The Last Broadcast

Lava Lamp
Our rating: one lava lamp.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

The Last Broadcast
"Hey Rocky! Wanna see me pull
an urban legend out of my hat?"
The Last Broadcast's claim to fame is its relationship to The Blair Witch Project. The story goes that the makers of Blair Witch saw The Last Broadcast, and even talked to The Last Broadcast's directors, before the making Blair Witch. Some people have leveled a charge of copy-catting against the Blair Witch directors, based on the alleged similarities between the two movies.

Having seen both, we can say that the movies don't have much in common. All the similarities come down to the fact that in both films there are characters who record a trip into the woods with video cameras. But that footage is a small part of The Last Broadcast, and The Last Broadcast is also not presented as a documentary for the entirety of its running time. Broadcast lacks some of the key plot elements, as well as the minimalism and creepiness, that made Blair Witch Project a hit.

Broadcast begins as a documentary presented and narrated by David Leigh (David Beard). The documentary is about the "Fact or Fiction" murders, during which three men died in the New Jersey Pine Barrens in 1995. Like most people who followed the story, David assumed that the official version of the story, that Jim Suerd (Jim Seward) ritually slew the people who accompanied him into the woods, was true. But David now has doubts, especially since Jim "died under unknown causes" [sic] in prison.

The Last Broadcast
The good news is that all of these
idiots are dead by the end of the film.
The first part of The Last Broadcast details the prosecution's case. Two of the victims were Steven Avkast (Stefan Avalos) and Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler), hosts and producers of a New Jersey cable access show about the paranormal. This show scraped the bottom of the entertainment barrel, both in content and production values: during a typical episode, the two guys sit in a room and answer questions via the Internet about the silliest things one can imagine. In one clip, Steve (who goes by the on-air name "John") and Locus thank their viewers for helping them come up with a name for the show. The fact that the viewers decided on an original title like "Fact or Fiction" reinforces our feelings that only morons would watch these two social misfits ramble on about pseudo-paranormal garbage.

Steve and Locus, inspired by an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) message sent to their show, decided to do a episode about the Jersey Devil. Unlike the Blair Witch, the Jersey Devil (also known as the Leeds Devil) is an actual folklore entity from New Jersey. It is a kind of chimera creature, allegedly the 13th son the Leeds family, born in 1735. The creature has never been taken seriously, and other than a rash of sightings in 1909 and a couple more in the 1930s, no one really claims to have seen it. Oddly, The Last Broadcast never bothers to give us any background information about the Jersey Devil as it might have been understood by the "Fact or Fiction" hosts. As a result, we're never really sure what they hoped to find.

The Last Broadcast
These indie productions just keep
cutting costs!
The show's hosts decided that the show should go on location to the Pine Barrens to search for the creature. To facilitate this, they contacted a sound man named Rein Clackin (Ryan Clabbers) and the alleged psychic Jim Suerd. Jim wasn't really a psychic, nor did he even think he was. Interviews with his psychologist and his landlady reveal that Jim was a loner who liked two things -- the internet and magic tricks. It seems that Jim was running some sort of scam on Steve and Locus and may have used their IRC "call-in" feature to suggest the topic of the Jersey Devil. Precisely why he would do that or what he hoped to gain by it is never explained. We're not sure why this film is so obsessed with the internet. All of the material concerning the net could have been easily removed from the film, and no one would have missed it, especially since much of the technology presented doesn't make much sense. For example, how do three nerds lug the computer equipment, cameras, batteries, food, ham radio, and other such gear into the woods by themselves -- all while operating the cameras? And why must we listen to the narrator blabber on about the fact that the Jersey Devil may be haunting occupants of New Jersey electronically?

These events bring us to the "found video," the scenes in the movie which are most similar to Blair Witch. As the footage in the woods begins, Steve, Locus, and Rein follow Jim into the forest. Jim, who has already refused to carry his share of the camping equipment, begins to get more and more moody and belligerent as they get deeper into the Barrens. Eventually Steve and Locus set up camp for the night, and begin the cable transmission, along with Internet and ham radio simulcasts. Precisely what it is that they broadcast is never really clear, but by the next morning Steve, Locus and Rein are all dead or missing. Jim walks out of the woods alone, apparently in shock, to call 911 and report the disappearance of his companions. He is later arrested and our narrator/director's obsession begins, resulting in the "documentary" we see now.

The Last Broadcast
"And you're sure this helped
Heather Donahue's career?"
It may be unfair to compare The Last Broadcast to The Blair Witch Project, but it is difficult to refrain. In almost every way that Blair was convincing and engrossing, Broadcast stumbles. Blair's actors improvise masterfully, thanks in large part to the fact that they were put into a realistic situation. Broadcast's actors may be ad libbing, but that seems to be because no one thought much about what to say before the cameras started rolling.

Likewise, Blair's strength lies in its adherence to its minimalist, "this is the footage we found" format, while Broadcast sets up an elaborate documentary framing sequence, complete with droning narrator, and then abruptly discards it. Confusion abounds -- not about the plot, which is crystal clear (we guessed the plot twist about twenty minutes in), but about the reasons for this gimmicky format. With this story line and some decent acting, Last Broadcast could have been a compelling drama, but the narrator's monotone delivery and the show's goofy hosts (who simultaneously manage to be hammy and boring) kill all chances of that. It doesn't help that the documentary footage, only thirty minutes of which we ever see -- and repeatedly at that -- has been mangled beyond repair, making for some of the haziest viewing ever. If Blair's camera work gave you motion sickness, then have a bucket handy for Broadcast.

While some viewers applaud The Last Broadcast as an original effort with a $900 budget (those numbers get lower with each film, don't they?), our criteria remain the same. Whether you make your film for nine dollars or nine million, there's no excuse for such tedium.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 11/16/99

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