Amateur filmmakers Josh, Ivan, and Jessica are determined to make their independent movie ‘Slash Camp’ a success. When they are approached by members of the prestigious distribution company Rampage Media, things seem too good to be real – and indeed they are. After hastily signing a distribution contract for their film, Rampage leaves the filmmakers in the lurch, with none of the money they were promised. So, the trio decides to get the gang back together and storm Rampage’s mansion to confront the swindlers and settle the deal. But they soon find that the eccentric Rampage family seeks to drain more than just money.
‘The Last Slay Ride’ opens with all the ingredients of a low-budget screwball comedy, as lead filmmaker Ivan is chased and then beaten by a discount Tom Hardy-type in a worn Santa costume to the tune of royalty-free music. We soon learn that this grizzled Saint Nick is an investor of Ivan’s film ‘Slash Camp,’ who has not received any of his investment money back. The film then backtracks to the beginning of the filmmaking process, where the audience is dragged through more than seven minutes worth of bad auditions for ‘Slash Camp’ – a film we know nothing about. These auditions are more cringe-worthy than laughable, and slow down the pacing of the film quite a bit.
From there, the first act continues to crawl along at a snail’s pace as the young filmmakers proceed to shoot and edit ‘Slash Camp.’ Ideally, these scenes should set viewers up to care about the filmmakers and the film being made; but as much as I wanted to root for the characters, no one was charming or relatable enough to win me over. Each character working on the film set is a tired version of a common comedic trope (the loveable smartass, the beautiful bimbo, the silent weirdo). Most of the childish jokes in the dialogue here fall completely flat, causing the scenes to carry on well past their expiration dates.
Once the film-within-the-film is completed, we find the team at an unspecified and sparsely-attended awards ceremony, where ‘Slash Camp’ inexplicably wins best film. It is at the post-awards party where Josh is propositioned by the dark-clad members of Rampage Media to sign their distribution deal.
Fast forward again – everyone is upset that Rampage has ghosted them. The cast members are bitter because they were never paid, so the central trio convinces everyone to investigate the mysterious Rampage headquarters, Scooby-Doo style, to demand their money. Here we learn that Rampage Media owes the filmmakers $20,000, but this seems like a completely arbitrary sum, and a foggy addition to the plot that doesn’t actually clarify any of the details of the contract that was originally signed.
Things do seem to pick up once we come face-to-face with the mildly eccentric members of Rampage, clad in terrible Christmas costumes, who all happen to be (drumroll please)…bloodsucking vampires! This would have been an amusing and welcomed twist to the lackluster story of ‘The Last Slay Ride’ thus far – except that the trailer and even the film’s poster completely give away the fact that the film involves vampires. An opportunity was missed here, I think, to make the vampire element an unexpected and exciting reveal (a la ‘From Dusk ‘Til Dawn’). But sadly, any viewer who has glanced at the poster art would fully anticipate this plot point from a mile away, further fueling the sighs and eye-rolling of ‘of course they’re vampires – I totally saw this coming.’
Despite this non-twist, the vampires all delight in being quirky and evil, which makes for some notable performances and, thankfully, a slightly more entertaining watch from this point. Poised to be the fan favorite is longtime indie horror icon Eileen Dietz, who is delightfully adorable as Grandma. Equal parts bumbling and bloodthirsty, she giggles and creeps through corridors gleefully searching for “man meat”. Elissa Dowling is icy and commanding as queen vampire Victoria, and Jackie Maya complements her well, adding to the fun girl-power dynamic, as the mysterious and alluring Nina.
From then, we are put through a series of stop-and-start chase scenes and several unimaginative kills, which begs the overall question as to why this film is billed as a horror comedy. If there’s no sense of satisfaction in the gore, no genuinely scary elements, and zero laughs to be had…what kind of movie is this?
Beyond the flimsy story and formulaic characters, one of my biggest complaints stems from a technical standpoint: almost every scene is captured only using very wide, continuous, static shots. These scenes are well-lit but in an extremely flat way, which does not serve to enhance the acting or storytelling. This visual monotony quickly bores the viewer and hemorrhages the production value. This is a common pitfall in independent filmmaking and a personal pet peeve: take the camera off the tripod, give the scene some movement, play with light and shadow, and push in on the performances to help the actors!
Overall, I found ‘The Last Slay Ride’ severely lacking in both entertainment value and originality. Despite being a tight 90 minutes, the extended length of the scenes and the poorly-written comedic gags make the film seem much longer. Although the performances from the leads and supporting cast members are all fairly solid, they are not at all bolstered by the direction, which totally lacks creativity in regards to camera framing and lighting choices.
For a film that I was hoping to offer some witty commentary on the trials and tribulations behind landing a solid distribution deal, or even a mere tongue-in-cheek love letter to indie filmmaking, ‘The Last Slay Ride’ unfortunately provides neither. Once the end credits rolled, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I’d no longer have to endure a bunch of vampires running around in bad elf costumes. It was almost as if the life had been sucked out of me.
Review by Gareth Tidball
Gareth Tidball (she/her) is an award-winning actress and writer with an affinity for indie horror. As an actress, she typically finds herself playing young, tough women with a strong sense of justice and an air of quiet mystery. A proud dual citizen, Gareth has performed in theatre and film in both the United States and Great Britain. Her fiction will be published later this year in the upcoming Forbidden Psalm game book, Dread Nights. She also dabbles in screenwriting and playwriting.