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Movie Rewind: The Last Broadcast

Shane Steinberg | Friday, December 4, 2009

With all the talk both building up and, in many cases, consequently tearing down this fall’s most unsuspecting, wildly successful, “Blair Witch Project” clone, “Paranormal Activity,” a look back at the true roots of documentary/horror filmmaking seems to be in order. Contrary to popular belief, the original “Blair Witch Project” had its own inspiration. And that film, a hardly known 1998 VHS castaway, “The Last Broadcast,” is the subject of this movie rewind.
Call it lost in translation, or lost in production. Either way, somewhere along the lines, a groundbreaking idea of a film with a pretty solid storyline to boot, became the real murder victim in this genre-changing horror of a horror film. Put together a team of creative minds and tell them to come up with a brand new take on the horror genre, then give that idea to an untalented writer only to watch him run off of a proverbial cliff with it. Purposely cast low-grade actors, some of whom can’t even be convincing as ordinary, everyday people, and put in charge two directors whose specialty is taking movies out back behind a shed and shooting them dead and you’d have “The Last Broadcast” in a nutshell. What a bomb. What a “could have been.” And that’s not even the half of it.
Steven Avalos and Lance Weiler’s horror/documentary veiled as a documentary of the gruesome murders of two television hosts out in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, is ruined by its own attempt to amateurishly go about being clever and build up to an all-or-nothing big twist. All it takes is a somewhat keen ear and maybe one partially opened eye to react to the big twist the same way you’d react to seeing blank wall in front of you. Only, a blank wall doesn’t carry with it the tag of “utter disappointment.” A blank wall isn’t laughable, or lasting for all the worst possible reasons. No, instead, to be quite honest, it’s not even just the film’s obviousness that kills it, but so many (I’d make a list, but I’ll spare you) other things. To make a long story short, almost everything from beginning to end is what makes “The Last Broadcast” a failure in the truest sense of the word. The end credits are, sadly, one of the film’s highlights.
But that’s not entirely fair to it. Why look back on a movie 11 years old that by all accounts should only be remembered as being a coveted member of film history’s hall of shame? Because of the idea behind the film. An idea ruined by terrible production and amateur oversight, but an idea that revolutionized filmmaking. To name a few examples, “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity,” “Poughkeepsie Tapes” and “District 9” all draw their founding idea from the film. For that reason only, it’s worth watching the film — to see where it all started.
Ultimately, “The Last Broadcast,” in the right hands, not only could have — but would have — been something to remember. It probably could have never achieved the success of “Blair Witch” only because the Internet and its potential for viral marketing hadn’t yet really been discovered, but it could have at least been a cult classic. It could have been a classic, genre-bending, once-in-a-blue-moon film that leaves a permanent footprint on the film industry. Instead, “The Last Broadcast” is somewhere out there straddling the line between “never seen it” and “wished I hadn‘t seen it.” It’s a tragedy, really, a horrible tragedy, as all the while, amidst the backdrop of the murders the film is supposedly documenting, we instead watch as the film is murdered by its own maker.

Contact Shane Steinberg at ssteinb2@nd.edu