By Doug Brunell | April 11, 2003

George Romero’s “Dead” films have left quite a legacy on screen and in print. Some of the movies loosely based on that zombified universe are quite stellar (“The Dead Next Door”), while others are poor (“Return of the Living Dead”). Drew Rist’s “The Last Night” falls somewhere in between.
Dallas’ citizens, like those around the world, have become infected with some disease (possibly from space) that turns them into flesh eating zombies. No surprise there. A group of the seemingly uninfected make it to an abandoned movie theater with the help of three SWAT team members. If they can survive the night, a helicopter will pick them up on the roof the next morning. If it were that easy, though, there wouldn’t be a film, so you can expect that some of the people get killed, some are infected and later cured, and some go a little mad. As this flick takes its cue from other films in the rotting flesh world, you have the regular cast of characters, too. There’s the virginal one (Jaime Lindsey as the slowly dying Casey), the smart a*s (Jeff Hoferer), the alpha male SWAT team commando guy (Bryan Massey having a ball as Lt. Harrison), and the guy who holds it all together (Nathan Martin). That may make “The Last Night” seem like the standard zombie gore film, but Rist tosses in a few surprises that makes it worth watching.
Part of the film is shot Blair Witch Project -style through a digital camera held by the innocent bystander, Nick (Randy McDaniel). It is his character who, as an older man (Lee Banks), narrates this tale. Seeing the footage shot on Nick’s camera gives the film a realistic and almost claustrophobic feel, and there is one scene shot in a sewer tunnel that is downright scary. Other movies have used this technique to varying degrees of success, but it works here, as does the Rigor Mortis character.
Rigor Mortis (Robert Whitus) is an intelligent zombie, an idea only touched upon in Romero’s “Day of the Dead.” Rigor isn’t a lumbering brute who haphazardly slaps his hands on windows trying to get at the people on the other side, though. No, he’s a fast moving killing machine that actually hunts his prey, which adds an extra bit of menace to the film. If everyone’s turning into zombies, and he’s the next rung on the evolutionary ladder, we’re all about to be knee-deep in our own intestines.
“The Last Night” is a fun bit of cinema that doesn’t step too far outside the boundaries of every other Romeroesque zombie movie, which is really its only fault. As Rist shows in his other films (“The Closet Monster,” “Safe in My Own Skin,” and “Broken Sight”) included on the video copy of this feature, he can write and direct an original movie and obtain actors who can act without hamming it up. He shows great talent and intelligence as a horror director, and now all he has to do is really push the genre to its limits and perhaps obtain a wider audience by getting this film into the hands of other genre fans so that they can see what he has to offer. One can only hope he doesn’t give up before making what could be a masterpiece.

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