Directed by: David Winters
Written by: Judd Hamilton, Tom Klassen & David Winters
Starring: Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Mary Spinell, Glenn Jacobson & David Winters
Reviewed by: Brett H.
ďAlan, I swear he was dead, I know. Iíve seen enough fake blood to know the real thing when I see it.Ē
Life and art feed off one another, for better or for worse. When some poor schmuck steals a sensitive idea from a chick flick to propose to his wife, itís beautiful, but like the art it represents, life has an ugly side. Films such as Maniac and Cannibal Holocaust tap into this dark side and create art that seems all too real for some. But, Maniac is going to be the word of the day in this review, as Fanatic (also known as The Last Horror Film) is sort of a semi-sequel/follow-up to the madness that transpired in the highly regarded 1980 slasher opus. Once again starring Caroline Munro and Joe Spinell, Fanatic brings the old with the new; the gritty and unsettling nature of Maniac alongside the campy values of Prom Night with a dash of Scream, even if it predates it by nearly fifteen years. Does this stew of slasher madness work, or will this one suck so bad that it truly will be my last horror film?
The film opens in a gritty grindhouse theatre playing a horror film in which a topless bimbo gets offed by electrocution in a hot tub. The crowd is appalled, but Vinny (Joe Spinell) takes to the violence in a different way. He pleasures himself in the crowd as the scene plays out and the film comes to a shocking end. Vinny turns out to be a ridiculed film buff and has the dream of making a work of art featuring a genre actress he is absolutely obsessed with, Jana Bates (Caroline Munro). One day he packs up his belongings, says goodbye (literally) to Ma (Mary Spinell) and heads for the Cannes Film Festival where he plans to get Jana to be in his Dracula epic. Vinny is obviously a few cards short of a full deck, and he begins to off those close to Jana before he finally gets his chance to give her the interview of a lifetime; the chance to be in his all too real film. But, will this interview be the lovely Janaís last?
Fanatic is dirty and slimy, just like its big brother Maniac, except the greasy aura of the film is offset by deliberate campyness, and boy is it ever strange. With the exception of Spinell and Munroís performances in Maniac, I was never as much of a fan as most of my peers. The biggest quandary Maniac proposed to me is just how in the hell the beautiful Caroline Munro would fall for the frothing nutcase Joe Spinell. Here, however, the duo is paired much more ideally (or perhaps one could say, stereotypically) with Spinell being the madman and Munro being the innocent victim. Itís almost a shame the film wasnít played as a straight up horror film, there was potential buried within to perhaps bring it up to at least American Nightmare standards on the New York slimeball film schlock-o-meter. It wouldnít come close to The New York Ripper, but few films do. Spinellís performance is the one to watch, especially as he pants while recording destruction through his camera in one of a handful of truly disturbing scenes.
Amidst the gutter trash and cheddar tones the film has, there is a huge message contained within, and one must wonder if it was actually made as a sort of reply to the backlash Maniac received upon release. Fanatic has Spinell as the film fan who took the art a little too far, whose mind collapsed and lost track of the difference between real life and pretend. To coincide, we have Munro, representing the actress who has to field questions from reporters asking if her films harm society rather than entertain, and she shoots back at them that the art portrayed is merely a reflection of life. The news is worse than these films, but no one thinks twice in regards to banning what is a tangible, true fear that exploits victims as much as it helps them. The intentional hammy values of the film offer up a way to show that the line between reality and fantasy are often apparent to those who are in the correct state of mind, even in the most realistic of films. Throughout the plot, the film repeatedly goes back from nihilism to mozzarella and back again. Then it ends and you scratch your head.
The last minute of Fanatic jumped the shark, taking slasher twists and the already hardy-har qualities of the film to an entirely new level. The movie-within a movie gag is used in the film with decent effectiveness (it was really shot during Cannes, so thereís tons of ads for real and fake films throughout and itís a remarkable backdrop for the film), but then the last minute completely obliterates the film up to that point and takes it to a whole new level of camp. Itís not necessarily bad or good, just distinctly strange, I felt as though I was wading in a river of nonsense and curiosity. The whole premise is great and the direction is actually quite good for a film of this nature. Director David Winters plays the role of Stanley in the film, who is a sleazy horror film director that meets up with Vinny face to face after Vin just lost his lunch at a gruesome scene in Stanleyís newest gross-out flick. Like I said, itís just a strange, strange film. But, very, very entertaining.
In the early days of Troma, their DVDs were ridiculed and Fanatic may be the worst looking movie theyíve released that Iíve seen to date. This is a shame with the great talent, quality direction and overall level of fun the film has to work with. The movie is presented in full frame (IMDB states the film was shot in widescreen) and looks like hell. The darks are really black, the colors bleed and thereís a slight shift in colors from one moment to the next. Thereís a nice coat of film grain present as well. Audio has a similar problem, itís a very loud DVD, which is fine except that the volume level fluctuates up and down throughout, meaning youíre always going to be fiddling to get it right. Seeing as Fanatic could be seen as a sort of an elaborate faux snuff film for the most of its running time, it doesnít hurt the film as much as it would a normal picture. The poor transfer gives it a gritty, icky feeling that might be slightly lost if everything looked better. The extras include an original trailer, some promo trailers and the Radiation March; slim pickings compared to other Troma titles. All in all, I enjoyed Fanaticís ability to be gritty and bleak one moment and tongue in cheek the next. Rent it!
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