INT. MASSIVE SPOILERS. DAY
Early on in this 1980s slasher movie, the fantastically sleazy Joe Spinell is seen sitting in his New York taxicab reading Issue 38 of Starburst magazine; page 42 of which contains a report on the making of this very same film, and page 43 consists of a full colour photograph of Caroline Munro in costume and on the set! Horror films about horror films are less of a tightrope and more of a tripwire. Unless you're incredibly sure-footed and you know exactly what you're doing (in other words, unless you're Wes Craven) the odds decree that you're almost certain to tumble into a black hole of injokey self-referential hogwash: too often it can end up as an exercise in showing off how many movies you can quote in 90 minutes (see the worthless Hack! as an example).
Fanatic, originally released on UK video as The Last Horror Film (and nothing to do with The Last Horror Movie or Die! Die! My Darling!), is an oddly fascinating, though not entirely successful attempt at film-within-film-within-film from 1982: shot largely at the Cannes Film Festival the previous year (without permits), written in two weeks, supposedly part-improvised and, to judge from the Making Of reports from Cannes that ran in Starburst around the time, a completely different beast from the original conception. Created as a response to audience demand for the horrible Maniac (a film I can still find little love for), it told of top horror actress Jana Bates (Caroline Munro) being stalked around Cannes by New York cabbie and delusional loser Vinny (Joe Spinell). Her husband, her producer (and ex), her director, an agent are all murdered, all receiving handwritten notes warning them "You have made your last horror film".
There's little doubt that most of the movie (and indeed the title Fanatic) is setting up Vinny as the maniac: a repulsive loner obsessed with horror movies and with pathetic delusions of being a great filmmaker who's going to Cannes to direct "Jana Bates" in his Dracula film - which is clearly not going to happen. (Nor, in honesty, is "Jana Bates" ever going to snatch a Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival away from the likes of Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep, as we see the Jury's ballot cards being completed!) Yet towards the end it pulls a plot twist that changes everything: it's too absurd but it does allow for a sweeter ending. And perhaps more importantly, it doesn't lay the blame for real-life violence with horror geeks as it originally did; while it continually juxtaposes news broadcasts of terrorist bombings and assassination attempts on Reagan and the Pope with coverage of horror movies and press conferences (where "Jana Bates" is asked about the conflation of real and fictional violence), it finally twists that round and decides that the killer is emphatically NOT confusing movie horrors with genuine ones.
The Cannes footage itself is fantastic: everywhere you see posters, billboards and cinema hoardings for Evil Under The Sun (a far more genteel example of the murder genre), For Your Eyes Only, Zulawski's Possession and even Cannibal Holocaust showing at a tatty backstreet screening room. There's a pleasingly geeky coincidence to be found: the film for which Jana Bates is being honoured is called Scream, and there's a huge promotional billboard for a movie entitled Stab (the name of the slasher movies within Wes Craven's Scream series), although that turned out to be a pre-production title for the Scheider-Streep thriller Still Of The Night.
Fanatic (and, to add to the title confusion, not THE Fanatic as it appears on the UK DVD box) is pretty shoddily put together, there's some ropey acting, and several scenes don't make any sense, but it's engaging, there are a few decent scenes and memorable moments, particularly Jana being chased by Vinny down the spiral staircase of the Hotel Martinez and through a crowd who all applaud it as a clever publicity stunt for some crazy horror movie. I don't know that it's a better film than Maniac on a technical level; it's certainly a less repellent one and I'd rather have this than the promised Maniac 2 (abandoned when Spinell died at just 52). Or, worse, the supposedly upcoming Maniac remake with - of all people - Elijah Wood! For the behind-the-scenes guerilla footage of Cannes '81, and for Munro and Spinell, it's worth a look, although the British DVD is pretty shabby with indifferent picture quality (very poor in night scenes, or when everything's suffused in red or blue) and presented in 4:3. Still, oddly enjoyable.