Last Gasp (1995)

APRIL 12, 2023


For whatever reason, whenever I would request a film for review from the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome, they would send everything they were putting out that month (I assume this is their standard practice, but don't want to speak for everyone!). And that is a nice way to pad out the collection and occasionally find a gem that wasn’t on my radar (like Cemetery of Terror, or pretty much anything from director Ruben Galindo Jr), but also means I end up with a lot of their filler like Last Gasp. This thing has been sitting in the “pile” (now an actual shelf) for two years because it didn’t sound particularly interesting, but I like star Robert Patrick, so I kept it around for a proverbial rainy day. Which finally came today.

The thing about Patrick is that he is a terrific character actor, rightfully respected and a “get” for movies and shows that need someone who offers his particular “you’re not sure if you can trust this guy” presence (X-Files in particular benefited from this, as he was replacing Mulder on the team but taking over skeptic duties from the now believer Scully). But that skill isn’t utilized here – in fact it’s downright wasted for a story in which his character is proven to be a jerk in his first scene. He’s a real estate developer in Mexico where the locals keep killing his builders for invading their land, so after promising a proper burial for the latest victim (which he instead has the body tossed in a river) he hires a guy to just kill all the locals to solve the problem. The mercenary eggs him on to finish one guy off himself, and then he is possessed by the man’s spirit.

This prompts him to kill people (while painted up and wearing next to nothing like the jungle-dwelling locals, which is slightly problematic but gives Patrick a chance to show off his physique), but… he already had no problem with that, nor was he an innocent victim like Larry Talbot or whoever. The actual hero of the film is Joanna Pacula’s character, who is introduced much later as the wife of a man who disappeared while working on Patrick’s project. Perhaps if we met her first and then gradually learned what was up with Patrick’s character, there’d be some engagement to her plight, but since we have all the answers long before she does (hell, mostly before we even MEET her), there’s little reason to invest yourself in the narrative. They don’t even tease out the mystery of her husband’s disappearance – a randomly inserted flashback tells us he’s dead not long after we even knew he existed, having been killed during one of Patrick’s possession sprees. Weirder, the movie spends like 20 straight minutes with a PI she’s hired to find the man, and we stick with him as if he’s the actual hero of the movie. To be fair, it’s (spoiler for 30 year old movie ahead) slightly surprising when he is killed at the end of the first act, but again this would only work if we hadn’t already known everything. When he dies it isn’t a “oh wow, he’s dead!” moment, it’s a “So why were we focusing on this guy for long?” one. It’d be like if Psycho started out with Norman tending to his mother’s corpse in lieu of the hotel scene with Marion and Sam, but still wanted us to be shocked when she died in the shower.

I assume that the original script was indeed told more from the Pacula character’s perspective, only to be carelessly reworked to get Patrick – still high on his T2 fame – front and center in the proceedings, but unfortunately no one thought to simply make him a decent guy in the process, which would at least give us the sort of American Werewolf in London type tragedy at its center. Who cares if he’s possessed by a vengeful spirit when he was already scummy to begin with? Why are we watching a PI look for a missing car for a man we already know is dead (and also who killed him)? It’s just a baffling approach that renders the movie inert nearly from the start. The only reason to keep watching is – because this was a mid-90s pay cable movie – to enjoy the occasional sex scene, since such things are so rare nowadays. Not that I need nudity to enjoy a movie, but it’s such a taboo thing now that it sadly rates as a novelty whenever I watch an older movie and see it presented so casually, not unlike how odd it looks to see Bruce Willis smoking in an airport in Die Hard 2.

In other words, if our country hadn’t gotten even more prudish than it already was over the past 30 years, this movie would have literally nothing going for it. VS didn’t even bother to produce any new extras of note, which is pretty telling too since they always have at LEAST a commentary or lengthy interview with one of the movie’s principles. Here all we get are some outtakes and the trailer, which does indeed make it look more like a man struggling with a curse than it ever comes off in the finished film. What a dull, pointless movie.

What say you?


  1. Off Topic: Have you read Evil Seeds edited by Vanessa Morgan? It is a giant collection of killer kid movies from many different countries and it goes up to 2021.


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