• The Last Victim (Dark Force Entertainment/Code Red Releasing) Blu-ray Review



    Released on: March 6th, 2019.
    Released by: Dark Force Entertainment/Code Red Releasing
    Director: Jim Sotos
    Cast: Tanya Roberts, Ron Max, Nancy Allen, Brian Freilino, Billy Longo, Michael Tucci, Glenn Scarpelli
    Year: 1975
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    The Last Victim – Movie Review:

    In 1973 adult filmmaker Shaun Costello made a film starring Harry Reems about a disgruntled Vietnam vet (played by Reems) who raped and murdered the female clients that were unfortunate enough to patronize the gas station where he was employed. In 1975, this film was remade as The Last Victim, a non-hardcore version of a very similar story. Sure, some things were changed here and there and clearly this version, directed by Jim Sotos (he of Sweet Sixteen fame), was intended for a different market than the ‘raincoat crowd’ that Costello’s picture was intended for – but it’s an interesting idea and a well-executed film in its own right.

    Serious spoilers lie ahead… because they have to in order to do this properly.

    The story, this time (which is written by Henry Scarpelli), revolves around a man named Carl (Ron Max, who, oddly enough, has a supporting role alongside Jackie Chan in Battle Creek Brawl!). Like Reems’ character in the Costello film, Carl works at a gas station alongside owner Charlie (Billy Longo) and fellow Italian Richie (Michael Tucci, who is probably best known as Sunny in 1978’s Grease!). On the outside, Carl seems harmless enough. He’s shy, introverted, but he’s kind to his landlady Mrs. Hayes (Beth Carlton), helping her carry groceries into the ground floor apartment underneath the place he rents from her in New York City’s forgotten borough, Staten Island, where he drinks cheap beer, reads car magazines and strokes his white pet rabbit.

    We know early on, however, that Carl is not quite right in the head. Before the movie really starts, we get a text disclaimer noting that violent crime against women is on the rise. This is followed by a series of black and white newspaper clippings before we then see some footage of a car driving down Hylan Boulevard, past the long gone Hylan Cinema (Tommy was showing when this was shot). The news plays on the car radio. The car pulls off the main drag into a more deserted area where we see a man pull the dead body of a woman out of the car and drag her into a sandy area that looks like it could be the underbelly of a beach boardwalk. The body is left there and the title screen showing the ‘The Last Victim’ card is displayed, first in white and then in red.

    From there we meet Nancy Ulman (Tanya Roberts, long before she played Midge Pinciotti in That 70’s Show) as she drops off her young son and daughter at school. Carl sees her drive by and can’t help but notice how pretty she is. She parts her Mercedes Benz in the driveway of her fancy home and calls her husband, Peter (Brian Freilino) but he’s in a meeting. When the phone rings shortly after she answers, anxiously, hoping it’s him, but it’s not – it’s a creepy call from Carl, who hangs up shortly after she answers. Back at his pad, Carl fantasizes about replacing Peter, muttering to himself that he should be Nancy’s wife and that he should be the father to her children. Thirteen-minutes into the movie and we know Carl is off his rocker – but at the same time, we also know Nancy is trapped in a loveless marriage, Peter isn’t a very good husband to her even if she has the fanciest of clothes and lives in a beautiful home and drives a fancy car. Later that day we see Carl peep into the restroom when a pretty female customer goes in there to perfume herself. When her boyfriend catches him, he beats on Carl and takes off. The next day, Carl picks up a hitchhiker (Nancy Allen of Robocop and Dressed To Kill) who wants a ride to the Staten Island Ferry. Carl picks her up and tries to make small talk, but she’s not having any of it and she snaps at him. After this happens, he stops on a remote street and, as the camera fades, we assume he rapes and kills her. Her body is found by an older man and his dog. The next day, at the service center, a pretty teenaged cyclist (Michele Miles) shows up needing to put air in her tire. Carl helps her with that and then, after making a movie, is rejected – at which point he takes her into the garage, rapes her and kills her. Most of this happens off screen.

