The Last Broadcast

The Last Broadcast (1997)
Extras: Commentary Track, Trailers, Featurettes

When "The Blair Witch Project" hit movie theaters earlier this year, it found incredible acclaim with audiences and critics alike. Titulated as being the scariest film of all times, the film was highly recognized by the public and only few people knew at the time it first arrived that almost two years earlier there had been another movie that shows an incredible resemblance to the witch hunt horror hit. The film was called "The Last Broadcast". Slowly, as the public relations work at Artisan shifted into full gear, some people became aware of those incredibly obvious similarities between the films. Heated discussions flared up whether "The Blair Witch Project" was simply an uncredited rip-off of this much earlier film, or if it just happened to be coincidental. Now, fans of both films will have the chance to make their own decisions, because "The Last Broadcast" just made its DVD debut from Ventura Distribution. No matter what the verdict is however, one thing is clear, "The Last Broadcast" came first!

"The Last Broadcast" presents itself as a mock shokumentary that tries to capture real-life events as they happen. Several years ago, Steven Avkast and Locus Wheeler, two young filmmakers and hosts of the local television show "Fact or Fiction" decided to unravel the mysteries surrounding the Jersey Devil legends in order to bring up their plummeting ratings.

They venture out into the Pine Barrens of New Jersey with the help of Rein Clacking and Jim Suerd. Everything they did was documented through a live television broadcast and a live Webcast as they headed into the woods with shouldered cameras. Strange things begin to happen, frantic camera movements begin to dominate the broadcast, and cries of fear go over the air. Soon they were all dead, except for Jim Suerd, the only survivor of the last broadcast, who managed to find his way out of the barrens alive and is soon convicted for murdering his colleagues and sentenced to life in prison.

After a two day search in the Barrens, the Police found the bodies of the remaining crew members, terribly violated and mutilated, and one year later, filmmaker David Leigh decides to make a documentary about the events. He analyzes the footage from the broadcast, as well as other evidence he can find, and slowly uncovers the grim truth about what really happened in the woods that fateful night.

"The Last Broadcast" is a movie that was done out of the love for the medium and has to rank as one of the smallest budget films ever made. For $900 Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler shot the film entirely on video and was edited and produced completely on digital video equipment using standard desktop non-linear editing software. It adds to the documentary style of the film with its bleak images, the video artifacts and distortion, drop-outs and wavering, frantic camera movements.

The question that is probably on everyone’s mind by now is, how close is "Blair Witch" to it then? I do not want to give away too much, but let me tell you, it is close.

The resemblance is striking to say the least, although both films have slightly different notes in terms of the atmosphere they create and the actual content. While "The Blair Witch Project" does not contain any on-screen violence, "The Last Broadcast" is significantly more aggressive in those aspects and you actually get to see some of the deaths – and the presentation is utterly chilling to say the least. The documentary itself is presented as a series of interviews with people involved in the case, as well as raw footage and analyzed video footage from the broadcast. All in all, I felt, "The Last Broadcast" had a much more mature note than "The Blair Witch Project" did, and everyone familiar with the sensationalistic "In Search Of…" or "Dateline"-type television shows will immediately feel at home.

Since the quality of the source material that was used to create "The Last Broadcast", judging the technical quality of this release is not as trivial as regular movie releases. Much of the source material is exhibiting serious signs of video artifacting that was introduced due to the limitations of the equipment available to shoot the film. On top of that, during postproduction, a large number of effects have been added to create the illusion of deteriorated and damaged video material that has been restored to some extent. All of these factors make determining the quality of the original material somewhat difficult. Nonetheless, it is evident that an additional number of artifacts have been introduced during the film’s compression to DVD. Running at a rather low bitrate, heavy compression has been applied to the material on this disc, in part to allow additional room for the extras that can be found on the disc, as all is presented on a single layer DVD. While some scenes are virtually free of compression artifacts – especially the footage with the interviewees – the pieces with the live-action footage from the Pine Barrens shows serious signs of <$pixelation,pixelation>. This is mostly due to the low bitrate and the amount of motion that is part of those shots and would have required a significantly increased datarate for an artifact-free reproduction. Interestingly however, because of this separation, it is never becoming distracting to the movie, and even adds authenticity to the pseudo-documentary nature of the material, and works in the film’s favor. (I know, I thought I would never say something like this, but it’s true.)

"The Last Broadcast" contains a stereo audio track in English that is generally well produced. Music is used extremely sparingly, as in real documentaries of the kind, and of course, the audio from the broadcast itself is muffled at times, distorted, noisy, well, everything you encounter in the real world, outside the artificial environments of a clean recording studio production. The disc contains English subtitles.

Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler and their own production company Wavelength have been quite involved with this DVD and created much of the content found on this disc specifically for the DVD. Starting with the menus, the two have also contributed a <$commentary,commentary track> and a number of small featurettes that explain very well where the idea for the film came from, how it came about, and how it ultimately succeeded. All the information is extremely insightful and inspiring. I have no doubt that many aspiring young filmmakers will take their ideas and advice to make films of their own following the extensive excursions of the two on this release, as it proves that even with a $900 budget it is possible to make thrilling and exciting films in the 90s. Showing how they used standard computer programs like PhotoShop to manipulate their images and how they used other software packages at hand to create and edit the film, is well worth watching for its down-to-earth sophistication. Their general consensus is, "what are you waiting for, you have nothing to lose!", and it shows in every minute of these inspiring featurettes. A full documentary called "The Legend Of The Jersey Devil" is also part of this DVD, and for more detailed information about the background of "The Last Broadcast", please make sure to take a look at our interview with Lance Weiler.

I deliberately stay away from making direct comparisons between "The Blair Witch Project" and "The Last Broadcast" because I feel everyone will experience these films differently, despite their obvious similarities. I had trouble finding anything scary in "The Blair Witch Project", but scenes from "The Last Broadcast" had a firm grip on me as I watched. I am sure some viewers will experience it quite the opposite, and that is the beauty of these films. While there are similarities, there are also a lot of differences between the films, and it is great to have the opportunity to see "The Last Broadcast" on this DVD, as it will give many fans of this newly infused genre of pseudo-documentaries the chance to finally see the film that threw the switches for this year’s indie horror hit.