Friday, January 15, 2010

The Last Hunter (1980)

1980 – The Last Hunter (Flora Film/Gico Cinematographica)

[An Italian production shot in the Philippines, working title “Cacciatore 2”/”The Hunter 2”; released in Italian cinemas as “L'Ultimo Cacciatore”, in Britain as “Hunter Of The Apocalypse”, in France as “Les Heros de L'Apocalypse”, in Germany as “Jager Der Apokalypse”, in Pakistan as "War Kill" and in Argentina as “Apocalypse 2”]

Director “Anthony M. Dawson”/Antonio Margheriti Producer/Story Gianfranco Couyoumdjian Screenplay Dardano Sacchetti Director of Photography Riccardo Pallottini Editor Alberto Moriani Production Designer/Costume Design “Bartolomeo”/Mimmo Scavia Music Franco Micalizzi Assistant Director & Second Unit Director Edoardo Margheriti Special Effects [uncredited] Apollonio Abadesa Production Manager Pasquale Vannini Unit Manager Mauro Mariani Production Secretary Umberto Bellucci Administration Otello Tomassini Cameraman Mario Sbrenna Assistant Cameraman Luigi Conversi Continuity Marisa Calia Sound Alfonso Montesanti Boom Operator Guglielmo Smeraldi Makeup Massimo Giustini Assistant Makeup Artist Nicola Catalani Assistant Editor Massimo Cataldo Cutting Room Assistant Mario Recupito Stills Antonio Benetti Assistant Production Designer Antonella Margheriti Wardrobe Franca Celli Key Grip Sergio Profili Chief Electrician Fernando Massaccesi Sound Mixer Bruno Moreal

Cast David Warbeck (Captain Henry Morris), Tisa Farrow (Jane Foster), Tony King (Sergeant George Washington), Bobby Rhodes (Carlos), “Margi Eveline Newton”/Margit Evelyn Newton (Carol), John Steiner (Major Cash), Massimo Vanni (Phillips), “Alan Collins”/Luciano Pigozzi (Bartender), Dino Conti, Gianfranco Moroni, [uncredited] Jim Gaines (U.S. deserter), Miki Kim (Prostitute in bar), Romano Kristoff (Helicopter pilot), Edoardo Margheriti (Stinker Smith), Lawrence Morgant (Pot-smoking soldier), Gregory Snegoff (Drunken G.I.), Al Yamanouchi (Various Vietcong)

Antonio Margheriti on the set of The Last Hunter (from the official Antonio Margheriti website)

Scott Phillips’ review from the Film Vault website:

Another ass-whoopin' flick from Videodrome's favorite Italian director, Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti)! Hunter is Margheriti's oddball melding of The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, and it opens with a drunken brawl in a cheap bar that quickly turns into a bloody, suicidal rampage of mayhem and destruction that sets the stage for the downbeat (yet squeal-inducing) thrills to follow. Low-budget action king David Warbeck plays Captain Henry Morris, who sets out on more-or-less the same mission Martin Sheen was on in Apocalypse Now. Morris' chopper is blown out of the sky and the tough-as-nails soldier is the only survivor of the crash. Swimming to safety, he meets up with George Washington (the machine gun-toting black soldier, not the father of our country). Washington introduces Morris to his rag-tag platoon (which includes the big pimp from Demons), but Morris is cheesed by the presence of Tisa Farrow, courageous photojournalist (women in combat situations, y'know). They set out through the jungle, stumbling across decomposing paratroopers, pits filled with spikes, dead villagers, exploding babies--all the stuff that made Vietnam such a great place to be. The waif-like Tisa Farrow's presence in the midst of all this--especially when she's poundin' down whiskey with the boys--is a little hard to swallow, but then again, she wasn't much more believable as the waif-like daughter of the scientist in Zombie, and all she had to do there was look scared and avoid being eaten. Aww, I kid that Tisa Farrow. Anyway, as night falls, we find ourselves in New York harbor for a love-drenched dream sequence, but don't worry--it turns sour real fast. The entrails, gunplay and dope-addled soul-searching come fast and furious as Morris draws ever-nearer to the end of his mission, which you just know has gotta go wrong. Nobody does this low-rent action cheese better than Antonio Margheriti, who imbues his flicks with a funky, gritty feel that you just won't find anywhere else. Grab this one and Tiger Joe, and your Vietnam experience will be complete!