    When Peter has to travel for business and the car runs into trouble, he asks Nancy to take care of it for him and bring it to the garage where Carl works. When Charlie asks Carl to drive her home, he obliges – and now he knows where she lives. The next day, once he confirms that Nancy has dropped the kids off at school, he makes his way over to and then into her home, unaware that she’s scheduled a grocery delivery for later that day. Nancy undresses and showers, heads to the kitchen where she makes some tea and reads a magazine, then heads downstairs to investigate a noise she hears which turns out to be a neighborhood cat. At that point, Carl sneaks up behind her and attacks her. In the next shot we see her downstairs with duct tape over her mouth, Carl nearby ranting at her sporting a CAMP WEEDAWONG shirt. He then takes her upstairs to the bedroom where, after not being able to get the TV on, he rants at her some more as the grocery delivery boy shows up. Carl tears off a piece of the pillow case, presumably to gag her, but we don’t see him do that. When the delivery boy doesn’t get an answer at the front door he heads to the back, calls out and gets no response, and then leaves the groceries on the counter in the kitchen. We learn shortly thereafter that Carl has slit his throat.

    Carl heads back upstairs, Nancy is gagged with the pillow case strip. We fade to black briefly and then see him lying beside her in bed, his pants undone (though not off). He’s passed out but she’s awake. He would seem to have raped her. She sneaks out of the bed and crawls backwards towards the bedroom door to make her way downstairs. When she gets downstairs she finds the delivery boy with his throat slit and, after she stands up, Carl catches her and grabs her. He takes her back down to the rec room/basement where he rants at her some more, flails his arms around and then slaps her. After that, as she lies there distraught, he heads up to the kitchen where he grabs a knife, some cheese and a beer out of the fridge. He heads back downstairs for a snack and a drink and after he looks at her and some pictures of her kids on the shelf, she gets up and approaches him. He has his legs semi-spread and she moves in on him as if she’s going to give him head. He sets the knife down and grabs the back of her head to accentuate this and then she grabs the knife off of the table and then stabs him in the chest multiple times as the camera cuts back and forth between the murder set piece and the serene exterior of the house. A car pulls up outside the house, the kids get out and head inside and the movie ends.

    The Last Victim works quite well. It’s fairly straight forward, we know from the opening that Carl is a maniac, so there aren’t a lot of surprises here but there is some solid suspense. The movie builds well and goes at a good pace. It also boasts effective, if not particularly spectacular, cinematography and a decent score. Technical merits are fine across the board. The location photography is also strong, capturing the Staten Island and New Jersey locations quite nicely.

    The performances, however, are what makes this one better than you might expect. Ron Max is frighteningly convincing as the male lead. He’s very good as Carl, he plays the role properly, never hamming it up but convincing us that his character really is deranged. At the same time, while he commits these horrible acts, you do get a sense of pathos for Carl. This, of course, does not in the least excuse his actions but he’s clearly a socially awkward guy, not really sure how to interact with women that he’s attracted to. He doesn’t seem to have anyone in his life to help, his co-workers make fun of him and he doesn’t seem to have any friends. In short, he’s a sad loser. Max does a great job with the character, earning our sympathy early on but then becoming a complete monster later in the film.

    Tanya Roberts is also very good here in her big screen debut. We can easily see why Carl would be attracted to her here, she’s very good looking, but her character comes across as likeable and down to Earth. We feel for her as it’s clear she wants her marriage with her husband to mean something even when it’s equally clear that he isn’t interested in her anymore. She makes the mistake of being kind to Carl, trusting him to drive her home and therefore, know where she lives. There’s a scene early in the film where the phone rings and she picks it up quickly, expecting it to be her husband. When she leans it isn’t, the look of disappointment on her face says it all.

    Supporting work from Brian Freilino, Billy Longo, Michael Tucci, Glenn Scarpelli and a young Nancy Allen in only her second screen credit is also pretty solid but they’re not given as much to do. Max and Roberts do pretty much all of the heavy lifting in this one, it’s their show.

