movie review: The Last Broadcast (1998)

What did you watch? The 1998 found footage mockumentary The Last Broadcast from 1998.

Oh, that’s a year before The Blair Witch Project! It’s also 9 years after UFO Abduction aka The McPherson Tape, and the same year of that film’s remake, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County.

I wrote about Hardcore Henry on Friday and started thinking about first person and found footage movies, and October is scary movie month apparently, so I looked up something about The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast, released a year before TBWProject, was recommended. TBWP was in production for a while before it was released, of course, and I imagine that The Last Broadcast on its shoestring budget also took some time. Despite that obvious low budget, where maybe they could get a hat that says “police officer” but not a badge or police uniform, it’s a pretty solid fake documentary.

The Last Broadcast is presented as a documentary narrated by filmmaker David, covering the murder of some cable access tv show hosts at the hands of socially awkward Jim. Local dudes Steven & Locus host the show “Fact or Fiction” as a paranormal talk and investigation show, which can only be so good since it’s cable access, so they hop on an “IRC” to take suggestions for a topic to WEBCAST on THE INTERNET live as they investigate. It’s a documentary so talking heads that are their friends at the TV station fill in the gaps about the kinds of people Steven & Locus are, Steven who takes the subjects and the show seriously and Locus who has a slightly more sarcastic approach. They recruit a sound engineer Rein who claims he can record the paranormal, and meet Jim, who claims to be psychic and goes into violent convulsions. Steven seems to be the only one who believes that Jim has actual powers, but the other three guys agree to follow Jim deep into the woods for their live WEBCAST on THE INTERNET. The topic chosen is the Jersey Devil.

Oh, they go to fight the hockey team? You know what? I don’t think they actually describe the Jersey Devil lore. Maybe the filmmakers didn’t think that this movie would get outside their area, and the lore is real dating back to the early 18th century. But it’s not that well known outside of that part of the northeast coast. With TBWProject, since it’s made up, they have to explain. But this isn’t a supernatural story that’s being covered: The Last Broadcast is a documentary about murders, as it turns out.

The tape runs out. The next day, Locus & Rein’s bodies are found, Steven is missing, and Jim is eventually arrested for their murder. More talking heads appear in the documentary to discuss the aftermath at the cable access station, the video evidence, and the trial. Jim is convicted, but claims his innocence. There’s not a lot of evidence besides some bloody clothes at Jim’s, and Jim was filmed pushing one of the other guys when he was mocked for his fake psychic ability. A tape from the victim’s campsite shows up later that the filmmaker David gets a hold of, and video data expert, Shelly, will reconstruct to see if the real killer can be seen.

There’s a PLOT TWIST, somewhere, and we get to see the documentary being put together outside the camera that films the talking heads and cable access footage. Is it a decent plot twist? Did you just sit through a mockumentary for a jump scare? It comes off as a little one note joke in a way. I don’t want to spoil anything, but perhaps the filmmakers couldn’t figure out ways to block shots from that camera POV to show what is going on behind the scenes to end the film.

That said, if you were expecting a found footage horror movie, you’re treated to an otherwise very well made movie by guys who watched a lot of early crime documentaries, knew enough about framing shots and setting up an office so that you would accept a guy in a polo shirt that says “police” and has a computer monitor on a regular computer desk would be a police officer at his desk, when it could just be someone’s dad sitting at his home computer in his den. They wrote dialogue for their actors to sound like people who are interviewed and recite facts of a case on Dateline or Unsolved Mysteries, that sort of story. And as I joke about the early internet, they were pretty in tune with those early stages of broadcasting on the internet and connecting with people pre-YouTube and social media, where streaming would probably get you fewer views than your cable access show and IRC was completely anonymous. The victims were the sort of guys who were a little too excited about being online (cough) and their paranormal topics, with their coworkers at the station ribbing them posthumously about their ambitions to be more popular through their videos. Hmmm, pretty prescient. The victims, had they survived, would probably be filming your kitchen in nightvision and claiming that the heat signatures in your walls were signs of ghosts, and would have 1 billion views.

Where’s your youtube channel, Paul? Shut up.

Is it good? It’s interesting albeit dry, and boring near the end, wearing out its welcome before the narrative shiff. It’s a little uncomfortable, but that’s why it’s a horror movie (though M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t show up at the end, “It’s a TWIST!”). David’s dry delivery is perfect for an impartial documentarian, if not indifferent to whether or not Jim is innocent. I wish we got to see more of Steven & Locus instead of the talking heads talking about who they were. Steven & Locus have a clip introducing themselves on their show and come off perfectly as a couple of goofballs who want to have a some fun milking their cheap cable access show. I frankly got pretty invested in the “documentary” before the twist, so kudos to these on their take. Well done.

It’s on TUBI, and so is CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH, the companion/promo bit that SyFy aired when TBWProject came out. Curse Of… was likely part of the original TBWProject but cut from the film so that the actual film would focus on just the “found footage” aspect that became insanely famous. It comes off almost better than some crime documentaries that it’s modeled after at the time. Check THAT out as well.

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