The marketing blurb for The Last Laugh sells the film as “Suspiria meets Scream“. A bold claim if ever there was one, and whilst it has slasher elements that some could link to the latter and, in a stretch, mild giallo vibes that could be reminiscent of the former (though the Dario Argento classic and the Luca Guadagnino remake are infinitely better films), this film doesn’t deserve such a distinction.
Whilst the film could never live up to such an expectation, and suggesting so immediately puts The Last Laugh at a disadvantage, on its own merits it’s decidedly average, which is even more disappointing when you can see glimpses of the interesting horror film it clearly could be. Writer/director Jeremy Berg (Holiday Hell, The Invoking) wants to create a sense of tension by housing the majority of his carnage in a theatre, and because the film’s lead character – a supposedly funny comedian (Steve Vanderzee’s Myles) – adopts such a sense of urgency in this gig going so well (the film opens on a rather unsuccessful routine), one would assume these ingredients would mesh together in a manner that creates rigidity throughout.
The thing is, we don’t really care about Myles, and none of the side characters make an impression beyond “I wonder if they’ll die next”, and even then the death sequences afforded to each bit player don’t exactly take advantage of the setting; one early on moment involving a knife through the throat at least momentarily indulges itself in that “bad 1980’s horror movie” type of way.
With each character slowly being offed and Myles ultimately being the only witness to each murder, it’s in Berg’s treatment of the mystery surrounding each death and Myles’ deteriorating state of mind that The Last Laugh offers a glimpse of the movie it could be. It’s suggested from the off that Myles is suffering depression of some sort, popping pills in the aftermath of an accident that claimed the life of a loved one. But it’s with his ceasing of popping said pills that he hopes to find clarity and, perhaps, attack his inner demons head on. And if there are no other witnesses and a decreasing amount of suspects, is Myles manifesting The Last Laugh‘s masked killer in his own depraved way?
Whilst the film’s evident low budget perhaps restricted certain luxuries the genre can benefit from, it certainly can’t be denied that Berg makes the most of his limitations, it’s just a shame it wasn’t in a tighter film. Much of The Last Laugh is treated like a dialogue-heavy drama regarding Myles’ career, with the kill sequences seemingly thrown in to maintain interest for an audience likely to be disappointed with the film’s lack of horror direction. And as much as I appreciate an ambiguous ending, Berg’s script really wants to throw its audience for a loop with a suggestively intelligent conclusion that isn’t really earned from the minutes prior.
The Last Laugh is available for purchase or rent through digital platforms in the US now. An Australian release date is still to be determined.