    The Last Victim – Blu-ray Review:

    The Last Victim is presented on a 50GB Blu-ray disc framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. The transfer, which, judging by the information that appears at the end of the film, was done in 2008, looks okay. Not amazing, but okay. There is some mild print damage here in the form of white specks that most accustomed to low budget seventies filmmaking will have absolutely no problem looking past. Colors are a bit uneven, looking nice and natural in some scenes and a bit flat, almost faded in others. The Last Victim takes up just under 19GBS of space on the 50GB disc. There does appear to be some minor DNR applied here, but it’s nothing too serious. It is worth noting, however, that some of the outdoor scenes have a strong blue tint to them that wasn’t on the VHS release (the most obvious discrepancy being the scene where the man and the dog find Allen’s body) and the shot early in the film showing dead body in the sand and then the Verrazano Bridge – the sky is blue/purple)!

    The back of the packaging advertises a “brand new 2k scan with extensive restoration from the original film negative and missing scenes from a 35mm print.” If scenes were inserted from a 35mm print that would handily explain the fluctuations in color that occur in a few scenes. What does NOT explain are the inserts taken from what is clearly a tape source that occur at least ten times throughout the film (for those who like to take notes, check out the quality at 34-35:00, 37:00, 45:00, 54:00, 57:0, 58-59:00, 64:00, 67:00, 71-72:00 and 73:00). That time code is approximate but you’ll easily find the sequences in question and there are screen caps below where you can easily see where tape sources have been used). So yeah, it looks okay (not great, but okay), except for the unadvertised tape inserts that occur throughout the film.




    The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono option. There are no alternate language options of subtitles provided. Dialogue is more or less easy enough to understand. There are a few spots where things are a tad muffled but otherwise they sound fine. A bit of hiss is evident in a few spots but it is rare. For the most part the audio here is fine.

    The main ‘extra’ on the disc is the inclusion of Forced Entry. Now, The Last Victim cut of the film on this Blu-ray runs 1:15:13 (including the end credits for the transfer and restoration), the Forced Entry version, which is more explicit, runs 1:12:08 and it is a very different version of the movie. It starts off with tape sourced footage that looks like it was shot in Los Angeles where a car drives down a busy street. The Forced Entry title comes up in a yellow font almost immediately, the cast list follows. We don’t see any of the black and white newsclippings. From there we cut to the Verrazano Bridge where Carl’s deranged narration tells us that they shouldn’t have laughed at him. As we see him drag the woman’s body out of his car, to music very different from that used in The Last Victim, we get more narration – there’s narration from Carl throughout the movie. Then we cut straight to Nancy driving the Benz home. She calls Peter, no dice.

    From there, we see a woman have car trouble on a deserted Staten Island road. Her late 70’s era MGB won’t start for some reason. A man, presumably Carl (we see most – though not all - of this from his POV) stops to help. He grabs her by the neck and she knees him in the groin and runs for it into the woods. We do not see the mans’ face, indicating that this was probably not Ron Max but a substitute, while she continues to run, her breast popping out of her dress, into the forest.

    Cut to the Texaco station where Carl works. Charlie is reading the paper and finds out about the murder. From there we cut to Carl’s pad where he helps his landlady with the groceries and then to the Ulman house where Nancy is getting her kids ready for school and helping Peter get ready for his trip. They split and Nancy brings the car around for service. Here, Carl drives her home much earlier than in The Last Victim. Carl is at the station and left alone to close, at which point the guy and girl who perfumes herself show up, Carl peeps and gets his ass kicked. After that, the girl on the bike shows up. Carl helps out as he did in The Last Victim, but after that he takes her into the garage where he rapes her. There is more graphic nudity here (there was no nudity in this scene in The Last Victim) thanks to the efforts of a body double. He beats her with a tire iron after he has finished with her.