Review from the Eurowar website:

Director Antonio Margheriti’s Vietnam piece is bound to be loved by some audiences and hated by others. This is simply not a film for all tastes. On the surface, it looks like cruel exploitation of a controversial war; exploiting Vietnam was certainly a risky move in 1980. Dig a little deeper, though, and “The Last Hunter” becomes a brutal allegory on the futility of warfare.

Margheriti tells a straightforward tale, admittedly ripping off “Apocalypse Now”: Captain Morris (David Warbeck) heads into Cambodia with a small band of soldiers on a mission to find and destroy an enemy radio station which is broadcasting disgusting anti-American propaganda. Along the way, he encounters many people and situations which point to the ultimate insanity of warfare.

Margheriti begins his tale with one of the best opening sequences ever put to film. Morris tries to relax in a Saigon bar, making conversation with another GI whom he’s never met. Soft music plays in the background, providing a perfect tempo for the dialog. It’s not long, however, before Morris realizes that he escape the realities of the war outside. The music stops abruptly as the tone changes from quiet to tense: Steve has been aggravated by the aforementioned GI. He shoots him in the head, and then turns the gun on himself. As if on key, enemy sappers attack the city, and the bar is destroyed; only Morris escapes. A first-time viewer may see this scene as unnecessary, but the characters and themes will become crucial to the plot as Morris moves closer and closer to his objective.

Margheriti establishes a mood, theme and setting in these first few minutes; renowned “genius” Spielberg takes nearly a half-hour of “Saving Private Ryan” to introduce his main characters and get to the point. Margheriti does it more effectively in four minutes with only two graphic deaths. Here, they’re personal, emotional and pointless; in “Pvt. Ryan”, hundreds of men are killed brutally, but we get the point after only a few minutes. Everything Spielberg does with his three hour piece, Margheriti does just a little bit better in about 90 minutes. The characters are established faster, the action grittier and the pace quicker. Margheriti lets his characters wander around, but never loses sight of his true theme; Spielberg’s characters fight and die in search of a theme and the audience leaves the feeling with some sort of emotional response, but can’t quite define it. Spielberg’s film was considered “groundbreaking” by critics in its portrayal of combat. Tactics, perhaps – but level of violence? No. Spielberg uses graphic violence without restraint, so much so that within five minutes we’ve become desensitized.

In Margheriti’s film, we see a scene here, a slow-motion shot there – it’s quick, it’s shocking, and it’s burned into your memory. By the time “Pvt. Ryan” has ended, the graphic images have blurred into one big, disgusting mess.

With the mood established and the audience glued to the screen, Margheriti shifts his focus to the Cambodian jungle. Morris is escorted to the drop-off point by helicopter in yet another excellently shot sequence: Franco Micalazzi’s score comes out full force for just a few moments as the action builds, and then dies. Margheriti lets some great handheld camera action and excellent, fast-paced editing do the work. Shortly after touchdown, Morris hooks up with an American patrol, including George Washington (Tony King), Carlos (Bobby Rhodes) and photojournalist Jane Foster (the luscious Tisa Farrow). This scene will be followed by a number of quick, brutal action sequences: the discovery a rotting corpse and an ambush by a band of Viet Cong in a burned-out village. There is one slight lull in which Morris reaches his re-supply base, run by the unhinged Major Cash (John Steiner) and occupied by a band of dirty, unshaven and edgy American GIs who are harassed by sniper and mortar fire day in and day out. The pure insanity is hammered home as this raggedy band tries to rape Farrow’s character; in response, we are treated to a great sequence in which Massimo Vanni’s character is forced to run into the jungle under enemy fire to retrieve cocoanuts for Cash (John Steiner) as punishment.

