Directors/Screenplay/Producers – Stefan Avalos & Lance Weiler, Photography – Lance Weiler, Music – Stefan Avalos & A.D. Roso. Production Company – FFM Productions.
David Beard (David Leigh), James Seward (Jim Suerd), Stefan Avalos (Steven Avkast), Lance Weiler (Locus Wheeler), Michelle Pulaski (Michelle Monarch), Tom Brunt (Tom Branski), Rein Clabbers (Rein Clcklin), Mark Rublee (Clair Deforest), Dale Worstall (Dr Dale Orstall), A.D. Roso (Anthony Rosi), Sam Wells (Sam Woods), Jay McDonald (Jay McDowell), Vann K. Weller (Dr Vann Waller), Faith Weiler (Joyce Dryer)
David Leigh sets out to make a documentary about the murders of Steven Avkast and Locus Wheeler. In December of 1995, Avkast and Wheeler were the hosts of the failing cable tv paranormal investigation show Fact or Fiction. They staked everything on a show that was to be simulcast live across tv, radio and the internet. On the show, they trekked into the New Jersey Pine Barrens in search of the so-called Jersey Devil. They trusted in Jim Suerd, a probably fake psychic who said he could lead them to the Jersey Devil. Instead, Suerd stumbled back out of the forest shocked and bloodied. The slaughtered bodies of Wheeler and a crew member were found in the woods, while no trace could be found of Avkast. Suerd was convicted of the murders and died in prison. As Leigh sets about conducting his investigation, a piece of videotape evidence is mysteriously delivered to him, demonstrating Suerd’s innocence and revealing a very different story.
The Last Broadcast has the distinction of being one of the very first Found Footage films. It came out a whole year before The Blair Witch Project (1999), which is generally recognised as being the progenitor of what we call the Found Footage film today. Debates exist as to what was the very first Found Footage with examples such as Cannibal Holocaust (1979) and Man Bites Dog (1992) being offered, along with the final scenes of Snuff (1976). I would argue that the Patterson-Gimlin fragment of Bigfoot footage from 1967 was probably the first but others have made cases for films going back even earlier than that.
There are a surprising number of similarities between The Blair Witch Pproject and The Last Broadcast. Both have very similar plots about a group of people trekking into the woods and running afoul of a mysterious something that attacks them. The Last Broadcast also prefigures the trick that Blair Witch did in naming the characters after the actors playing them, although this spins the wording of the names slightly. The Last Broadcast does however go one step further than Blair Witch in having the two murdered hosts of the cable show being played by the two directors of the film.
That said, there are a substantial number of differences between the two films. Blair Witch constantly suggests something supernatural present in the woods, whereas The Last Broadcast, while also dallying with the idea that things might be down to the Jersey Devil, resembles more of an investigatory crime documentary. The Last Broadcast was also made before the tropes of the Found Footage film kicked in so it is rather odd watching and having one’s expectations of the genre constantly being offset. There is no ragged handheld camerawork with protagonists running through the thick of action being chased by something. Instead, the camerawork is almost all static and the film resembles less an edited work comprised from supposedly raw footage than it does a documentary with a narrator, talking heads shots and blow ups/cutaways to select pieces of film footage that are constantly being analysed.
It is also amusing watching The Last Broadcast in 2015 when it devotes some technical explanation to the difficulties of creating a live tv and internet simulcast, which would no doubt have been technologically challenging in 1998 but seems passé today. Not to mention where the seeming novelty of what the hosts were trying to do – investigate a mythical creature in the woods – is something that has been rendered routine in the ensuing decade by a host of cheap reality tv ghostbuster shows.
This far more static approach takes far longer to engage than most Found Footage films do. That said, when The Last Broadcast reaches its middle and suddenly starts making a case for the innocence of the accused, it takes on the nature of an investigative documentary. At this point, it suddenly becomes rather gripping in its pouring over the details and creation of a mystery about what really happened.
The one thing it engages in, a conceptually challenging idea that no other Found Footage film has taken – although the end of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) dabbled with it in a muddled way – is the question of what we are being shown is reality and what is edited. The film reaches a completely wild left field ending that plays on this. I am not entirely sure if it is one that makes any real sense – a bit more exposition as to why and how this relates to the murder of the two talkshow hosts would have helped no end – but you have to admit the ingenuity of something that so pulls the rug out from under its audience.