    Back at Carl’s pad, already sporting the WEEDAWONG shirt, he’s sipping some Nescafe, chowing down on some Sugar Pops, listening to the news and getting ready for his day. Nancy drops the kids off at school and Carl sees her, more narration kicks in and it’s pretty sleazy/creepy. He heads home, drinks beer and plays with his rabbit, fantasizing about replacing Pete. The next day at work Nancy shows up – car problems with the Benz. At this point, you get the impression that the guys know her. They all certainly ogle her enough. Carl drives around and remembers abusing the girl with the stalled car – he clearly rapes her and then chokes her, as she grabs a broken soda bottle but fails to hit him with it, in this footage.

    After this Carl picks up hitchhiking Nancy Allen. In The Final Victim he’s listening to some old school country, but in this version he’s got some 70’s funk/rock going on. He stops on that deserted road and rapes her as it fades to black. Again, her body is found by the old man with the dog. Carl wakes up and washes his face as Nancy, at home, answers the phone – their lives are juxtaposed. He calls her and creeps on her while she deals with the kids. Nancy gets the kids to school as Carl drives over to her place. Nancy comes home with groceries, makes a phone call, and then heads to the shower. She then heads to the kitchen for tea and magazines, heads downstairs to get rid of the car and, after coming back upstairs, is assaulted by Carl. From here, the movie follows the finale of The Last Victim for the most part, but there are some differences. He roughs her up a bit in the basement and then brings her upstairs where we see him mount her from behind and thrust a bit, walk away and then pull the phone out of the wall. She tries to get out and he stops her as we see the delivery guy make his way to the house. Delivery guy tries at the front, makes his way to the back as Carl heads downstairs, and then we cut to the exterior of the house before we see a shot of Carl heading back upstairs. Nancy is gagged at this point, then we see them in bed together – again, Carl’s pants are unbuttoned but not off, she lies beside him looking upset. Nancy backs out of the room and down the stairs and she finds the dead delivery boy and screams. Carl grabs her and brings her downstairs and rants and roughs her up a bit. He heads upstairs for beer, cheese and a knife, then back downstairs (he has the cheese stashed in his armpit, which is gross). At this point, Nancy fakes wanting to go down on him, he drops the knife on the table to focus on cheese, beer and head and, like in The Final Victim, she rightly stabs the fuck out of him. We then, again, see footage of the kids being dropped off at the house from school. FIN!

    This alternate cut is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen taking up only slightly over 18GBs of space on the disc. There are VHS/analogue inserts that occur from the opening scene to roughly- 1:34, again from roughly 4:30 - 7:38, then again at 14:00, 22:30, 32:00, 37:24 (very brief 2 second shot of Carl waking up), 39:30, 42:00, 51:00, 53:40 (brief 2 or 3 second insert), 54:00 (18 second insert), 55:00, 61:00, 64:00, 68:45 and then the 70:00 minute mark. These are all approximate, and some inserts run longer than others. Aside from the inserts, which are obvious, the transfer is fine, not remarkable but more or less mirroring the quality of The Last Victim.

    Audio chores are handled by a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, there are no alternate language or subtitle options provided. Quality of the track is more or less on par with the audio for The Final Victim.

    Aside from that, we get bonus Code Red trailers for Sweet Sixteen, Blackout, Steel Arena, Street Law and The Black Gestapo.

    The main problem here is that the version of Forced Entry included on this disc is NOT the version of the movie that those familiar with the film will have wanted or expected. The Harmony Vision VHS version of the movie that was released under the Forced Entry title runs 88 minutes, give or take a few seconds (and ends with a copyright notice dated MCMLXXXI Jim Sotos (MCMLXXXI = 1981, for those who can’t convert Roman numerals).

    The more common version includes a longer ‘L.A.’ footage opening sequence than we see on the Blu-ray (and again, the black and white news clippings are not used here), more footage with the girl with the broken down MGB/subsequent rape (the rape is much more graphic, we see him grab her, throw her to the ground and pull her panties down before then going at it and chocking her to death in this cut). From there the movie is more or less the same as what’s on the Blu-ray until the girl on the bike shows up, at which point the rape scene is longer and we see her grab a glass bottle that he uses to violate her with before hitting her with the tire iron. UGH!