The high point of this interlude is a Viet Cong raid on an underground American bunker complex, in which hordes of black-pajama-clad guerrillas emerge and a firefight ensues. For the most part, the American characters are drunk or stoned senseless and don’t seem to know what’s going on. This long sequence is shot in the dark with handheld cameras, features lots of cutting from action to reaction – all while a radio plays happy tunes in the background; as the assault ends, the propaganda announcer’s soothing voice encourages American soldiers to lay down their arms and cease a senseless struggle. Ironic, huh?

All of this builds to a pulsating surprise ending. Morris does find his radio station – the audience knows he will from the start; it’s no surprise in a film like this – but the voice of propaganda will come as a shock as all of the pieces laid out in the opening scenes and flashbacks come together. We’ve had some subtle hints and little suggestions as to who Morris is going to have to kill, but nobody will come to the conclusion until the character steps into frame. The result is a jaw-dropping scene with an outcome that goes completely against the norm. The final shot of the piece is one of confusion, awe and surprise – we never do get to find out what happens to an essential character. If the violence and pure insanity of most of the movie don’t shock you, the last few minutes surely will.

Some viewers will be turned off by Margheriti’s style. There are times when this plays like an exploitative horror film; it’s quite possibly the most graphic, profane and explicit war film I’ve seen to date. Slow-motion spurts of blood and rather graphic shots of dead bodies are definitely not for the squeamish; Margheriti coveys these sequences so casually that even the first time I watched this – having only seen polished (and overrated) gems such as “Platoon” and “Hamburger Hill”, I wanted to shut the television off and dismiss this piece as pure trash. This it definitely is not; the location photography excellently conveys a feel for lush, yet foreboding Cambodian jungles.

Admittedly, “The Last Hunter” is not a perfect film: basic plot aspects are lifted directly from “Apocalypse Now” – Morris’ character is a take on Martin Sheen, while Major Cash and his army seem to be loosely based on Marlon Brando’s guerrilla force. Instead of a trek upriver in a small boat, we follow a mixed group of soldiers through the sweltering jungles. (Only here, they’re too busy dodging booby traps to discuss heavy issues of morality). More blatantly, a sequence depicting Morris’ imprisonment in an underwater bamboo cage reeks of “The Deer Hunter”. Some of the special effects scenes come up a bit below par for a 1980s film: watch for a dummy which gets flamed during the village skirmish; superimposed rocket bursts around a helicopter; and there are a few cheesy miniatures. (On the other hand, the slow motion explosions are incredibly realistic. I yet to see another film featuring so many well-shot gasoline fireballs).

These are only minor flaws. “The Last Hunter” is an anti-war gem which can be enjoyed by fans of Italian exploitation (Margheriti said that he wanted to shoot the film seriously; the producers forced him to throw in exploitative content to draw in fans of his successful horror works). Any serious war film fans that can make it through the opening without dismissing this as graphic trash will not be disappointed. It’s not often that a director can make a great action picture that’s still considered an anti-war piece.

It’s important to note that most video versions are severely edited; the Region 2 Vipco disc offers a beautiful widescreen presentation and is missing only one, inconsequential 30 second scene. Watch for yourself and make your own decision – don’t take my word for it.

RATING: 5 Bullets

Review from the Eat My Brains website:

Captain Harry Morris is sent on a special mission to locate and shut off a subversive radio message in V.C. territory in 1973.

Rawshark: Taking it’s cue from Apocalypse Now, The Last Hunter opens in Saigon in a brothel where several US soldiers are relaxing under the ceiling fans. Suddenly an argument breaks out and blam! – soldier Steve kills the Vincent D'Onofrio look-alike before blowing his own brains out with proper gunfire light in the mouth and everything! Soon the whole place is being blown apart and David Warbeck, 'hero soldier', just manages to escape through lots of spectacular explosion action. "Starts really well…," said Zomblee.

