The Last Broadcast DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD Released by Heretic Films
Written and directed by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler
1998, Region 1 (NTSC), 86 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on September 26th, 2006
David Beard as David Leigh
Jim Seward as James “Jim” L. Suerd
Stefan Avalos as Steven “Johnny” Avkast
Lance Weiler as Locus Wheeler
Rein Clabbers as Rein Clackin
Michele Pulaski as Michelle “Shelly” Monarch
With dropping ratings, and on the verge of cancellation, a local cable TV show, “Fact or Fiction,” decides to give it one last major go and it’s sink or swim time, kids.
Choosing an idea sent to their show from a viewer, Steven Avkast and Locus Wheeler, the hosts of the show, decide to broadcast live from New Jersey’s Pine Barrens — home of the infamous Jersey Devil.
Joining the hosts are a sound/equipment man and Jim, a self-proclaimed psychic. Jim promises to track down the Jersey Devil using his special abilities.
So, armed with computer, audio, video and camping equipment, the four men head into the forest.
Only one comes out.
Seems ol’ Jim got away from his party and calls 911. After a search of the forest turns up two bloody, battered bodies and a bloody hat — Steven’s — that’s missing a body, Jim is immediately suspect No. 1.
After his house is searched, and clothes containing the victim’s blood are found, coupled with the video found at the campsite showing Jim is a little wacky, the jury wastes no time sending Jim to the pokey.
But one man is not convinced of Jim’s guilt.
And, with the help of some newly “found” evidence, he will show what really happened during the last broadcast of “Fact or Fiction.”
In 1999, a little, low-budget horror documentary hit the theaters and blew up. While many horror fans disown it today, a $250 million return on a $35,000 product means at least a few people dug it. The film I’m talking about is, of course, The Blair Witch Project.
Well, about the same time Witch came out, rumor was going around about another low-budget mockumentary called The Last Broadcast. Word was that not only was Broadcast better than The Blair Witch Project, but Witch flat-out ripped off Broadcast. Rumor, people. Just a rumor. A rumor I’m here to clear up.
First and foremost, Witch and Broadcast are nothing alike. Sure, both are low-budget pseudo-documentaries in which some weird shit goes down in the woods. But that’s about it. While Broadcast came out a year earlier than Witch, you might as well as well say Sleepaway Camp rips off Friday the 13th because both take place in a camp where a killer is running free. Sure, Camphas a similar premise as Friday, but to say it’s a ripoff is certainly debatable.
Now, about which movie is better. Is Broadcast better? No. No, it’s not. At the time, it may have seemed better to those who were fortunate enough to see it. Better because they were ubercool, and you missed the best movie ever, “ZOMG!” Better because they got to see something that wasn’t readily available. But is it really better? No.
That’s not to say Broadcast is a bad film. Far from it. It’s actually a rather smart film. Where Witch used only the “recovered” footage of the three missing documentary makers, Broadcast is a combination of recovered footage and interviews. This works in Broadcast’s favor, as there is more going on than some kids running circles in the woods saying, “Fuck fuck fuck motherfuck fuck you.” But it fails, as well, because you never get the sense of dread that Witch covered you with, especially at the end.
Especially at the end.
Broadcast’s ending really hurts an otherwise enjoyable movie. It takes the previous 75 or so minutes you’ve invested in the film and tosses them out the window. There’s no payoff at all. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t quite know how to end what was a decent movie up to that point, so they forced something. And that’s exactly how it looks — and feels. Forced. Without going too much into it, so as not to spoil it, the film throws an ending at you that it never led up to. I’m not saying it’s as ridiculous as, say, the ending of Haute Tension. Because the ending isn’t incredibly ridiculous. It just doesn’t work because the clues aren’t there, nor is there any explanation for why it ended as it did.
The acting is consistent, as everyone gets it done. Props go to the filmmakers, Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, as they put themselves in the film as “Fact or Fiction” hosts Steven and Locus (respectively), and did a fine job with it. Thank you, gentlemen, for not making me have to complain about that. Also, with the exception of one cringe worthy scene, Jim Seward as Jim Suerd, the accused man, does “creepy” pretty well. If this were real life, the guy would have no problem being convicted in the court of public opinion.
Now, all that said, is Witch a rip-off of Broadcast? No. Is it fair to compare Broadcast to Witch, even if Broadcast came a year before Witch? You’re damn right. Because, without Witch, Broadcast would have never made the airwaves.
Yet, I’m glad it did because, even though it doesn’t quite live up to the hype, and its ending does hurt it, the movie is still an enjoyable time. It’s hard not to compare the movie to Witch due to the controversy around them, but Broadcast certainly holds its own.
Video and Audio:
Broadcast’s 4:3 (OAR) presentation suffers from the usual low-budget suspects of some compression issues and grain, but, hell, this film looks pretty good for a film shot for $900, that’s almost 10 years old.
The stereo soundtrack has no problems, and is crystal clear with no irritating noise. There are some instances where the audio seems out of whack, but that is intentional screwing around with the audio for effect.
- 2 commentary tracks with co-directors Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler
- Behind-the-scenes documentaries on production, post-production and distribution
- Exclusive interviews
- Fact or Fiction: rare clips from the infamous public access show
- Jim Seward: Alive and Well performing 2 folk songs
- Gallery of Gore: Pine Barrens murder crime scene and autopsy images, Last Broadcast poster and box art from around the globe
- Trailers for Head Trauma & Ghosts of Edendale
Holy cow! You see all that? Heretic went all-out on the special features.
