Margit Evelyn Newton
War / Gore / Action
Trivia Riccardo Pallottini (cinematographer) died in a plane crash during location filming in the Philippines.
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The Last Hunter (1980)
19th May 05
Captain Harry Morris is sent on a special mission to locate and shut off a subversive radio message in V.C. territory in 1973.
What do you get if you combine Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and an Italian B-movie industry hell bent on cashing-in on these successful American films? Answer: The Last Hunter. See? It even sounds a bit like The Deer Hunter. But there’s not a de Niro or a Walken to be seen here. Instead we must settle for late B-movie smoothie David Warbeck to play Captain Harry Morris – a man on ‘special assignment’ to track down and destroy a subversive radio signal (and whoever’s transmitting it) deep within V.C. territory. Special assignments, subversive figures deep in the jungle…sound familiar?
If you were looking for highbrow messages or any kind of informed social commentary then it’d be best to steer clear of The Last Hunter and most Italian b-movies in general for that matter. While Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter were thought provoking pieces of film, The Last Hunter unsurprisingly only briefly flirts with any kind of commentary pertaining to the meaning of war. You won’t need your dictionary on hand though: “Fucking mosquitoes. Goddamn jungle fuckin’ war…” and lines of that vulgar ilk populate the script like George Kennedy in the Airport disaster flicks. Such mindless vulgarity is commonplace in the spaghetti b-movie jungle; the makers of these cheapo flicks need that special Scorsese touch to teach them how to make their characters swear gracefully.
The opening scene in the film is pretty darned impressive; depicting a typically seedy world of U.S. occupied Vietnam circa 1973. The American troops are partying in a brothel, all having a good time except for one crazed soldier called Steve who flips out on a prostitute in a “I can’t take any more of you…or your goddamn country!” kind of way. When one of his fellow troops intervenes he shoots him in the mouth. In slow motion. And it is good. Then a bomb attack starts as the local area is impressively blown to smithereens and Steve points his gun into his own mouth and pulls the trigger. Again, it’s superbly executed (excuse the pun) and by this early point in the running time of The Last Hunter, we know that at the very least that some quality action / gore is sure to be on offer for the next 90 minutes or so.
As Warbeck finds his small platoon of shady soldiers (and token female – Tisa Farrow from Zombie Flesh Eaters), we are thrown into a world of entrails, spiked booby traps, decaying corpses, babies that explode, you know – a sense of general upright Christian spirit. A few forgettable sequences aside, a lot of what takes place is pretty decent action fare; Antonio Margheriti (who also made Cannibal Apocalypse) has a flair for this sort of filmmaking even if the portrayal of American soldiers is so hateful that you’re glad to see them getting it in the ass from the V.C. Some of the characterisations are quite colourful though - one soldier is so blasted on the local weed he misses the V.C. attack on his base while his commanding officer, Major Cash, enjoys listening to taped recordings of gunshot. Takes all sorts.
Tisa Farrow plays a war correspondent with a camera. Just think Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now but female, less mental and with fewer cameras. Farrow’s performance is almost as flat and lifeless as it was in Zombie Flesh Eaters and don’t listen to the sex-starved soldiers in this film upon seeing her for the first time – she really isn’t so hot.
Warbeck however is reliable, strong and pretty believable as Captain Morris. Just what is he playing at?! Characters in Italian b-movies aren’t meant to be believable! He should’ve spent some time with Mark Gregory from the Bronx Warriors series – that’d teach him a thing or two (though he does handle a flamethrower better than Gregory). Not an actor known for disappointing, he often lends a welcome shine to Lucio Fulci nonsense like The Beyond (playing a doctor) and The Black Cat (police detective). He’s got a great face and looks comfortable in such authoritative roles. He also seems to be comfortable around gore, which is kind of a prerequisite when it comes to dodgy Italian cash-ins.
After Warbeck fights through plenty of pretty savage situations and scenes when I thought I really was watching Apocalypse Now (you really can’t tell them apart in places), he eventually finds the transmitter and also uncovers part of his own past in a fairly decent little subplot involving the woman from Zombie Creeping Flesh. He also uncovers the bit of the movie that is pure Deer Hunter territory, rat-filled water traps included. The final ten minutes is totally impressive as the transmitter (and everything else in the surrounding area of the Philippines location) is destroyed on a large-scale level of destruction that will take you back to the finest of war movies. The huge-scale explosions, helicopter stunt work and cinematography at work here are breathtaking and the downbeat ending took me by surprise. Without giving too much away, it’s fairly reminiscent of Willem Dafoe’s final scene as Elias in Platoon. Shit, I did give too much away there didn’t I?
Vipco’s release is unusually good. The widescreen format is non-anamorphic 1.85.1 but the transfer of both picture and sound is surprisingly excellent. If only this were normal for Vipco. The disc comes with the usual trailer reel (yawn).