It certainly does and carries on that way too, because as soon as the post-intro BIG RED CREDITS roll, we're thrust straight into the mission proper as David Warbeck is dropped off in the heart of the jungle from a helicopter (after an eye-spurting ground-to-air shoot out naturally). Unfortunately as Warbeck swims to the riverbank, he comes across a snake and after a brief fight (" Fight Dave! Go on Dave, fight that damn snake!" – Jim), Warbeck manages to lose not only the fight, but also his gun and all his kit in the process. Stupid fool.

Luckily he then meets up with his contact, Midnight and Tisa Farrow, a war photographer and off they troop to get involved in lots of incidents (baby bomb), and traps (gore!) before they reach a US base which seems to have been converted into a Nite Club. Here, Sergeant Moustache ("He likes saying ‘fat farts’" - Zomblee) listens to tape recordings of gunfire and allows his soldiers to kick back, smoke dope, drink beers and dream of women with red fingernails. Oh, and they also have to do the crazy suicidal coconut run - Benny-Hill-style - if they get caught trying to rape war photographers.

Eventually we find out what Warbeck’s mission actually is, Midnight is killed (quite horribly) and Warbeck and Tisa Farrow identify and destroy ‘Easter Egg’ and escape the clutches of the VC (Warbeck to Farrow - “If you see anything, just yell!” Jim – “Yeah, yell ye-yaa-laaa!”) before the film heads happily towards it’s half-happy ending. All in all, this film is great low-budget action fun that had Jim and Zomblee cheering Warbeck along all the way – “Good one Dave”, “Nice flame-thrower Dave!”” - with many a well-handled action sequence, extreme bloodshed and some very strange yet funny set-pieces. Definitely check it out.

“I know what they’re up to. I know exactly what they’re up to. I can see the writing on their balls.”

Jim: You know, it appears to me that all you need to make a cheapo Vietnam War flick is a load of explosives, a few guns, at least one military helicopter and a bunch of return tickets to the Philippines where they don’t mind if you blow up a load of stuff. You also need a charismatic lead and a black sidekick who’s obviously going to get killed although I suppose he’s optional, it’s mostly the charismatic lead you need, preferably one who’s so well known you don’t need to know the character’s name. “Like Charlton Heston – name one character Charlton Heston has ever played! Err, except Ben Hur. And Moses…” – Zomblee.

David Warbeck is such a man. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t stress about losing all his gear in a fight with a minute killer snake because he’s so hard he doesn’t need it (a bit like Rambo), and one that only ever sports a pistol even when there are plenty of guns lying around next to all the dead bad guys he’s killed. He’s also the kind of guy who says things like “Cover me!” before running through a hail of Viet Cong bullets unscathed, performing a dodgy combat roll and shooting a couple of VC point blank range. Yes – with a pistol.

That happens a lot in The Last Hunter actually, tonnes of running around dodging bullet sprays and blowing things up. And I suppose the movie is better for it as it does keep your attention, although the plot does stray a tad when they get to the US base. The boss has a moustache (“He must be the boss, he has a moustache…” – Rawshark) and runs a nightclub in a cave called ‘Sector 7’, although it has “rubbish walls” (Zomblee) which leave it susceptible to VC attack. This not good news for that stoned guy in the corner (“Oh no – a really stoned guy!” – Zomblee).

Still, the ending picks up with a great last stand for Midnight, although as Rawshark says “This guy’s unlucky isn’t he? He’s had a flesh wound, a leg broken and all the skin bitten off his ass!” Then it’s just explosion, helicopter, shooting, death and repeat for ages, which is “nice editing, because it actually makes sense…” – Zomblee. Shame about that girl from Zombie Creeping Flesh having to ruin things for our man Warbeck, but I guess you can’t have everything.

“Where did you pick up you such a rotten, unchristianlike attitude?”

Zomblee: Yes, that's the highly awful Magrit Evelyn Newton from the highly awful Zombie Creeping Flesh, complete with crazy eyes and whatever that stuff is the make-up department slap over your face to make it look like you've been in the jungle for ages. She's the one responsible for sending out subversive, anti-war messages which order the US troops to go home. But why on earth would they want to go home when they have a chance of seeing the mighty, sweat-sheened David WARbeck in action. "Gather all the troops, you gotta see this - it's the zombie-fighting guy from The Beyond wrestling a snake!"

