Monday, 26 September 2011

Analysis of the opening of The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003)

Like Man Bites Dog (Belvaux, Bonzel and Poelvoorde, 1992), Zero Day (Coccio, 2003) and The Magician (Ryan, 2005), The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003) gives the impression of being filmed by an accomplice to murder. The film is presented as being recorded by a diegetic camera; it is held by a character within the diegesis and is sometimes seen by the audience of the film (in a mirror for example). These films are supposedly documentaries filmed and edited by murderers or their accomplices. In all of the above films except for Zero Day (Coccio, 2003), the murderer has an assistant or assistants to help capture the killings on camera. In the case of The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003) the film has then been recorded onto a VHS tape of a slasher film available to rent in a video store.

The film is also similar in its formal strategies to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Glosserman, 2006) which also features a charismatic murderer trailed by a camera operator. However the crew are not as easily described as accomplices in this film as they eventually fight against, and become the victims of, their murderous subject. All these films juxtapose the ordinary with the extraordinary by using the formal strategy of documentary or home video modes and killers who are human and realistic in terms of motivations and appearance with their extraordinary actions (rape and serial murders).

Like other films in the found footage/diegetic camera/mock-documentary horror sub-genre, The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003) uses a very brief moment of black and white static accompanied by the familiar buzz of noise to signal the disruption of normality and to indicate to the audience that they are watching something that has been recorded on tape. The filmmakers often use this technique to indicate that there has been a jump in the tape. This could be caused by a number of factors that audiences will be familiar with if they ever owned a VCR or are familiar with video recording technologies. Sometimes the moment of static can mean the camera was dropped or knocked and the recording mechanism stopped working for a moment. In the case of The Last Horror Movie (Richards, 2003), it represents the moment that Max, the killer in the film, decided to start taping his own ‘home-made’ film over the teen slasher film that was originally on the tape (apparently called ‘The Last Horror Movie’ and available to rent from Max’s local video store).

To emphasise that everything after the moment of static must now be read by the audience as ‘real’, the preceding few minutes of the film (the real VHS of the The Last Horror Film) are very stylised and recognisable as a stereotypical, conventional slasher film. The credits appear professional in terms of font, style and visual effects accompanied by a radio news report detailing the escape of convicted murderers and a typical film soundtrack, orchestral and dramatic, with a suspenseful tone that would clearly suggest to the audience the genre of the film they have rented. A woman in an extremely well-lit diner answers a call from a scared child. The dialogue is easily recognised as exposition that has been jammed into a script that cares more about killing than character. The camera moves are smooth and conventional (tracking close behind the woman as she walks around the diner), the set brilliantly bright and the acting seem just a little fake before a mask appears on the ground followed by the conventional reveal of the killer as he attacks the woman from behind. The actress’ accent is American and the diner’s neon lights help to connote an American film.

These moments help to contrast the ‘movie’ with the ‘home video’ that follows the static. Max’s face stares in close up directly into the camera and at the audience. He directly addresses the camera and audience and says (with a British accent) that what he has filmed will be ‘much more interesting’ than the film that was previously on this tape. The lighting is naturalistic (Max is lit by a visible desk lamp) and Max appears casual in front of decor that suggests a bedroom. Tapes are also visible in the background of the shot which highlights Max’s use of video technology in the making of ‘his’ film. He begins by criticising the characterisation and script of the original film on the tape, again reinforcing the idea that he is real and not in a fictional film. The camera’s static shot suggests the use of a tripod but Max’s hushed tones and intimate dialogue suggest the camera is not being operated by anybody. His black shirt suggests a normal man (though black could be connoting evil) and his handsome face (in full view and not hidden by a mask or conspicuous by a grotesque deformity) suggest this killer is more real and recognisable from the news media than the slashers of so many fiction films.

As Max speaks about his film, footage of one of his murders is very briefly intercut into the video diary style shot of his face. This emphasises Max is the creator and editor of this footage. He comments on the footage, implying his control over the viewer’s experience. In the footage of the murder (in a grubby, natural lit bathroom), a camera and its operator are visible in the mirror. The camera operator has to move as the victim falls to the floor as a wall obscures the view of Max bashing the victim’s head. This gives the footage an unstaged, ‘realistic’ style and accompanied with the reflexive nature of Max’s dialogue suggest to the audience that it is a home-made documentary now being watched rather than a polished film production. Max questions the audience after the footage of the murder; ‘you’re interested now aren’t you?’ He implies he knows the horror film fans’ taste and interest and he knows the conventions of a horror film so he entices the viewer with a glimpse of violence early in the film (as did the opening of the slasher previously on the tape). Assuming his audience is now confused with the juxtaposing of fictional feature film with homemade confessional video diary; Max offers to explain, again indicating his knowledge of film convention and the need for exposition.

Cutting to an ordinary street as Max pays for parking, the footage appears like a participatory documentary as Max talks to the camera. Including this mundane action (paying for parking) works to emphasise the reality and the normality of what is being recorded. It also suggests Max is not a total lunatic, too mad or unconcerned with the law to avoid the attention of the authorities. The footage is slightly shaky suggesting the camera is handheld and there is now a camera operator present who is following Max and helping to make this documentary. Max’s dialogue (delivered direct to camera) fills in how he got started at murder and takes the viewer to the scene. The locations are real (no brightly lit sets here) and include a lift and the top of a tower block. The view is recognisably English with grey skies and an urban landscape that looks run down and grim. His admittance of murder is delivered in a casual, calm voice with no hint at remorse. He stares into the camera (never breaking ‘eye contact’) with no sense of shame. The matter-of-fact way he talks adds to the sense of realism being created. Max then immediately directs the camera operator to film over the edge of the building. His eyes glance to left of camera suggesting he is now addressing the operator not the viewing audience at home (‘do you just want to get a shot pointing down over the edge?’). The inclusion of this direction either suggests that Max is not the best at editing out unwanted footage or (as viewers know from earlier that he is aware of film conventions) that he wants the audience to be conscious that this is unedited reality.

What follows is the quick killing of a parking inspector as he is issuing a ticket. This can be read as a reaction to the frustration of the modern world as Max has visibly paid for parking earlier in the scene and perhaps just missed his time limit. The camera looking up at Max and the wobbly tracking suggests this is spontaneous and the camera operator is just going along with Max as he attacks. Max again addresses the audience/camera operator but this time implicates both in the murder by demanding silence. Placing his finger to his lips and saying ‘sssh’ implies the camera operator/audience member is now an accomplice to the killing. We must behave accordingly if we want the film to continue and to witness Max commit more murders. This idea is repeated and expanded numerous times as the film continues.