    From there, we cut to Carl’s pad where the scene where he fantasizes about being Nancy’s husband is extended. The flashback to the stranded motorist is also more graphic. The rape of Nancy Allen’s character fades to black here, like in the two versions on the Blu-ray, but as the old man and the dog find her corpse we see Carl wake up and remember graphically raping her (it’s clearly a body double) – he gets her naked, binds her and abuses her on the beach. Things also get a bit rougher when Carl assaults Nancy and pulls her down to the basement. There’s also an extended epilogue scene after the kids arrive at the house where we get some completely bizarre narration about Carl and his mother from a member of the congregation of the church that they attended! We then cut to the kids going into the house over narration from Nancy’s character about how she can’t sleep and how she tries to be strong.

    While the Forced Entry cut that is on the Blu-ray is quite a bit stronger and sleazier than The Last Victim cut, it isn’t nearly as strong or as sleazy as the 88-minute version. Why exactly we got this edited version on the disc isn’t exactly clear (Dark Force absolutely DID advertise this as the uncut 88-minute version before it was released). The extra material in this cut, however, was clearly added at a later date as there are obvious body doubles used for Allen’s character and for the scene where Carl chases and rapes the stranded motorist (we never see his face and he looks a bit stalkier than Max).

    Now, with all of that said, the mystery doesn’t end there. In a Blu-ray.com post here, John Lyons compares two different theatrical cuts of Forced Entry and notes some interesting differences (this information has been used with the poster’s permission):

    -the footage with Allen’s body double being abused on the beach is not there
    -both versions do not repeat the opening murder sequence
    -both versions omit the bottle insertion footage
    -the 1981 theatrical print is, those two differences aside, basically the same as the Harmony tape
    -the 1983 theatrical print is edited in a fairly different order as well.

    More details are provided at the link above. And on top of that, there’s the UK pre-cert Intervision VHS release as well (which used The Last Victim as its title), which cuts right to the rape of the motorist after the opening credits and features the nudity in that scene, so it too is a weird hybrid cut. It also features the beach rape footage but removes the bottle footage from the cyclist rape, instead cutting from her being fondled to then being hit with the tire iron.

    On top if that, there is a 1977 theatrical reissue that was done under the alternate title of Mr. Death and another theatrical reissue done that same year as Rape In The Suburbs (you can see some interesting ad mats with release date info here).

    So while it would seem that the Harmony VHS cut is put together from a few different sources using material shot at different times, and likely not what the director intended, it would still have been nice to have something approximating that version included here, even if it were taken from a standard definition or analogue source – particularly as Dark Force originally stated the running time was 88 minutes.

    To be fair, the history of this film is clearly a big mess, and while this is definitely the best version out there, tape inserts and all, it is, unfortunately, less than definitive. It would have been great if Sotos had been able to do a commentary track or interview to explain the history of the film, the different versions that exist and why (or if) he recut them at different times, but that didn’t happen.

    The Last Victim – The Final Word:

    The Last Victim is a solid thriller, well-made and well-acted and quite tense. Dark Force/Code Red’s Blu-ray release is, to be blunt, imperfect but even with that being the case it is currently the best version out there. That said, those who wanted the cut that was more commonly seen in the VHS era will certainly be disappointed with the rather glaring omission of that version, even if it likely wasn’t Sotos’ preferred cut of the film.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Last Victim/Forced Entry More Blu-ray screen caps!





































































































    And, just for the hell of it, some caps from the 88 minute VHS version of the film showing some of the missing footage.

















































    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Thanks for tackling this beast, Ian. It's as thorough as I had hoped. Great work!
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt H. View Post
      Thanks for tackling this beast, Ian. It's as thorough as I had hoped. Great work!
      Doubled,
      thanks for weeding through the Blu and sorting things out & providing a solid review.
    1. JLG's Avatar
      JLG -
      "Director: Sergio Leone"

      oh, man! can't wait to hear the Morricone soundtrack!

      sorry. nice review, btw
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Damn it! Fixed.