The Charlton Heston thing that Jim mentions above came from when Tisa Farrow (sister of the somewhat more successful Mia) first appears in the film and Rawshark said, "She's just... Tisa Farrow". Damn it he's right - she's as bland as they come folks, and nowhere near as attractive as her sis. I've always believed that Tisa and Al Cliver should've gotten hitched when they met on Zombie Flesh Eaters. They would make a great couple, passing their time by trying to figure out where they can acquire some charisma.

Big Al isn't in this film though, and if he were he'd sure have trouble negotiating all those fallen trees that carpet the jungle floor ("I love it when the troops have to step over big logs!" - Jim). More on that later. Al Cliver really has no place here - this jungle belongs to WARbeck and by God I think he's loving it. Where else would he get the chance to run about (jumping over those big logs) in macho-mode, pistol in hand and wearing tight green vest-themed army surplus whilst acting a bit like a more heroic version of Martin Sheen in that movie with the fat bald guy in the cave?

The Last Hunter is a great little film. It's a horror film fan's perfect war movie. As well as administration of some truly unpleasant gore content, Maghereti's flair for handling massive-scale (if you happen to be a miniature helicopter) explosions is genuinely impressive, which comes in handy when shooting in the Philippines where, as Jim says, they don't mind you blowing everything up. Some of the soldier characters on offer here are rendered more colourful with the aid of those silly lines they sometimes have to say but as you are all no doubt aware this is part and the Italian b-movie script experience.

As if the characters' lines weren't ridiculous enough, yours truly had to sit and listen to these two dead heads saying stuff like, "You'd have to be really good in Vietnam." (Rawshark) and "No way, I'd be way too busy getting wasted!" (Jim)

"Listen, sweetheart. I've been here too long. I don't know what's good or bad anymore, don't know who my friends or enemies are. But I don't enjoy it."

Robert Monell’s review from the DVD Maniacs website:

The essence of Italian exploitation was to cash in on successful Hollywood formulae. THE LAST HUNTER sets its sights on THE DEER HUNTER (title, opening brothel sequence and rat infested Vietcong water trap) by way of APOCALYPSE NOW (the journey down the river toward a hidden base to liquidate an American traitor spouting anti war propaganda). The difference is in the details, like Margit Evelyn Newton (HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) taking on the Kurtz role as a Saigon Rose who broadcasts appeals to American GIs to throw down their arms and go home.

The late David Warbeck is terrific as Captain Harry Morris, the operative who is dropped into the jungle to execute the mission. As with his roles in Fulci's THE BEYOND and THE BLACK CAT, he has just the right amount of toughness mixed in with a genuine likeability. We want him to survive, and that's what makes the film so absorbing and the ending so powerful.

The film is wall to wall action, expertly staged by the director and his crew in the steaming jungles of the Philippine locations. It begins with a bang as a friend commits suicide before Morris' eyes as explosions rock the encampment. He barely makes it to shore when he has to fight off a very aggressive poisonous snake, losing his supplies in the river. Joining up with Tony King's GI bro George Washington (King was Bukowski's cannibal buddy in Margheriti's Vietnam allegory, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE), they fight their way through many Vietcong ambushes. The film goes out of its way to show how women and children are employed by the Cong to get the soldiers off guard. The action is fast, furious, bloody; bodies are blown apart, dismembered and flayed as waves of blood engulf the viewer. Tisa Farrow, a veteran of Fulci's ZOMBIE, is on hand as a photojournalist who provides some romantic-sexual interest for Morris, while Newton is the "dark woman" from his past who turns out be his worst nightmare in the present. The ending is surprisingly downbeat, and very appropriate for the era as well as the film. Solid support is lent by Margheriti regulars King, John Steiner as the martinet Major Cash and the director's mascot, Alan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi) as a bartender in the surreal underground city which Warbeck visits.

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