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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [October 5, 2020]






[]  Although in his mid 30s, Myles (Steve Vanderzee) has yet to "make it" as a standup comic. That's not good. Time is running out.

The good news is, Nelson, his manager (Eric Stone), has booked Myles as the warm up for a major comic at Tacoma's Pantages Theater. Nelson even convinced a booking agent for a big time TV show to attend. If she likes Myles's act, she'll invite him on her show.

This is Myles's "last shot" at his "big break."

Feeling nervous, he arrives early at the Pantages to prepare. Unfortunately, a slasher stalks the theater that very night ...

The Last Laugh is a mediocre, albeit entertaining, slasher film. It has giallo pretensions (at least, it's marketed as giallo) but it isn't. Giallo requires striking cinematography and imaginatively stylized murders. You won't find those here. The cinematography and murders are okay, but fail to rise about standard slasher fare.

This is a micro-budget film and it shows. Nearly everything occurs inside a few rooms and corridors backstage. We see a few audience members (extras) fill up some seats in the theater, but no more than a few.

This film is mostly Myles wandering about backstage, talking to Nelson, to the comic he's warming up for (Lowell Deo), and to the five people who work here. Only five. It's a skeleton crew because the theater has been sold, and the new owners will probably demolish the building for condos or a parking lot. Donna (Angela DiMarco), the theater manager, is very upset by this.

Is that a clue? Is Donna the slasher? Disgruntled employees and bankrupted owners often rack up body counts when their beloved summer camp, sorority house, hotel, whatnot, is about to close. As the grocery store owner/slasher explained to his victim in Intruder, "I guess I'm just crazy about this store!"

Myles worries that he might be going crazy. He's been depressed and medicated since his wife died. He suffers much angst and guilt (typical of horror film protagonists, e.g. Mirrors 2, Unearthed). When he starts finding freshly killed corpses backstage, he wonders if he's hallucinating. Especially after Nelson admits that he switched Myles's medication with sugar. Nelson thinks the medication cost Myles his "edge" and that he's funnier without it.


Because the cast is small, the body count is low. Yet a thinly populated theater heightens our sense of vulnerability. You're more likely to be attacked when alone. Surprisingly, only men are murdered. Unusual for a slasher film, much less a giallo. I wonder if it's intentional? Does writer/director Jeremy Berg hope the critics will notice, and praise him for his progressive feminism? Or was it just a fluke?

Not that there's anything ground-breakingly progressive or feminist about making every victim male. Slasher films have been criticized for "misogyny" ever since the 1980s, most notably by Siskel & Ebert and The New York Times's Janet Maslin. But even then, slasher films were hailed for their feminism by academics such as Carol J. Clover.

The Last Laugh was filmed inside the Pantages Theater in Tacoma. When I heard the characters mention the Pantages, I assumed they meant the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. I watched the entire film, thinking it was set in L.A. Tonight might be Myles's big break, no? That must mean L.A. Only later did I learn that the film is set in Tacoma. Can one get a "big break" in Tacoma? Do major TV show booking agents travel to Tacoma in search of talent?

Hey, I'm sure it's a nice enough city.



Apart from the small cast, other budgetary corner cutting is evident. The windows in Donna's office are rectangular, but the windows in Tacoma's Pantages building are tall and narrow. So apparently, not every scene were shot in the Pantages; perhaps just the lobby shots.

And when Bethany (Meranda Long) sits at the sound board, talking into a microphone, her lips are not moving. It seems Berg dubbed some lines over Long's still lips, perhaps feeling the need to insert some information during post-production.

The Last Laugh is enjoyable if unremarkable. Its milieu evokes Stage Fright (both the Australian and Italian films of that name). The killer's mask seems modeled on the one in Scream. The comic for whom Myles is opening seems patterned on Eddie Murphy; a once brilliant standup who "sold out" to big-budget Hollywood brain candy. Special effects gore by Lisa van Dam-Bates.

The film ends on an unsatisfying note. I won't spoil it by telling you the slasher's identity -- because we never find out. The mask is never removed.

There is a final reference to Short Night of the Glass Dolls. An Easter egg for horror fans, to test our knowledge of giallo. But The Last Laugh is no Short Night of the Glass Dolls.


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