Even better, Kevin’s presence as a guide through the annals of trash cinema hits a unique experiential nerve not only for near-extinct video store owners but also for film critics navigating an evolving web-and-print industry. The way Kevin lights up when Nyla walks in, rejuvenated by the prospect of sharing his excitement with someone new, resonates with anyone who’s dedicated their lives to cinematic preservation and curation in a time of algorithmic reliance. Lines like “I used to get paid to talk about movies with people, but then they stopped coming” smacked me like a thousand bricks. Audiences without any stake in or around the fields listed above will only see the surface monster mash of “The Last Video Store” — for those closer, a loving yet tragic message hits harder than expected in this lovable goofball of a creature-slasher-action hybrid.
Assessed on fundamental subgenre merits, “The Last Video Store” is a scuffed-and-chipped diamond in the rough. Blaster Video’s production design feels like a basement collector’s makeshift personal collection, from the counter made from plastic video cassette shells to the neon LED light rigs. Special effects remind of Canuxploitation siblings like Astron-6 with low, low budgets — so Roach and Rutherford cleverly work the shoestring visuals into their storytelling since Kevin and Nayla fight against foes from cheapo B-Movies. The “Prestalker” alien is supposed to look like early-era CGI garbage, and jokes are made about the Beaver Lake killer’s victims being reused props from earlier films because of minimal funds. Then there’s the video vortex realm ruled over by a VHS Head deity, which gets by on crazy glue and elbow grease — nothing from Phil Tippett’s warehouse.
That’s the thing about “The Last Video Store.” Genre-rich commentary isn’t inventively fresh. Visual effects are throwbacks out of necessity but clearly display their imperfections (we love practical gore nonetheless, of course). Performances are driven by Kevin’s giddiness when encountering his favorite horror villains or explaining another deep-cut reveal, which can be somewhat tedious. Horror lovers who’ve seen one self-referencing horror comedy after the next won’t be shocked, and I’m not claiming every joke lands, but Kennedy and Rutherford won me over on the unexpected sentimentality around the communal experience of sharing horror with others. That and Chuck Norris-wannabe Jackson Viper bursting through the television as Kevin and Nyla’s hopeful horned-up hero, only to suffer an existential crisis when he realizes he’s been summoned from an awful bomb in the clearance section.
“The Last Video Store” is nowhere near a perfect homage to an era of movie-watching that’s all but outdated, but it’s sincere and resourceful when it counts. Children of Blockbuster’s reign will find vastly more to appreciate, as well as ravenous fans of cult cinema. This one’s for the Joe Bob Briggs buffs out there, making an easy double-bill with the equally meta-humorous “Scare Package.” With a love of splattery midnighters, corny emotional ploys, and bloody-knuckled indie grit, “The Last Video Store” makes a valiant last stand. Watch it with friends and share the love, just like Kevin would want.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10