The three behind-the-scenes documentaries are rock solid. They actually do talk about the things the titles reflect, as opposed to being fluff pieces for the film. Well worth the watch.
The “exclusive interviews” piece is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than interviews with the cast or crew, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at the actors being interviewed in character for the film. While it’s a bit long at over thirteen minutes — because it gets a little boring — it’s an interesting look at what was filmed for the movie, and how much they had to edit out for the final cut. The editing must have been a beast to do for this film, and the piece gave me a bigger appreciation of the movie.
The “Fact or Fiction” clips are humorous. They are kind of like deleted scenes (which, I imagine, they are to a degree), but are more enjoyable than unused scenes. Check them out.
Jim Seward performs a couple of songs in a recently filmed clip and the “Gallery of Gore” and the trailers are exactly what you’d expect. Although I’m not a big fan of photo galleries, I did dig the autopsy pics.
Finally, the commentaries. Oh, the commentaries.
Of the two, I prefer the commentary recorded in 1999 for the first DVD release of Broadcast. It is more lighthearted and is a little more interesting than the second. In addition to Avalos and Weiler, some cast members join the discussion, providing additional insight into the making of the movie. The only downside is it is hard to differentiate who is talking sometimes, but overall, the commentary is an enjoyable one. The second commentary, recorded in 2006 for this release, is a bit dry, but there are two key discussions in this recording that make it a must listen.
The first is that, in contrast to the first commentary, Avalos and Weiler talk about The Blair Witch Project. Weiler talks the most on this subject, and he is the consummate professional. He harbors no ill will to the Project filmmakers, and it seems there is no animosity. I would have loved to hear what he had to say in ’99, though.
The second topic of note, to my pleasant surprise (at first), was the ending. When Avalos brought up the ending, and the reactions to it, I was all ears.
He strenuously defends his ending — which I can completely dig — but what he says about people who don’t like the ending completely blew me away:
“I think it was a great idea and, um, I’m very pleased how that worked artistically. I think the average person who watched the movie, uh, was expecting a straight-ahead horror movie and so we’ve — through the years — gotten a lot of grief and continue to get a lot of grief about what we do in the end, here. But I maintain that it was, and is, a great ending and that the people who don’t like it simply are not educated filmmakely and not ready for something like that. Whether that makes it good or bad ending, of course, is still up for debate.”
How cute. Avalos just pulled the “You just don’t get it because you’re stupid” argument. Wow. That emphasis on “a lot” in “…a lot of grief…” is not mine, kids. That’s his. So, obviously there are more than a few people who think the ending just doesn’t stand up. But they’re just stupid. Spielberg would get it. Because he’s educated. Filmmakely.
But wait, he goes on!
“Like I said, most viewers, typically, renting The Last Broadcast, are kids wanting to watch a horror movie. And I think that when we made this movie, we really intellectualized it. Which I don’t want to say is a mistake; I want to say that a horror movie can be — and should be — as intellectual as any other movie. But kids have typically, you know, had a very hard time dealing with this whole ending. You’ll see a lot of reviews and critics criticizing on IMDB, ‘Oh, it’s the worst ending ever! What were they thinking? They had no idea what they were doing, they just tacked it on.’”
I agree with that, to an extent. The Last Broadcast is a smarter movie than some. It’s not an incredibly deep film, but it’s certainly more than a slasher. Hell, there’s very little blood. I also agree that horror movies can be intellectual; George Romero’s made a living on it. But Avalos sells his movie short when he says most viewers renting Broadcast are kids wanting to watch a horror movie. It can’t be disputed that a lot of kids are horror fans, but don’t discredit your adult fans. You are doing your film a disservice assuming only kids are renting it.
But then Avalos shoots himself in the foot with his next statement.
“It was really one of first things we thought about and it really appealed to us, the idea of switching genres like that. I think the movie, in the end, perhaps does suffer just because so many people hate that so much. But, the occasional person that gets it — the person who is educated cinematically — makes it all worthwhile. And I do maintain that it is a great ending.”
Avalos is the classic example of the worst kind of filmmaker: One who can’t take criticism. I applaud that he maintains it’s a great ending. Good. Stand by your work. But to insult the intelligence of those who think your ending doesn’t work is incredibly elitist. And, honestly, Avalos does not have enough of a résumé to even attempt to have an elitist attitude. From his own words, it’s not just a few people. It’s a lot. He says himself, “the occasional person that gets it… makes it all worthwhile.”
If just “an occasional person” is getting the end of your film, maybe, just maybe, it’s your fault — or inexperience — that is the problem. Not the viewer’s.
Take the criticism, Stefan. Learn from it. Make a better movie from it. But never, ever accuse the majority of your audience for being uneducated because you fucked up.
The Last Broadcast is better than most of your low-budget features, and will keep you entertained with a solid story. It’s one of the few low-budget films that attempts to do it on story alone, as there are no breasts, no beasts and virtually no blood. And it does spin a good yarn, but, unfortunately, doesn’t bring it home at the end. If it were a little tighter, this could have easily been a B+ movie.
It’s a definite rental, as well as a pretty safe purchase, as it has a plethora of extras to go along with an entertaining film. And hell, if you like the ending, you can listen to the commentary and pat yourself on the back about how smart you are.