The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project stand together as DIY visions of a better way for Americans to make horror films. The Last Broadcast was released in 1998 and set in 1995.
The director of the film, Stefan Avalos, also performs in the film as the host of a local cable television show, Fact or Fiction. The narrative of The Last Broadcast is centered around a documentary filmmaker, David Leigh. He is making a documentary about the two hosts from Fact or Fiction, Steven Avkast and Locus Wheeler. Steven and Locus are found dead in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, where they were doing a live Internet broadcast, searching for the Jersey Devil.
The documentary is concerned with the supposed guilt and arrest of Jim Suerd, the man held responsible for the Fact or Fiction murders. Jim accompanied Steven and Locus out to the Pine Barrens to serve as an onsite psychic. He is the one who makes the 911 call to the police and is ultimately found guilty, and soon after, dead in his jail cell.
There is a lot to digest in The Last Broadcast. Aside from developing the found footage genre, the film’s aesthetic is a vision of a world that doesn’t quite exist anymore. Star Wars characters didn’t help sell cars in 1995 and watching the X-Files almost guaranteed you wouldn’t be getting laid. Or at least not in small towns.
Jim Suerd’s character is an outcast, but rendered in a way that is unfamiliar in 2018.
Social media has made living on the Internet normal, everyone now has a hand in amateur photography and video recording. But in 1995, living online was seen as deviant. Jim primarily interacts with people on IRC, Internet Chat Relay. A horror film that uses IRC as a plot device, fuck yes.
IRC becomes a key element in the trial against Jim Suerd. His IRC logs prove that he was chatting online with people during the time of the murder. And his computer, which was fucking banging for 1995, was not very mobile to put it respectfully. Even if you detest horror, the tech in this film makes it irresistible. It invites a fetish-oriented viewing. There are so many shots of people working with old video equipment, AV cables everywhere.
Even just the old computers in so many scenes are absolutely irresistible.
There is also a certain audio quality to The Last Broadcast that is hard to resist. It sounds exactly like you would expect a home video from the mid 90’s to sound, fulfilling your lust for ye AV rooms of old. The crackling VHS audio combined with the greys and greens and browns in the visual pallet creates a spookiness, an authentic chill. Its unglamorous aesthetic resembles a more lo-fi first season of the X-Files.
There is a moment when an audio recording of Jim playing his guitar and singing is inserted into the found footage. It sounds like the wind, like fall. And there is something in Jim’s singing voice, an intensity that transforms him in the viewers mind from a psychopath to someone getting fucked over. And I’ll just say it, he’s misunderstood.
The people performing in The Last Broadcast aren’t Shakespearean actors, but do a good job. Horror films do well with a punk rock/ garbage aesthetic. The less you are worried about being bad, the more freedom you have to do good with what you have. Jess Franco comes to mind, often in his films vampires are hanging out on the beach and sunbathing. The people involved with The Last Broadcast are shameless and without pretense.
The film business is just that, a business. Shit happens. And there are a lot of rumors about the people behind The Blair Witch Project attempting to sabotage the release of The Last Broadcast at different film festivals. But at this point, The Last Broadcast is getting more of the recognition it deserves, at least in certain horror circles. Alongside The Blair Witch Project, these two films gave the finger to American Hollywood traditions and invented found footage horror. No Hollywood actors or money, just some random people from the East Coast filming with cameras they probably bought at Circuit City.
But while The Blair Witch Project does go on to spawn a franchise, The Last Broadcast remains an obscure horror classic.
I’m tempted to call it an obscure art film. No official digital release, all DVD’s and VHS tapes long out of print. Which makes a certain amount of sense. This is a film to track down or come upon at a used record store. If people are going to insist vinyl sounds better, I’m going to insist VHS has soul. Find a copy of this film and use a bunch of cables to make a cool AV chain into your television or computer and let it all take you back to 1995 and into the Pine Barrens.
Thursday Simpson is a multimedia artist and a co-founding editor at OUT/CAST, a journal for queer & Midwestern writers. Her first chapbook, Three Gothic Stories, is published with Moonchaps. She composes soundtracks for her writing and maintains a prog, analog synth based aesthetic. She believes in Feline Satan and garlic and onions. Ask her to do an impression of King Diamond or Kevin Steen and she will probably smile. Her Twitter is @JeanBava and her full publication history can be found at www.thursdaysimpson.com