing all the really bad stuff. Yes, Vinny was stalking Jana. He did attack that girl at the strip club. He did break into Jana’s room. He was filming all the goings on as he followed her. He does have really concerning mental issues. But it would seem the killer causing all the worst of the problems is none other than Bret Bates himself…
Bret has been setting up Vinny the whole time. He was a convenient fall guy as an obsessed fan, so Bret decided to use him as he killed off anyone who kept Jana from him. Vinny’s able to distract Bret and runs outside. Bret, grabbing Jana, follows him and Vinny uses the headlights of a car to blind him where Vinny then uses a chainsaw to kill Bret as Alan and the police come to save Jana.
The movie turns into a film that Vinny is showing his mom. She’s proud of her son finally making his movie. He says it will be the last horror film he’ll ever make. As he tries to explain to his mom what his next film will be, she keeps calling his name and interrupting him. When she finally gets his attention, she asks Vinny for a joint.
This is a very interesting movie. I liked it quite a bit for a few reasons. First, that whole thing I said previously about the Cannes of it all. It’s a great job done by Winters to get this guerilla style. It makes Cannes look so much fun and a little glamorous at how you might be able to easily rub elbows with movie stars. Yes, I know that’s not the case, but still, it looks like you could bump into someone famous pretty easily. Second, Joe Spinell is always a fascinating actor to watch. Yeah, typically he’s not a guy you might root for, but I like how this ended. I mean watching his old mom smoking pot is great, but what I actually liked is that Vinny might have had problems, but he was not a murderer. He was just obsessed with Jana Bates. He didn’t want to hurt anyone. He just wanted her to see him. I mean, again, he’s got a problem and he needs help and Jana should be very scared of him, but there was a nice little subversion with him ultimately protecting her and being a little bit of the good guy compared to a murderous ex-husband.
Overall, you know what? We’re 2-for-2 with really pretty good, watchable, and interesting David Winters movies for this David Winters Winter theme month. That’s fantastic! Sure, I did say there was one waiting at the end of the month that is notoriously goofy, but hey… So far so good, right?
Next week, we go from a David Winters sleazy horror movie to a David Winters action flick. So, be right here when I take a look at the 1985, Robert Ginty-led, Cameron Mitchell-co-starred, guns and booms movie Mission Kill! I know I’m excited about the prospects of this, but are you? Well, I guess we’ll all find out next Friday.